WHAT ARTISANS AND CRAFTERS CAN LEARN FROM MONKEYS
We all have heard the stories about a small business start-up that became big - fast. The maker who sold 500 items in the first month on Etsy. The grandfather who started a hard cider business in the garage and sold it for big bucks to a beer company. Most of us have met vendors at shows who sold out before noon or in their first day. Meanwhile, our own beautiful work is glued to the shelves and invisible to shoppers.
It can be frustrating to see the successes of others when your own is less stellar. Their fortune quickly leads you to wonder what you are doing wrong and what they are doing right. What is their secret formula? Better merchandising? Better pricing? Better product? What are your mistakes? Bad lighting? Not enough low-priced products? Poor booth or table position?
Before you agonize too much about other artisans’ success let’s look at a story which is sometimes used in business schools:
The anecdote begins with the premise that 1000 monkeys are investing in the stock market. They buy and sell shares randomly. They are monkeys after all. After one year, about half the monkeys lost money but the other half made money and continue to invest. In the next year, one half, i.e. ~ 250 of the monkeys make money again whereas the other half does not. The same happens in the 3rd and 4th year. After the 5th year 30 monkeys are left that made the right decision 5 years in a row. They are now quite rich. After 8 years three monkeys are left. As unbelievable as it may sound, they invested right each time. They are now super wealthy. Everybody is shocked. The media might call said monkeys “savants” or “geniuses”. Some companies might hire them as investment consultants. People scramble to find out their secrets to success, how they picked stock, how they determined when to buy and when to sell. There must be some kind of pattern or process because they can’t just be uninformed and uneducated monkeys. Still, that is exactly what they are. So, positive results are not always the result of good decision-making.
The story highlights our tendency to evaluate decisions based on outcomes and not on the quality of the decision-making process. The monkeys’ choices were poor at best. They did not use strategy, logic or specific investment expertise.
It therefore follows that the amazing successes mentioned at the beginning may not come from a sound decision process. Nor should artisans automatically assume bad outcomes are a result of faulty decisions. No matter how solid and thorough a decision-making process has been, it does not guarantee great outcomes are achieved. Small businesses are affected by too many factors which cannot be controlled with even the best decision-making process.
Instead of focussing on outcomes you should objectively examine your decision-making process and the information you had at the time. If you find you made the right choices even though the outcome was not as expected you could take the same actions next time. If your analysis finds flaws in your process, you can make changes which will improve future results.
On the other hand, if you have been successful, you still should identify why you made your decisions. Simply patting yourself on the back for a good result and moving on without reflection is a wasted opportunity. It obscures your understanding of the reasons which lead to the positive outcome.
J. Edward Russo and Paul J. H. Schoemaker in their book Decisions Traps state:
“You have to focus not on learning from outcomes but on learning through analysis of the decision process itself.”
Canadian marketing expert Neil Bendle adds:
“You shouldn’t think that a decision was great simply because it all turned out well. Plenty of bad decisions turn out good through luck and vice versa. It is decision quality, not outcome, that matters”
By analysing your decision-making steps critically you will identify and learn a repeatable process that leads to the results you want to achieve. With time, your outcomes will not just be stellar, they will be consistent.