There’s too much spreadsheet thinking in business today, said interesting advertising guy Tom Goodwin in a presentation I saw last week. People obsess over micro-measurement because it fills up the weekly meeting charts, even though most of those ‘KPIs’ on click-throughs and so forth are not actually proven factors in people buying your product.
I won’t get into the whole ‘causation vs correlation’ thing because it’s outside my light entertainment territory, but data doesn’t explain everything and you may be looking at the wrong data anyway. As Tom said:
“We have to understand the mystery in our world.”
People are mysterious, and they always will be. If you’re selling to them, or employing them, there is limitless opportunity in developing a sixth-sense for those mysteries. It just takes a lot of time and conversations that most people aren’t interested in.
You can get quite the taste for business voodoo, and my co-founder PK and I have it more than most business owners. We’re in this for the weird adventures as much as the cash, and luckily you can have both.
Two years into the business we had offices in four cities. We had solid growth, some things had gone to plan, plus a bunch of good and bad surprises. We were experienced in the industry but was that enough?
Were we up to date on best practice and bold strategies to drive our business going forward?
Should we engage KPMG or McKinsey to tell us how the pros do business these days?
Nah. Even if we could afford their massive hourly rate, that kind of advice doesn’t suit our style. So instead, we budgeted a cool fifty for strategic advice. Not $50,000, but the single banknote with the Australian street name of a pineapple (two and a half lobsters). We sent PK to a tarot card reader at one-fifteenth the hourly rate of McKinsey.
His brief was simple: what will happen to our businesses? He gave her no other information.
The Gypsy Report
Her report was a game-changer for the consulting industry. The toothless gypsy lady’s analysis and predictions were 100% on the money, as if she’d spent months poring over our business plans. She told us we had four businesses, she came up with a stream of spookily accurate facts about them, and said we would succeed in the long-term. What a relief.
She said we would close one business and open another closer to home. At the time, we had a business in a regional town that was perfectly good but battling to get big enough to give us external shareholders a return. It would always be a family business. We considered visiting the local partner and saying: “Gypsy lady’s tarot cards say: we’re out. Sorry.”
We didn’t say that, though it would been kinda funny. But we sold our shares back to him, wished him all the best, and removed it from the Scene Change group. Then an opportunity came up to open another office, closer to home. Honestly, if we’d paid tarot lady $50K we still would have thought it was a good strategic investment.
The Importance of Doing … Something
Since then PK has visited a tarot reader yearly, a different one each time to keep the experiment pure, and they’ve generally been accurate. It’s solid gold entertainment.
We are as annoyed by crystals, aromatherapy and new-age mysticism as anyone. But we have made decisions worth hundreds of thousands of dollars based on the green light from random cheesecloth-swathed hippies.
At the risk of ruining a good story, it’s not like we were asking her to come up with ideas, it’s more the fun of getting the independent seal of approval on what we were planning, without her knowing what those plans were.
Obviously lots of business thinking and experience also goes into these calls, but sometimes you get situations where it’s line ball and you’re dithering one way or another. The tarot thing just kicks it over the edge and gives you the advantage that you’ve made a decision rather than not.
Theodore Roosevelt once said,
“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”
And right there, Teddy sums up the entire advantage of being a smaller business. Because your smaller business (I’m assuming you’re not CEO of some multinational) can do pretty much what you damn well please. You can be flexible for clients. You can take on a new product just like that. You can move your prices up or down on the spot. You can say yes to things. You can say no to things, which is excellent. Because you’re the boss of you.
Big companies can’t do that. Any single change can take years, regardless of how many times they say ‘agility’ in their annual report. Because they have layer upon layer of change-resistant staff who can stifle any new initiative, and give perfectly plausible reasons for doing so. So the only real way to change big companies is the occasional redundancy massacre and that isn’t going to lead to a sparkling customer experience.
That’s why big companies hire McKinsey and KPMG. Not just to recommend redundancy massacres, but to recommend any decision at all. Because management don’t want to stake their comfy careers on changing anything without having a fat, expensive third-party report to point to if things go wrong. When your main motivation is arse-covering, you’re setting your company on track to make the dependably low percentage returns that big businesses make.
It’s a hokey business cliche, but when your David’s Slingshot Solutions is taking on Goliath Industries, flexibility can really do a lot to take some chunks out of them.
So What’s The Competition Up To?
A final wonderful thing about using tarot consultants is the mental competitive advantage they bring.
Competing businesses spend a ton of time thinking about what everyone else in their industry is up to. That’s their default conversation in meetings and when they’re sitting around in airport lounges (lounge eavesdropping is one of my creepy hobbies, for more on this check out some Business Travel Tips).
So when our competitors learn that we get our strategic guidance from a toothless gypsy lady – and we happily tell everyone this – they’re just thinking: just how do we deal with this? How do we predict their behavior? Clearly we could do any insane thing.
It’s more fun than you can imagine.
So On Trend Right Now
Anyway the Tom Goodwin talk was in a WeWork space in the city. There were signs everywhere about pop-up this and that. Barbers, massage, and … oh yes:
In true hipster tradition, can I just make the claim that we were into strategic tarot way back in 2009 when it was underground, marn. And now it’s mainstream. We’ll have to find something else for our soothsaying needs. Animal sacrifices or haruspicy seem kinda violent, is there a vegetarian version of those? I’ll get back to you about that, don’t tell anyone at McKinsey.
I’m turning over your tarot cards and what’s this?
It’s the Four of Wands, a very solid omen that your future business will be a success! But wait, what have we here?
It’s the Page of Pentacles, signifying that your success will only happen if you subscribe to the weekly free Motivation For Sceptics email story. A useful new story like this one every Tuesday, with realistic ideas on how to lift your business game and no empty Nine-Steps-To-Success-style motivational drivel. Plus (turns over final card) … ah the Book Publishing Emperor.
The Emperor (actually it’s their sales director) won’t let me put my book out until my subscriber numbers hit critical mass (“you need to be more like The Barefoot Investor”). So subscribe now and nice things will happen to both of us.