RS: You have to define areas where, I think everybody should be judged on more than one matrix which is, this is basically where you’re supposed to do your job.
Your job here is to do a low variance thing, then you equally have some space where failure is permitted because that space is a where…. A very interesting thing that bees do, I think I probably told you about this before, bees have this wonderful waggle dance system where they go back and inform the other bees where there is nectar and pollen, in which direction and how far away it is, amongst the bafflement of people studying this, about, it varies, but about 20% of bees or bee journeys ignore the waggle dance, they just go off at random.
At first this drove bee scientists absolutely insane because they said that you’d think of over 20 million years of bee evolution we would have had bee compliance officers who would have enforced higher levels of compliance with the waggle dance to bring on the nectar collection target in line for the forecast for Quarter 3, right, this kind of thing and then they modelled it as a complex system down to your point, if you look at it as a complex system over time in an unstable environment, if every bee obeys the waggle dance, you get trapped in the local maximum and the hive starves to death, because you get over-dependant on what you already know because you haven’t traded off by investing in what you don’t yet know.
The point of the random bee journey is that they need a very different ROI, an obedient bee journey must be energy recovered must exceed energy expended in recovery. It’s a fairly straightforward sort of what you might call an appraisal system for those obedient bees but then the other bees are kind of engaging in a RND activity where most of their journeys are a total waste of time.
But on the other hand if they discover a completely new pollen source, you know a field that’s just come into flower, that information is actually worth thousands of times that of an individual obedient bee journey.
MK: And we don’t do this in organisations.
RS: We don’t do this in organisations; we have a bonus which covers your whole performance. We should have these bonuses - here’s your obedient bee bonus and here’s your rogue bee bonus.
MK: Yes, I mean Ricardo Semler, you know his stuff, recommended this sort of like a period of work in which you do nothing. Your job description is okay, XYZ, ABC today but a good percentage of what you do must not be defined and you should not be at work and why that is, is because if there’s a, this is the disobedient bee scenario.
RS: Well if you think about it, if all the bees were disobedient also, this is the really important part which is a large part of the future is unknown and I argue this being a Vice-Chairman is a bit weird as a job title because you can define it as much as you like, and one of the ways I’d describe my job title is I have to spend a disproportionate amount of time doing the kind of random things that no one else would do.
So occasionally I would go to a conference and my PA would say why are you going to that? It’s that actuary conference; you know what are you going to that one for? The thing is if I go to a marketing conference, they are full of advertising people so if a prospective client is there I probably won’t even get to talk to them, but if I go to an actuaries conference, I am the only advertising person they have even heard of.
Now this is actually a really interesting point, which is I think we become so instrumentalist in the way we justify business activity that we’re preventing ourselves doing things which are obviously work but for undefinable reasons.
So if you’ve got any teenage sons or teenage daughters for that matter, they always go out on a Saturday night don’t they? If you asked them why they basically say, I might get lucky. That might mean sexually, that might mean having a great time, they don’t really know in advance. What they do know that if you stay home, you won’t get lucky.
And I said there’s a perfectly good justification for advertising which is just the more famous you are, the more likely you are to have lucky things happen to you. Lucky things that result from fame are more likely to be positive than they are negative unless you’re a crooked company or get involved in a scandal.
So don’t advertise if your Chief Executive is planning to have an affair with a goat, okay, it’s better to be not famous under those circumstances. But if you’re planning to be a kind of honest, decent, you know fair dealing company; make yourself famous because indefinable lucky things will happen to you more often.
Now a lot of this will never be measurable, right? If you’re a famous company, I guess that your Chief Executive could ring all but 30 people on the planet of importance and they will return his call, now if no one had heard of you the number of people would be, I don’t know, 10% of that.
People come to you with good ideas because they’ve heard of you. People work for you for a bit less, because you’re quite famous and it’s better for their CV to say they’ve worked for someone that’s a bit famous. Right, okay it’s much easier to recruit really good people. When I launched my book, a most extraordinary thing happened.
I never would have said look, it’s a book about behavioural science and it’s partly about marketing, partly about business. You know it’s not very specifically a business book, but it’s not a mass consumable necessarily and I would never have said, the first thing I’m going to do is get on the Chris Evans Breakfast Show because that would have been ludicrous, right?
It so happened that Penguin’s publicity bumped into someone who was a friend of Chris Evans and I got on the Breakfast Show and for five days I was outselling “The Hungry Little Caterpillar”. I was at number seven on Amazon after I was on that show. Now that’s never something that you can plan for specifically, it’s something you can only plan for generally which is if you’re a bit famous and make a lot of noise, more people hear of you and some asymmetric upside will happen to you through luck.
Now if you talk to really successful businesses, I was talking to the guy who founded Box.com and he was basically being despised by his mother-in-law while running a business selling lavatory paper out of a garage, when he happened to get on a TV programme about his business which he was running out of his garage selling loo paper online and weirdly the TV programme then got picked up by someone else on national TV that was syndicated and he went from effectively as a result of that totally happy accident, he went from working out of a garage maybe planning to get a second garage to a company worth a billion dollars.
If you talk to most billion dollar companies, a freak thing happens, timing for example for all those things. Also maybe being famous you’re actually given the benefit of the doubt more, that is also impossible to quantify.