“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
~George Santayana, 1905 – Reason in Common Sense
That’s the quote I thought of as I finished this book, Expensive Sentences by Jack Quarles. This book with the title I wondered about when I saw it, turned out to be a great playbook for making better decisions – especially those that have an economic element. If I ever hear, “Because that’s how we do it,” from now on, I will immediately think, “OK. How much more is this going to cost than what it should?”
The author takes us through years of experiential learning starting from the introduction, The Snare of Conventional Wisdom. You know from the start that your thinking will be challenged and you will begin to see things from a totally new perspective. I know I did. Quarles lets us in on how we can spot an expensive sentence a mile (or spreadsheet) away. He says: We can spot an expensive sentence by its impact. Expensive sentences limit information. They end conversations. They create urgency and isolation. They reduce options. They steal choice. Then he gives us three magic words to help us decipher just when we are immersed in a conversation that will end up being expensive.
“Expensive sentences tell that we are Stuck, that someone is Special, or that something is Scarce.” Are you getting his drift here? Think of a time when something cost more than it should have. Could it have been a) you felt stuck; b) it was because there was something special about it; or c) ‘it’ was scarce and therefore – it’s going to cost you. What I found helpful for cementing the concepts the author was teaching about Stuck, Special, and Scarce is that after each chapter there are two ways to apply what you’re learning. 1. “Wise replies to…” After all, we are dealing with sentences that you will reply to. 2. Plus a set of practicable exercises aptly titled “Exercises to…” turn from what you are doing now to something more sensible.
I encourage you to read the text that is a gold mine for putting things into your own framework and environment. And don’t skip past the exercises to try next. You know . . . because ““Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Let’s get started.
We live in a time of multiple options, on multiple levels, for multiple things. We should never feel like we are stuck with something when there are so many other options available – but we do. Whether due to reluctance to change or unclear path or sunk costs, we think we are stuck with what we have when, in fact, that’s not a fact. At the end of this chapter find wise replies to “It’s too late to turn back now.” Then there’s what you can do next: Exercises to avoid sunk costs and assess switching costs.
Have you ever heard someone say they know they should … but just don’t have time? The truth is, being too busy is an expensive sentence. Too busy to save money seems ludicrous, but procrastinating and being too busy is costing you money, time, and even relationships. Quarles lays out four actions to apply at home, and at work, that will create more time for you and help you make better decisions. At the end of this chapter find wise replies to “We’re too swamped to…” Then there’s what you can do next: Exercises to outwit over-busyness.
We live in a microwave society. There’s a commercial on television right now that proves my point, at least philosophically. A guy says he wants something now – and it happens. We have come to expect instant everything from shipping to on-demand program viewing. ‘Always on’ is the motto of more than an electronic device. Speed factors into compromised decision-making, costly decisions, fear, misplaced urgency. There is merit in waiting and taking more time with decisions. The author calls it strategic patience. I like that idea – a lot! At the end of this chapter find wise replies to “We need it yesterday.” Then there’s what you can do next: Exercises to avoid false urgency.
We all like the idea of being special because it implies a uniqueness, exceptional, treasured – maybe even irreplaceable. Jack Quarles points out, “Being different from others can sometimes help us succeed. But when the label of special is misapplied, it can isolate us and imprison us.” Whether on a personal level or at the team level, believing you’re unique can give a sense that it’s not necessary to look outside your circle. The propensity to think that way leads to loss of potential and lack of innovation, to name just two detriments. Our world is very complex and being unique and special does not result in becoming better, but defeat instead. The best path to better is found by focusing outward and building relationships. At the end of this chapter find wise replies to “We’re different.” Then there’s what you can do next: Exercises to evaluate differences.
We need to trust – we do. One thing I have come to recognize about freely trusting is that first the person or thing is freely tested. How often have your heard the adage, “It takes a lifetime to build trust and 5 seconds to lose it.” A thoughtless indiscretion can destroy trust in a heartbeat. But we are dependent on trust, being able to trust everything from a person to a computer system to the app on our phones, we put a significant amount of trust in something outside ourselves. This chapter discusses trust, setting people up for success and creating harmony in shared values. Quarles says trust is defined by four components: Character, Competence, Capacity, Communication. I think you will like how he defines and describes each of them and how they relate to trust factors. At the end of this chapter find wise replies to “We trust them.” Then there’s what you can do next: Exercises to benchmark trust factors and verify.
How valuable do you think it is to get stuck in a rut? Not so much, right? While actually getting stuck in a rut and being unable to move is not good, there is an upside to having a familiar routine and well-exercised processes. The danger comes when being unwilling to get out of the rut is detrimental to moving forward, advancing goals, and finding better solutions. The cliché, “That’s the way we’ve always done it” is an expensive sentence. It can result in wasted money, wasted time, undiscovered innovations, apathy, disengagement and aimless wandering. To circumvent this drifting, start asking why. And then proceed to the end of this chapter to find wise replies to “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” Then there’s what you can do next: Exercises to replace inertia with purpose.
Scarcity and economics are pretty much married. If you want to see the price escalate on an item, make it scarce or make people think it’s scarce. If you want to achieve abundance, you can’t do it by accepting the idea of scarcity at face value. As Quarles says, “The first step to improving things is to stop making them worse.” Can I interject a personal testimonial to this whole scarcity thing? Back in the early 1970s ‘someone’ started the scarcity myth about toilet paper. You could literally go to the store anytime day or night and find shelves completely emptied of every brand of that treasured commodity. It was baffling – and this was way before social media and the Internet. To my point, I went to visit a friend of mine, whose family consisted of her and her husband – two people, twenty years old. How much toilet paper did they need? Apparently, a roomful because in their bathroom stocked half way up the walls were packages and packages and packages of toilet paper. In shock, I asked my friend is she realized she was contributing to the TP shortage by overbuying enough to supply a small country. Scarcity – and how that impacts economics. But the author has more real life examples than the one I remembered.
Who wouldn’t want to be called ‘irreplaceable’? Whether employee, vendor or friend we would like to think we are essential, but as the stories unfold here, there are reasons why irreplaceable equates more with vulnerability than stability. Elevating someone to the level of irreplaceable ushers in some serious disadvantages. The author uses the word threat to describe the outcome of holding someone in too high esteem. Threats to quality, threats to business continuity, threats to team unity and to remedy them you must come to understand the dynamics of irreplaceability and challenge the rationale behind it. If you’re serious about team unity, developing talent, and opening doors of opportunity, you will want to read this section with a highlighter in hand. And stay tuned to the end of this chapter where you will find wise replies to “We can’t afford to let him go.” Then there’s what you can do next: Exercises to create more options and reduce dependence.
In one of my few retail jobs, I remember being told, “The customer is always right.” I wonder if one of the reasons I didn’t choose retail for a long-term career is because I didn’t believe that for a minute. The customer is not always right, just as they are not always wrong. The status of the customer is somewhere in between and the better you are at discerning when the customer is under-informed or lacking expertise, the more you can negotiate the outcome. Customers don’t always have a grasp on what they really need or want. Customers don’t always understand what will drive long-term value. Customers don’t always have an accurate vision of what they are asking for and therefore provide an inaccurate description of expectations. It’s easy to see how expensive it could be to believe, “The customer is always right.” So, what can you do? Look to the end of this chapter where you will find wise replies to “The customer is always right.” Then there’s what you can do next: Exercises to find the right customers
DIY – Some of us are good at Do It Yourself. Others start out that way and quickly spiral into DIO – Do It Over. Jack Quarles implores his readers to think it through and recognize that outsourcing could be the better solution. DIY is often the fast track to added expense when trying to save money just costs you more money. Spend some time evaluating things like time, abilities, and expertise out in the marketplace. A thorough analysis of the project should stir up some truths about strategy, skillsets, benefits, quality, risk, and even determine if this needed activity is aligned with the company’s core. Beyond sheer economics there could be other reasons a team on the inside wants to take on the project – ever hear about the bright, shiny object? Quarles offers substantial background and foresight to guide you toward making the best decisions when choosing who gets assigned projects. He asks, “Does your team know where to draw the boundaries of its activity at both the tactical and strategic level?” At the end of this chapter, you will find wise replies to “We can probably do that ourselves.”
And to sum up the book, Jack Quarles warns us that, “Awareness can be a burden, and you now might start hearing Expensive Sentences everywhere.”