Monday, 7 December 2015


The American executive was talking fast and earnestly “zee-bee-bee is the only way” she intoned “only way to go”. As she went on about the rational positives of this initiative I recalled the child’s response to an unfair telling-off, acknowledging whilst there may have been a tinge of blame but at the same time pleading “can’t you catch a bit of slack?” That one word response is “yebbut.” And my own response to “zee-bee-bee” is “yebbut”.

The problem with zero-based-budgeting (geddit?) is it comes from a dreary, barren place called “failure”. Tom Peters the management pundit whom I’d assumed had disappeared in a gust of his own oratory said once: “You can’t shrink into greatness”. He also said something very spot-on about the world in which we live “if you aren’t confused you aren’t paying attention”.

I once tried zee-bee-bee at home. Christmas was approaching and I went through the items that could be zee-bee-beed. The Christmas tree; Christmas cards; flowers on the table - who needs them? Bowls of sweets; Christmas dinner…just a modest roast chicken would do; and presents….At this point my wife turned quite nasty and reflected that I was a Scrooge and a zero and could be finding myself redundant to requirements if I carried on like this.

The issue is zee-bee-bee has a corrosively negative effect on everyone and whilst it might work on a spreadsheet it imposes a drying up of whatever innovative and entrepreneurial spirit exists within an organisation. Businesses exist to do things, invent things and grow. When, as happens, they lose their way and falter the answer is seldom a let’s-reduce-to nothing approach. The cry that there are no sacred cars (no that isn’t a misprint) is seldom true. The guys at the top are protected from most of the mean spiritedness of the zee-bee-bee approach.

I’m not advocating a blind blunder into bankruptcy but if you reach the need to zee-bee-bee you probably need to do some more radical and exciting things like exiting marginal businesses and investing heavily in those with some promise. In some businesses I know cost has been cut, jobs have been slashed but the survivors have been given carte blanche to grow and thrive. In my own experience survival strategies that only comprise cost cutting hardly ever or probably never work.

I hear that one of the major grocers is investigating a major overhaul of their supply chain by turning their much smaller outlets into high street sites where there is only one of every item on the shelf and you walk briskly round clicking your easy-order-gismo and your groceries are delivered to your home just three hours later.

Genius” I thought “I wonder if the turnip head who thought of that ever visited Dean and Delucca in New York.

The trouble with cost reducers is that they are, to a person, destroyers of joy. Little by little they poison and they lay waste.

Better the savage prune than the snip-snip of mean-minded scissors.

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