Sunday 4 July 2010

Dumb Decisions

Every day every one of us makes a myriad of decisions. I'm sure we do so without much thought, considering such decisions as being mundane, commonplace and boring. However, if we overlook certain details about the decision; if we forget or overlook asking for further information, do we make decisions which merely set ourselves up for disappointing results?


I wear glasses. Since prescription sunglasses would be expensive, I managed with some effort to find clip-ons which matched the size of my frames. Cost: $30.

My eyes had started bugging me and I knew I needed my prescription checked so this past January I went to the optometrist. I was hoping I had enough time to take care of everything as I was going to head off on an exotic vacation to Egypt in February. It ended up that yes, I needed new glasses and my optometrist assured me we could take care of everything in advance of this trip. Thinking about an emergency, possibly breaking my glasses or losing them - I am pretty much blind without them - I elected to buy new frames and use my existing ones as a back-up. An attendant showed me various options from which I made a selection.

A week later, as I was preparing for this trip to Egypt, a trip which would see me needing sunglasses, it hit me like a ton of bricks. What was I going to do about sunglasses? I was certain my clip-on sunglasses would not fit the new frames so what was I going to do? There was no way I could spend 2 weeks in Egypt without something to protect my eyes; heck, I'd go blind! Would I be able to get something? I was worried.

I called the optometrist and thankfully, he could have custom clip-ons made specifically for my new frames and he could get this done before my trip to Egypt. I was saved! Unfortunately, the new clip-ons would add $100 to the overall bill. I suppose that's the cost of doing business, so to speak but I did mull over exactly how I found myself in this situation.

First of all, when I asked for new frames, I did not even think about the clip-on sunglasses. That was my oversight, my fault. Curiously enough, the attendant at the optometrist's office did not bring this up. I'm not blaming her but this is the sort of question a business could ask a client to provide better customer service. After all, I am going to the business in the first place for their expertise in an area where I am not knowledgeable. I trust that the next time I'm in such a situation, I will remember to ask more questions to better ensure I think through all the ramifications of my decision.

In the end, I had sunglasses for Egypt; my eyes were protected and I had a fabulous trip, thank you very much. Nevertheless, I have realized that because of this oversight, instead of continuing to use a $30 pair of off-the-shelf clip-ons, I now am the proud owner of a $100 pair of custom clip-ons.

New Thermostat

The air conditioning stops working. Whew, summer, emergency! The repair guy comes over and checks everything out and concludes that the thermostat needs replacing. However, for an extra hundred bucks, we can get a fancy pants digital thermostat with all sorts of extra functions. For me, it isn't the hundred bucks; it's summer and there is no way I can possibly live without air conditioning. Get it! The repairman installs the new unit and we're back in business.

But... I then find out the new thermostat is not exactly the same size. This has left a patch of wall with the old paint colour and therefore, we need to paint not just the patch, but the entire wall so everything matches. I go with my wife to the paint store. Materials and such cost another $50. From start to finish, the entire job takes maybe 3 hours; no big deal.

However, I'm sitting afterwards with a cup of coffee mulling this whole affair over. I merely needed to have the existing thermostat replaced. I did not need a new digital thermostat; I don't really need the extra functions the new unit provides. I only wanted my air conditioning to work. Now, the decision to upgrade, get a fancier thermostat has cost me an extra $100 for the unit, an extra $50 for paint stuff and 3 hours of labour. But I discovered there's more. The old thermostat was a simple mercury switch. The new thermostat is battery operated. My father had a mercury switch that lasted for as long as I can remember as a kid: 20 years? 30 years? How long do the batteries last? This is just another issue to consider as part of this story.

I only wanted the air conditioning working again but holy Hannah, this supposedly innocuous upgrade cost more than I realized!

Small Stuff vs. Big Stuff

My above two personal anecdotes will probably make you smile as these are the type of things all of us go through. However, what if the "personal" gets multiplied by a hundred in its effect; what if the seemingly small gets bumped up to a corporate level?

In 1981, Steven Spielberg and company approached Mars Inc. about using the candy M&M's in the movie E.T., the Extra-terrestrial. For whatever reason, Mars refused and Spielberg went on to use the Hershey's candy Reese's Pieces. In 1981, this candy was virtually unknown but after the movie came out, sales apparently took off. Hershey's gain, Mars' loss.

But why go so far back in time? Let's look at today's headlines. British Petroleum, as part of the oil industry, lobbied the United States government about regulations so as to not be obliged to install a $500,000 safety valve on their Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico. We all know how that one went. So far, according to reports, B.P. has spent $3 billion on the spill. The U.S. has obliged B.P. to set aside $20 billion for claims fund. The stock price has dropped so much the estimates are that $80 billion in stock value has evaporated. Now there is talk that this entire issue may eventually bankrupt the company. Ah, let me the first to say, "Oops!"

Okay, the sunglasses, the new thermostat, both were just small time issues however, in the future; I would like to better understand the implications of my decisions. I may not always be able to escape all of the associated problems but at least I can grit my teeth in advance.


The Stupidest Business Decisions in History

Snopes: M&M's and E.T.

Regulations: Do we need more or less?

I want to be totally truthful: I am incompetent at home repairs. It was my wife who organized, managed and executed the painting of the wall for the thermostat. While I assisted, she deserves full credit for us now having a newly painted wall for our newly purchased thermostat. Thanks, honey. :-)


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