Practical wisdom revisited

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I wrote about Seth Godin’s new book Linchpin several times here in this blog since I finished reading it a few weeks ago. The book still runs in my head all the time. I have a list of really great quotes that are waiting for me to do something with. This is one of my favorites:

You can’t say, “Get more excited and insightful or you’re fired.” Actually, you can, but it won’t work. The front-desk worker at a hotel who runs out in the middle of the night to buy gym shorts for a guest isn’t doing it out of fear of being reprimanded. He does it because he was inspired to do so by a leader who wasn’t even in the hotel when the clerk decided to contribute.

Even though I originally liked this quote for the last sentence that reminded me of something I wrote earlier about what will employees do when the manager is not there. However, when I looked at quote today it connected to a concept I have been grappling with and writing about a lot lately – rules. Or more correctly the need to stop with them.

A big part of the Linchpin is an attempt to convince us that the really amazing jobs have no rule book. And that really amazing people, those that make a difference (or Art, as Godin calls it), like this front-desk worker example, do not work according to a rule book. They work according to an internal code. They show practical wisdom.

Because if you think about it, creating a customer experience is not something that you can write rules for. Yes, you can give guidelines, and general principles (like this great list of the 6 laws of customer experience), but you cannot create a detailed rule book. Try it! Try creating a rule that says when a front-desk worker at a hotel should run out in the middle of the night to get something for a customer…

That is why some of the most successful companies that provide customer service, don’t give the call center employees any scripts. Think Zappos:

[E]ncouraging customers to call them about nearly everything. Their call center takes 5,000 calls per day, and employees work independent of scripts, quotas, or call time limits. The longest call to date has been four hours. Zappos views the phone experience as a branding device, and speaks to virtually every customer at least once.

Scripts, as the great cartoon from illustrates are about rules. And rules are redundant mechanisms of control that belong to yesterdays world, a world that focused on productivity and on inhuman and unnatural management. Those days are over. It is time, as Barry Schwartz says in a TED talk that is worth seeing again and again, we use less rules, laws and incentives and more practical wisdom.


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3 Responses to “Practical wisdom revisited”

  1. The unlimiting rules of process « The Comparative Advantage Says:

    […] Because if we do want to rely on human judgment to make common sense decisions and employ practical wisdom, we need them to be able to train and to give them feedback and ample opportunity to reflect on […]

  2. Doctrinally approved solutions « The Comparative Advantage Says:

    […] If an organization as hierarchical as the army understands that using rules and turning people into cogs is not going to work, what does it say about modern organizations competing in highly competitive […]

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