In a 2010 TED Talk (Sweat the Small Stuff) Rory Sutherland said, “Once you have a very large budget, you actually look for expensive things to spend it on. “ He goes on to explain that although we look for expensive things that have a major impact and call that “strategy” we don’t spend much time looking for inexpensive things that could also have a major impact. In fact, we don’t spend enough time doing that even if we don’t have the luxury of a very large budget. You can think outside the box of expensive solutions by examining alternatives that serve the same purpose, and by examining the opportunity costs associated with choosing one thing over another.

When considering alternatives we need to take both quality and grade into account. The American Society for Quality (yes, there is such a thing) describes quality as, “The characteristics of a product or service that bear on its ability to satisfy stated or implied needs.” Grade is a category assigned to products or services having the same functional use but different technical characteristics. Paper & china plates may have the same quality but are of different grade, and in many cases paper plates are an adequate substitute. Look for solutions that have the same quality, which can satisfy the need to the same degree, but may be of lower grade. In other words, don’t settle for expensive solutions, look for inexpensive solutions that are good enough.

Another way to break the cycle of mind numbingly expensive solutions is by expressing concrete alternatives. Follow the example of Dwight Eisenhower set in a speech given to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Apr. 16, 1953: “The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.” Taking into consideration how many people you can hire and how that could contribute to your overall effectiveness, if you didn’t (fill in the blank), is a great place to start. Too often decisions are made without considering alternatives and somehow, “Can we afford it?” is the only relevant question. Ask two more questions:” Are there cheaper alternatives that would work just as well?” And, “What else could we do if we didn’t do this?”


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