Nincompoopery: Why Customers Hate You — and How to Fix It
John R. Brandt
HarperBusiness Leadership (July 2019)
How to understand, design, and deliver great value for everyone involved
For such a colloquial word, nincompoop actually has a very learned past. Samuel Johnson, the compiler of England’s first proper dictionary, claims the word comes from the Latin phrase non compos mentis (“not of right mind”), and was originally a legal term. That is certainly true of the person who devised this book’s subtitle. The opposite of a customer evangelist is not one that “hates”; rather, one who could not care less.
John Brandt probably understands that better than most people who read this book. As he explains, “It’s not the nincompoops — it’s the Nincompoopery…the meta foolishness — of the companies and systems in which they’;re forced to work. Ill-planned, outdated, or ludicrous organizational structures can turn even the most eager employee into a nincompoop, or at least force him or her to [begin italics] seem [end italics] like one.”
He wrote this book in order to explain how to understand, design, and deliver great value for everyone involved. This is what Southwest Airlines’ chairman and CEO, Herb Kelleher, had in mind when explaining how how his company was more profitable and had greater cap value than all of its nine largest competitors…combined: “We take great care of our people, they take great care of our customers, and our customers take great care of our shareholders.”
Brandt and his firm (MPI Group) have studied more than 50,000 companies the lessons learned from them provide some of the book’s greatest value. For example, the key to most (if not all) Nincompoopery problems — systemic, organizational problems — is to avoid or overcome tradition, inertia, and apathy. Brandt explains how “simple changes” can be made “that would save money and improve customer experience (and, ultimately, increase revenue and profits). Instead, like most companies (and most employees and leaders), they continue to do the same irritating things, in the same irritating ways, day after day [begin italics] despite [end italics] knowing better.”
Brandt recommends three separate but interdependent strategies:
1. Develop, make, and deliver new value that meets customers at a pace faster than the competition. (See Chapter 2.)
2. Achieve competitive advantage by having superior systems in place to recruit, hire, develop, and retain the best talent. (See Chapter 3.)
3. Document annual productivity and quality increases that exceed those of competitors through an organization-wide commitment to continuous improvement. (See Chapter 4.)
None of these strategies is a head-snapper. They comprise the basic WHAT of organizational success. Brandt focuses on HOW each of them can drive success like a hammer drives nails (i.e. tactics). For me, the material he provides in Chapters 2-4 can serve as a cohesive, comprehensive, and cost-effective system.
This material provides a rationale for eliminating — or at least minimizing — Nincompoopery throughout the given enterprise as well as a blueprint for developing the workplace culture needed to achieve that strategic objective.
Ultimately, as always, the success or failure of change initiatives will depend almost entirely on those involved. Their biggest challenge will be to overcome what James O’Toole so aptly characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.”
Hence the importance of effective leadership at all levels and in all areas. Brandt devotes his last chapter and Afterword to explaining how to conduct “Anti-Nincompoopery Planning” by taking six “Big Leadership” trends into full account. This counsel in combination with the three aforementioned strategies will produce results that may now seem impossible to achieve. For example, “Inspiring employees to invest more time, effort, and money intgo fostering greatness within each strategy.” That will shrink about 40% of the time now spent (and wasted) on meaningless, irritating tasks.
If any of this sounds like something you and your organization need, carefully read and then re-read this book, highlighting key passages and keeping a lined notebook near at hand in which to record comments, questions, cross-references, and checklists. The value of the material will ultimately be determined, as it always is, by how effectively the relevant information, insights, and counsel are applied. There’s the great challenge…there’s the great oppirtunity.