No silver bullets

November 20, 2018

I see this pattern constantly:

  1. Person/company gets into bad situation, usually of their own making: too much credit card debt, bad diet, behind on collections, manufacturing quality problems.
    • It's often the "little people", the night manager or the people in collections, that see these things coming.
    • Nobody really wants to hear about problems, so they get ignored.
  2. Until one day, a crisis strikes "suddenly": a heart attack, foreclosure, losing a key customer. Everyone sort of knew it was coming, but acts surprised.
  3. An urgent search for "the cure" is started, identifying a range of options to "cure the problem".
    • One solution is slow, incremental, and doesn't cost much (daily exercise). It works over time through long-term, gradual change.
    • The other solution works immediately and doesn't require any behavioral change. It's often expensive and comes in a fancy box with a bow on top.
  4. Without fail, the second solution (fast and somewhat expensive) is chosen. The symptoms go away, but the root problem isn't really fixed.
  5. A few years later, everyone has forgotten what happened, and the cycle repeats.

I've probably seen more than my fair share of this stuff; I grew up watching my mom teach people to eat smaller portions as a clinical dietician, even as my dad worked tirelessly for 1% reductions in scrap and work-in-process in complex manufacturing environments. They weren't "businesspeople" as such, but both really grasped the importance of small changes, applied consistently. That's why, from a very young age, my dad taught me a great deal about compounding, and the stock market.

These days, whenever someone tries to convince me making a big change is easy, I'm skeptical.

Perhaps too much so—there are times when things are as easy as they seem. Quick wins matter; "in the long term, we're all dead", after all.

But be wary. Whether it's debt consolidation, hiring a consultant, doing a big M&A deal, firing the CEO, losing weight, cleaning up the codebase, straightening up your house, pension or entitlement reform—whatever the challenge—slow and steady wins the race. Not "silver bullets".

Even if they do win elections and get promotions.