Friday, October 17, 2014

Beware the Slippery Slope: The Cost of Control

In some things, I am a great fan of excess: if a little is good, more is better, and too much is just right.  All parties are mediocre until someone requires stitches, or the nice guys in blue show up to shut the event down.  And ask you to put on a towel.

With that said, I think there are a lot of dangerous Slippery Slopes…issues that we can pursue further and further with no productive end.  Most are Good Things, at least in the beginning.  Cleanliness is a great example.  There can be no argument that it is better to have clean floors than dirty floors.  But how clean is an “ideally clean floor”?  Are “sanitary” floors better than floors that are just “clean”?  And if they are, are sterile floors better than those that are simply “sanitary”?  And if there is a logarithmically rising expense associated with achieving loftier degrees of cleanliness, how does that cost figure into determining what degree of cleanliness is "best"?

If you’re running a company that makes integrated circuits, dramatic extremes of dust-freedom and sterility may very well be the way to go.  But for the rest of us, an unhealthy inclination toward cleanliness in the extreme will be a burden to business.  Or, as anyone familiar with Obsessive Compulsive Disorders can testify, an unhealthy inclination toward cleanliness in the extreme can become a burden to life itself.

Another slippery slope is control. 

No control: not good.  Some control?  Most often an improvement.  But where does the quest for control cease to be a blessing and begin to be a problem?  Alternatively, how much chaos is actually helpful?

When I was a kid, we watched public television and listened FM radio (I can still smell the Bakelite and vacuum tubes…).  Beyond station selection, though, we had no control over content in either medium.  If I listened to ten songs on the radio, I probably thought six were OK, three were terrible, and one was great.  So by allowing a large volume of music though my aural baleen over time, I discovered new and sometimes radically different things that I came to love.

The process of discovering radically new things might be called “growing up”.

Today’s media selections offer a greater degree of control.  We can have our DVR snatch shows from around the globe to build video libraries of our own choice.  We find Futurama because Netflix knows we liked The Simpsons.  We are introduced to Madeline Peyroux because Pandora thinks she sounds like (young, white, sanitized) Billie Holliday.

But how are we to discover anything fundamentally different?  When is the Metallica fan going to hear her first Coltrane ballad and discover she loves jazz?  How will the documentary fanatic discover Archer and discover that he’s not a hopeless nerd?

How do your control habits affect the well-being of your business?   And how might your control habits hold your company back?

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