“You can’t change horses in mid-stream.” “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” “This time is different.” How many times have you heard these (or similar) sayings tossed out at the conference table when you’re making an important business decision? These sentences are short-hand for cautionary tales when it comes to decision-making. Rather than hash out the many reasons why we don’t want to change direction, instead, to save time, we trot out an aphorism that quickly sums up the logic of staying the course.
Tried-and-true adages can save us time when making decisions. But when the sentences are merely clichés uttered without fully considering the ramifications, they can quickly become very expensive sentences. These sentences, if not carefully examined, have the potential to cost business people a great deal of time, money and grief. That’s the main premise of a new book by Jack Quarles, called Expensive Sentences: Debunking the Common Myths that Derail Decisions and Sabotage Success.
Quarles, who spent decades in the business world as a procurement professional, used to make his living helping companies save money. As he worked with his internal partners, Quarles noticed that certain phrases (like “It’s too late to turn back now”) were often accepted at face value. There wasn’t any investigation into if, in fact, these statements were true. Often, they ended up being false, but the damage had already been done. Over the years, Quarles started to notice themes to the many statements people made. He started to think of these statements as “expensive” sentences that fall into one of three categories:
We are stuck in our current situation (we believe in false constraints)
Someone or something is special (and that uniqueness prevents us from making a different choice)
Something is scarce (there is not enough of something we want or need)
Expensive Sentences is organized according into three sections; each part fully examines the definition of the sentence and then devotes a chapter to each of three most well-known (and costly) sentences in its category. For example in Part Three, “Debunking the Scarce Myths,” Quarles addresses “We can’t afford to let him go,” “The customer is always right,” and, “We can probably do that ourselves.”
The book is well-laid out. For each section, there are “wise replies” to the expensive sentence under examination. Quarles, who is now a business consultant, also offers up excellent “exercises” in the book to help business professionals sort through an expensive sentence when they hear one at work. Many of the suggested activities are based in the logical world of economics—such as doing a 10-minute cost-benefit analysis or exercises to help surface a false sense of urgency.
When this book was pitched to me, I’ll admit to a slight distaste for the premise. I’ve sometimes found myself at odds with procurement professionals when I worked in Corporate America. Their job is to save money. Period. So I wasn’t sure I would like what a “procurement guy” had to say on the topic of decision-making. After reading Expensive Sentences, I was won over. Here’s why: Quarles takes this book beyond another dry, economics-based treatise on decision-making. He acknowledges the neuroscience and psychology that play into why humans make decisions, and he integrates this information into his recommendations. It’s a multi-dimensional treatment of the topic that takes people’s “human-ness” into the equation.
And you know I’m a sucker for people equations.
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for the purposes of reviewing it. All opinions expressed are my own. There are affiliate links in this post. See my disclosure statement for details.