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2010-08-29

The power of sweating the small stuff

Recommended: Rory Sutherland’s talk “Sweat the small stuff”.  He posits that small things and encouragements are often more conducive to changing people’s behaviors than large projects and threats. As an example, Sutherland cites traffic signs that display your current car speed together with a smiley or a “frownie” (depending on whether your are within the speed limit). These are actually more efficient at preventing traffic accidents than speed cameras (which come with the threat of real punishment).

Unfortunately, powerful people often have large budgets and favor grand strategies. Instead, he would prefer powerful people with little money which would have to sweat the small stuff. He describes the four quadrants of a coordinate system with the axes “cost” and “effect”:
  • costs much, has a big effect: strategy
  • costs much, has a small effect: consultancy (partially tongue-in-cheek). He also mentions mergers which often change little for both employees and customers of companies.
  • costs little, has a small effect: trivia
  • costs little, has a big effect: these are things that usually escape politics and companies. He suggests inventing a word for this category and hiring “chief detail officers” (with small budgets) that are responsible for it.

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