What about Key Bull**** Indicators?

“Develop a built-in bullshit detector.” 
- Ernest Hemingway

Once a bull and a hen had a chat. The hen looked at a huge tree, and said, “I really want to fly to the topmost branch of the tree, and see the world from there. But I know I can’t fly that high.”

The bull was like, “That’s no big deal. Eat a little bit of my dung. You will get enough energy to reach the top of the tree.”

The hen was not ready to believe it but still gave it a try. It pecked at the dung till it felt filled. Then it flapped its wings, and lo, on the very first try, it reached the topmost branch of the tree.

Out of excitement, it clucked loudly. The clucking sound disturbed the farm owner. He looked up and saw a fat old hen on the top of a tree. He took out his gun and shot the hen off.

The moral of the story is: “Even bull**** can get you to the top, but it can’t keep you there.”

Whatever you do in business can fall clearly into one of the two categories: value adding, and non-value adding (or bull****) activities. If there is a way (Key Performance Indicator) to measure the value adding work, there should be something for non-value adding work. I call it Key Bull**** Indicator (KBI).

KBI causes frustration (to employees and customers), and that leads to attrition of employees and customers alike. It can give birth to competition. Consider the business ideas of Richard Branson, for instance. Many of them were born out of the need to “overcome my frustrations in lots of different areas.” When Richard is frustrated he starts a new business.

He was unhappy with the customer service he was getting from British Airways. So, he started Virgin Atlantic. That is again the case with Virgin Money. Says Richard: “We set up a bank — because I wanted to invest money. And the guy who agreed to help me invest handed a paper over to me. I looked down at it, it read “bid-offer spread 5%.” I said, “Well, sorry, what is bid-offer spread? I’m dyslexic. I don’t understand these things.”

He sort of looked a bit shifty, and when he had left, I asked someone else what bid-offer spread meant, and was told it meant he took 5% of my money before he even started. And so I thought, “Screw that, we’re going into this business and we’re going to compete.”

Friends, we do not wake up to piss off our employees or customers but we know we end up doing just that. But some monopolies and large, successful and established organizations sometimes do precisely that with full awareness, thanks to ABCs of “arrogance, bureaucracy, and complacency” (in the words of Warren Buffett).

If successful businesses want to stay that way they must watch out for Key Bull**** Indicators that would have crept in knowingly or otherwise. One way to do that is to review every single process and project and ask “Does it make sense (especially, from the customers and employees points of view)?” And if it does not, then they must do something about it.

After all, removing KBIs is what lean business is all about. Consider what Mr Taichi Ohno, the father of the Toyota Production System, had to say about his management technique: “All we are doing is looking at the time line from the moment the customer gives us an order to the point when we collect the cash….(and) reducing that time line by removing the non-value-added wastes.” That’s it. No more bull****.