Big Idea

We were broken into teams. We had 15 minutes to make a recommendation to the hypothetical client.

Here was the situation:

“Club Luxe is a luxury health club that has its stalls stocked with expensive salon shampoo. The customers love the shampoo and its sold at the front. However, the shampoo routinely disappears from the showers; and there is 33% theft rate. The club has already tried reminders, penalties and incentives to reduce theft, but nothing has worked thus far.”

Here was the parameters:

1) one bottle of current brand per stall must remain
2) 100% elimination of theft
3) zero cost to the club to implement solution
4) no burden imposed on club members

This felt to me like a classic riddle. We only had 15 minutes. My instinct was that underneath this problem lay an elegant solution, because “zero cost” to me meant that they could not dip into monetary resources, time or people. So an elaborate scheme like having a shampoo dispenser or using smaller amounts in the shampoo containers felt clumsy. After knocking around a few ideas with the group, I had an Aha-moment (The one where the clouds split and a ray of light beams onto your forehead.) Why not take the bottle caps off of the containers? This solution would absolutely discourage club luxe members from stealing the shampoo because it would spill in their purse or bag and the most beautiful part, it cost the client nothing.

When all the groups reconvened to share their solutions, as predicted ours was the most simple and elegant and right (McKinsey & Co was hired to do this case and they chose to “take off the bottle caps”.) However, the point of the exercise was less about getting the right solution and having a framework and process to generate a list of quality options. When I was asked by the class what were my assumptions and facts I didn’t really have any? Again, I focused in on the constraints(“zero cost”) and from that developed a solution. But what came to bear, as I explained myself was that my argument was weak, even although I had the right solution. It did not rest on sound evidence or an uncovering of assumptions and counter-arguments; it was born from intuition.

Here’s the rub: I can tell you that in the real world, in most instances, we don’t have time to break things down systematically. Much decision making is rooted in experience and extemporaneous gut-calls. However, that’s not what companies are paying you for. They are paying for your methodology and reasoning. Yes the big idea counts. But in a room of skeptics that are not seduced by risk, how do you get them to divorce themselves from their better judgment? One does this by having better judgment than them. A solution, therefore, is only as good as the evidence it stands on. Welcome to the world of business.