Home > The Lean Post> Winning the Brain Game: Fixing the 7 Fatal Flaws of Thinking, by Matthew May

Winning the Brain Game: Fixing the 7 Fatal Flaws of Thinking, by Matthew May

by Cameron Ford
August 18, 2016

Winning the Brain Game: Fixing the 7 Fatal Flaws of Thinking, by Matthew May

by Cameron Ford
August 18, 2016 | Comments (51)

You own a health club in LA. One of your members’ favorite perks is $50 bottles of designer shampoo you leave in all your shower stalls for guests to use for free. The problem is, many guests are using the word “free” a little too liberally and are stealing the bottles. The problem has become too expensive for you to ignore. Your task is to come up with a solution to this problem that:

  1. Stops the theft problem completely
  2. Does NOT involve taking away the shampoo perk - cannot involve discontinuing or limiting the current shampoo offering in any way (one full-size bottle of the current brand per stall must not change)
  3. Does NOT place any extra burden on the customer or employees
  4. Costs pennies at the absolute most
  5. Is easy to implement

This brainteaser (abridged here) appears in the introduction of Matthew May’s excellent book, Winning the Brain Game: Fixing the 7 Fatal Flaws of Thinking. No, I'm not going to give away the answer here (sorry!) but I guarantee you’re overthinking it right now.

Have you ever struggled for suggestions for continuous improvement from your employees? Maybe you set up what you thought was an inviting, open-ended, and respectful submissions system, only to get a near-negligible number of inputs? Have you ever struggled to reach a solution and had one of the fatal flaws run through your head, derailing your efforts? Then May’s book and the advice within might be your – and your people’s – guiding light.

Winning the Brain Game is May’s attempt to sum up what he calls the 7 fatal flaws of thinking: “patterned thinking traps” that can cripple one’s problem-solving efforts. They are:

  • Leaping. Jumping straight to possible solutions without analyzing the problem in-depth.
  • Fixation. Reverting to standard, habitual thinking patterns that may not be right for a given problem.
  • Overthinking. Self-explanatory – adding unnecessary complexity to a decision.
  • Satisficing. Cross between satisfy and suffice – a term by Nobel laureate Herbert Simon that describes our tendency to choose the easiest and most obvious solution, rather than thinking through the best solution.
  • Downgrading. Something like Satisficing – “we fall short of the optimal or ideal solution, pick one that gets us most of the way there, then sell the upside and downplay the downside.” (May 2016)
  • Not Invented Here (NIH). Automatically shutting down to ideas and solutions that were not a direct product of the problem-solving parties. Essentially saying, “Anything you can do I can do, better.”
  • Self-Censoring. They say your toughest critic is yourself. There you have Self-Censoring.

Lean itself is all about learning to think differently – to change your people’s and your mindsets to craft a culture of creative problem-solving thinkers working towards a common goal. May’s book provides the tools needed to do just that – building an understanding of the thinking patterns that stave off problem-solving efforts and the countermeasures that can help you reach your True North.

For example, when discussing Jumpstarting – the fix for the Downgrading flaw – May’s first suggestion for Jumpstarting is a very simple change in mindset. It’s called “Can-If Cascading,” originally developed by brand strategist Adam Morgan, and involves no more than swapping two words for another two words during your thought processes.

“I can’t, because…”  -->  “I can, if…” 

Such a simple change, yet with the power to help overcome one of the most common fatal flaws of thinking. Imagine:

“I can’t get more employees to contribute suggestions, because they’re too afraid of being seen as insubordinate.”

becoming...

“I can get more employees to contribute suggestions, if I talk to them and assure them that no one is getting fired for pointing out waste on the shop floor.” 

Simple, but powerful. Based on neuroscience, yet not drowning in advanced scientific concepts. And by extension, simple and accessible enough to not just understand yourself, but to help your people understand as well. Mention “Can-If Cascading” the next time somebody tells you, “I can’t, because…” It’s a small start but it provides a wealth of opportunity. The opportunities only increase from there when you read May’s book for yourself.

Comment down below if you think you know the solution to the opening brainteaser - I'll reveal the answer at a later date.

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views or policies of The Lean Enterprise Institute.
Keywords:  books,  problem solving
Was this post... Click all that apply
HELPFUL
26 people say YES
INTERESTING
34 people say YES
INSPIRING
22 people say YES
ACCURATE
8 people say YES
Related Posts
51 Comments | Post a Comment
Steve August 18, 2016
3 People AGREE with this comment

install a shampoo dispenser. 

Reply »

Anonymous August 18, 2016
1 Person AGREES with this reply

That doesn't cost "pennies at the absolute most."

Reply »

Joe August 18, 2016

After the cost of stolen product is tolled in thebdispenser is free. Less tax tonthe orginization of maintaining it as opposed to someone guarding the product at the front desk. 

Reply »

Cam Ford August 18, 2016

Good points Joe. Even in the grand scheme of things, a dispenser would still cost a pretty penny. The solution you're looking for costs absolutely nothing :) care to take another stab?

Cam Ford August 18, 2016

Thanks for commenting Steve; that was actually my guess when I first read the problem. As Anonymous said, that would be expensive, so it is not the solution. Another guess?

Reply »

Dee September 02, 2016

I would use a sticker on the bottles that in a fuuny and cute way demands: " I know you like me please don't take me home, I belong here, come again tomorrow" ... something like that! Cheap and it shows that the owner is aware!

Reply »

Dee September 02, 2016

funny I meant :) anything funny people stop stealing

Ralph McDermott August 18, 2016
1 Person AGREES with this comment

As part of membership, give each member a bottle of the shampoo and do not leave any in the shower stalls.  They can store it in their locker for use each time they go to the gym.  Bit of an assumption on my part that the members have a designated space to keep gear, but if not, that could be a new perk of membership.

Reply »

Cam Ford August 18, 2016

Good guess Ralph, thanks for the comment. Unfortunately your suggestion would put extra burden on the member, so it doesn't quite meet the criteria. Care to take another shot?

Reply »

Jeff Y August 18, 2016
1 Person AGREES with this comment

Keep the bottles at the front desks and make guests check them in and out?

Reply »

Cam Ford August 18, 2016

Thanks for the guess Jeff! Unfortunately that's an added burden on the customer and employees, so it doesn't meet Criteria #3 :) try again?

Reply »

Barbara V August 18, 2016
1 Person AGREES with this comment

Provide smaller oz bottles for personal use and have a larger (locked down) refill bottle so clients can refill their smaller bottles as needed. If they lose the small bottle, provide an extra one (1x) free, after that, charge maybe 50 cents for a new small bottle or whatever the small bottle costs. This would also lead to a great branding opportunity for the business, putting the business logo on the small bottles with a message about being complimentary, etc.

Reply »

bpeterson August 18, 2016
1 Person AGREES with this reply

Use a cheaper shampoo!!

Reply »

Cam Ford August 18, 2016

@bpeterson Thanks for the comment and the guess. Your solution meets all but one of the criteria: #2 says the shampoo perk has to stay, and swapping out the fancy stuff for cheaper shampoo wouldn't be as much of a perk :) good guess though - any other thoughts?

Reply »

Cam Ford August 18, 2016

I didn't even think of that, good one Barbara! I think that would probably work if the criteria were a little looser! But unfortunately it costs more to buy tons of small bottles than several big ones, and having to refill the bottles places an extra burden on the customers. I'll give you a hint: you're overthinking (one of the 7 fatal flaws of thinking) the problem :) feel free to guess again!

Reply »

Dirk August 18, 2016

Let's add another restriction: members are not allowed to bring their own empty bottles into the stall.

Reply »

Cam Ford August 18, 2016

Props to you, Dirk, for looking at the problem differently! That's a great guess, but the problem is that people are taking the entire bottles of shampoo with them, so it's less a matter of them bringing in empty bottles.

Also, in order to enforce that restriction and ensure that it meets Criteria #1 you would probably have to search people's gym bags before they leave, and that's an extra burden on the customer and staff. Tough one! Try again?

Reply »

Dirk August 18, 2016

Isn't that jumping to a conclusion? 

- are people taking the bottle for the bottle ?

- are people taking the bottle for the shampoo?

The latter seems more plausibe to me.

The reason i this: if you remove the caps and put them in the stalls to prevent theft, I guess some people will start pouring it over into empty bottles. (And perhaps even take the empty designer bottle with them as well).

Reply »

Matthew E. May August 19, 2016

Dirk, you were first to get it, so I want to send you a free book in the format of your choice (signed hard copy, Kindle, or Audible). If it's a signed hard copy, send your snail mail address to me at matthew.may@me.com.

Matt

Rose Harlow August 18, 2016
1 Person AGREES with this comment

What about...posting DO NOT STEAL SHAMPOO signs in the shower?

Reply »

Cam Ford August 18, 2016

Good guess Rose - and nice job keeping it simple. Your suggestion would not quite meet Criteria #1: a sign wouldn't necessarily stop the problem completely. After all, if everybody did exactly what the signs told them to do we'd have a whole lot less auto accidents in the world :) another guess?

Reply »

kevin kobett August 18, 2016

Are you enjoying this? This is why we post problems (opportunities for improvement) on the bulletin boards! Are you posting problems like this for your employees?

Reply »

Christin August 18, 2016

I just bought this book. These are the types of questions that come up daily with my job. I help warehouses implement lean principles but there are always roadblocks to getting things implemented. "I don't have the resources." "I don't have wall space for another board." Can't wait to see what I learn from  this book!

Reply »

kevin kobett August 18, 2016

Sorry. Forgot to give the answer. You sell the product to your customers.

Reply »

Cam Ford August 18, 2016

Good guess Kevin. That meets all but one of the criteria - #2 says we can't take the perk (free shampoo) away, and charging members for it does that. Tricky. Another shot?

Reply »

kevin kobett August 18, 2016

Who said anything about taking their perk away? They can still use the shampoo free of charge at the club. If they want to take some home, we will be happy to sell them some.

Now I'm interested in what you think is the better option.

Reply »

Matthew E. May August 18, 2016

 

First, thank you LEI and Cam Ford for such a favorable review!  Second, thanks for all the great comments and solutions. I have a feeling Cam didn't want to lift the entire challenge from the book, but since I'm the author I'm allowed to that. It will give you a bit more context, but probably make things slightly more difficult (many of the ideas given so far will be rendered unworkable)...apologies in advance!

----------------

THOUGHT CHALLENGE

*This problem is based on a Los Angeles-area health club. I turned the story into a thought challenge

Imagine that you own a luxury health club. As part of the membership perks, each of the 40 shower stalls — 20 men’s and 20 women’s — is stocked with a bottle of very expensive ($50), salon-only shampoo, which is only available in beauty supply retail stores to licensed hair stylists. The customers love it and rave about this particular perk. Unfortunately, bottles disappear from the showers all the time. In fact, theft rate is 33%, presenting a costly situation, not to mention a bad experience for members reaching for the shampoo, only to find the bottle gone. Your staff must constantly resolve complaints among your “honest” members. You’ve tried a number of things to solve the problem: reminders, penalties, and incentives to try and reduce theft, but nothing so far has worked. The front desk even sells the bottles at a very slim profit margin.

You decide to ask your employees, all whom are hourly, to help solve the problem, and give them several non-negotiable conditions: the solution must completely eliminate theft; it cannot involve discontinuing or limiting the current shampoo offering in any way...one full-size bottle of the current brand per stall must not change; any solution must be of extremely low, and preferably no, cost — pennies per stall, at most; there can be no additional burden on the member; and the solution must be easy to implement, without disrupting the normal operation of the club.

You tell your employees that they are free to be as innovative as they wish and do anything they want, as long as all conditions are met.

-----------

I started giving this problem over 10 years when I was at University of Toyota. Over 100K people have now tackled it. Here are the most common solutions:

  • keep bottles at the front desk to check in and out
  • hire a locker room attendant to check them in and out
  • put travel-size bottles in the stalls
  • install cameras
  • loyalty program offering a free bottle for keeping a clean record
  • install lockable pump-top dispensers in each stall
  • have a gym bag-checker at the exit
  • discontinue the shampoo in the stalls
  • charge a separate fee for shampoo
  • sell the shampoo at cost
  • “most wanted list”: pictures and names of offenders
  • chain the bottles somehow to the wall
  • put the shampoo in unmarked bottles
  • install “do not remove shampoo” signs in stalls
  • give out free sample-size bottles at the front desk
  • hire shower security guards
  • puncture the side of the bottle near the top
  • install RFID system
  • consider loss due to theft a cost of doing business
  • keep the bottles near empty at all times

Unfortunately, all of these solutions violate one or more of the conditions imposed — some more than others, of course. And non represent the fairly simple and elegant solution the LA health club employees came up with (which I'll share tomorrow after you've taken another stab!).

Reply »

Phil Rowe August 19, 2016
1 Person AGREES with this reply

Assign shower stalls and provide keys to each stall to those assigned.  Post a list of names who use the shower along with an inventory of what is in the shower stall.  Towels, shampoo, Soap, Shaving cream, etc. along with a reorder level for each item and its cost.  Member just need to tell the front desk if it is time to restock an item and in what stall. 

 

So, when are you giving the answer?  My copy wont arrive until the 26th. 

 

Reply »

Matthew E. May August 19, 2016

The employees simply removed the tops to the shampoo bottles. Problem solved. Theft stopped immediately. The root cause was NOT so much dishonesty, but rather accessibility of a very tempting item.

Interestingly, I circled back with the health a few years ago, and like many others, they had installed locked dispensers. Guess what? Theft returned. People brought empty bottles in and filled them.

NOW...for a surrpise award:

Dirk, you were first to get it, so I want to send you a free book in the format of your choice (signed hard copy, Kindle, or Audible). If it's a signed hard copy, send your snail mail address to me at matthew.may@me.com.

Ebsen, you were second, and quite clear in your statement of the solution, so I'd like to send you a hi-res 1-page visual summary poster (PDF) of the book, by artist Todd Clarke.

Reply »

Jamin October 05, 2016

What if you had bottles laid out on a platform of somesort with lines drawn around them so once a person would take one to use they would have to put it back otherwise there would clearly show that a bottle is missing from the last person who had took one

Reply »

Esben August 19, 2016
1 Person AGREES with this comment

I suggest removing the cap of the bottles before they are placed in the stalls.

No perfect fit for #1 however it would make stealing more difficult and is a fairly good fit for the other constraints.

Reply »

Dirk August 19, 2016
1 Person AGREES with this reply

This is exactly what I mentoned above, but I assume constraint #1 will be violated (as you mention). Malicious people (a minority of course) will bring empty containers and transfer shampoo if caps are removed.

I think it would help if constraint #1 is restated, e.g. "stops the theft problem significantly". 

Reply »

Kevin Chase August 19, 2016

Don't change anything except to empower the members to self monitor the situation. Report out the budget spending plan to actual. Financials are common with organizations that require memberships. Until you try it the result will not be know, so 100% countermeasure to the problem?.....stay tuned! 

Reply »

Matthew E. May August 19, 2016

Ebsen, you were second after Dirk to get the answer, and quite clear in your statement of the solution, so I'd like to send you a hi-res 1-page visual summary poster (PDF) of the book, by artist Todd Clarke. Send your email to me at matthew.may@me.com!

Matt

Reply »

Matthew E. May August 19, 2016

sorry, meant Esben not Ebsen!

Reply »

Lisa August 19, 2016

Approach the shampoo manufacturer to see if they will provide lockable dispensers. If the club is regularly spending $2,000 to outfit every shower - and closer to $2,666 given the loss to theft - then they should be a valuable customer worth keeping.

Reply »

Steve Maker August 19, 2016
1 Person AGREES with this reply

Switch to jumbo bottles of the shampoo. Very hard to steal a gallon jug! Probably cheaper per ounce, too.

Reply »

Steve Maker August 19, 2016

Although I don't think this is the solution, it must be noted that if the membership price were raised to cover this cost, and guests were "allowed" to take the bottles home, then by definition there would be no theft, and it would probably cost pennies per guest.

Reply »

kevin kobett August 19, 2016

Most people would quit at this point. They are missing opportunities. When a project looks completed, we must look back and ask, "How could we have caught this problem sooner?"

Although I only spent a few minutes thinking about this problem, I was looking at it from the perspective of an employee. It would have been easier from the customer's (perp's) point of view. Recreate the crime. What would stop someone from putting shampoo in their gym bag? Now the answer seems easy.

Good lesson for future problems. Thanks for the story.

Reply »

Excelathon August 22, 2016
4 People AGREE with this comment

Currently the cost of one hotel style shampoo/conditioner/bodywash dispensor is about $50.

That is the cost of one bottle of shampoo.

Is someone keeping data on the cost of the loss?

I will bet you $5 that one dispenser will take care of 2-6 losses per year. That's more than pennies in your pocket. Not only that, but you can get larger volume of shampoo, instead of some medium size consumer sized bottle. More pennies. Oh, and who wants to handle some bottle someone else handled? There is a reason hotels give you little bottles.

Leaving a cap off is puerile silliness, along with rfid, et al (guards? how much will that cost?).

Anyone who has taken a physics 101 in high school will know that the water will splash into the bottles and dilute your $50 a bottle shampoo. Loss of pennies.

Worse, what if someone tips it down the drain? If there is no cap, you might knock it over. Soap happens. Dollars down the drain.

Apparently the author doesn't travel much because there is NOTHING more of a hassle in a hotel shower than fiddling around with bottles, big or small. Wall dispensors are affordable and easier for the staff to deal with. Yuck on soapy bottles of shampoo. You can slap Chanel on it and it's still soap.

There is penny wise and pound foolish. Bottles may be sexy beasts for the clientele, but letting them know that they are getting a convenience and the same product is much more upscale and spa-like.

Finally, I know, right, people will steal no matter what. No. matter. what. Bet your bottom dollar that someone will be standing there nekkid in the shower with their little plastic bottle pouring/pumping/dispensing your expensive shampoo into it so they can use it at home. It's the human race.

 

Bottom line: you lose no perks for the customer if you install a dispensor. You increase cache' with something modern and convenient. You build loyalty by letting them see that you are committed to this shampoo, a convenient dispensing sytem and a much more professional looking environment. You also save money because you stop losing bottles.

How "lean" is it to not see the big picture? I know this is an exercise of some sort, but if you are going to have it, you need to think a little bit beyond these stringent guidelines. If you don't KNOW how much you are losing (one bottle a year, big deal, don't worry about the loss) or 50, if you don't know your loss then you dont' know what "pennies" actually means. Is it costing you x number of dispensers in showers? Or is it saving you $2500 (50 bottles a year) in costs and costing you the price of shower heads and installation (zero rocket science, get a bid from several contractors).

Leaving the cap off. Inane. (treading your clientele like kindergarteners...much fail, very short sighted, and despite the "zen like simplicity" of the idea, it's an insult to your customers.

 

Reply »

Excelathon August 22, 2016

not "shower heads", but "shower dispensors" autocorrect, ugh.

Reply »

Tim August 25, 2016

work with the supplier to provide free dispensors

Reply »

mangesh unawane August 26, 2016

1. Have the bottles with club name printed on it. 

2. Keep the bottle at common place. 

Reply »

Michael Mooney September 01, 2016
1 Person AGREES with this reply

First, I beleive this was a thinking exercise to get a team to realize a difficult problem may be resolved with some thing as simple as removing the caps. The point was "dont overthink it" and we all did. The answer is based on the thinking behind it and not the complexity involved.

 

Second, I can make an arguement for the soap dispenser. 1 you can control the "serving size" standardizing what 1 serving is. Right now 1 serving can be a drop or half the bottle but this would standardize 1 serving (1 pump). Even if someone used 2 servings it would be much easier for tracking metrics, quantifying ordering practices, rationing/controling usage, and knowing your useage rate vs inventory practices. Also not buying the standard bottles; feeding a dispenser may be cheaper in the long run, better inventory control/ ordering practices, less time spent by employees involving shampoo, standardize the dispenser in the same (best) place reducing motion from the members, and establishing a perception of quality (which looks better... Capless bottles in a shower or branded dispensers? I think capless bottles looks cheap).

 

Third, Lets pretend that no one is able to easily convince a company you do a lot of business with to install free marketing in your gym, solidify the relationship, or benefit their name... What is the cost? without this data it cant be seen as a deterent. What if they are $5 each across 10 stalls ($50) and last 3 years. That comes to less than 0.14/month/stall. OR Pennies to implement... ($5/12months/3years = 13.88 cents). Maybe they dont cost $5 but I am also confident I could negotiate much better than the boundries set in this test problem.

 

Last, working in a clinical lab the thought of a capless medium in any form feels wrong. Contaminates, water diluting the shampoo, equal theft risk as dispensers, uncontrolled "serving size", waste/loss risk from drops, and reduced ability to control inventory.

 

Again I beleive the point of this is to get people thinking differently. Complex problem resolved by removing caps... We overthought the answer in a discussion trying to teach us not to over think issues.

Reply »

Michael Mooney September 01, 2016

Sorry my reply was to the general topic and not a response to Mangesh Unawane specifically in any way. My appologies! again I was simply giving my input to the thread.

Reply »

Dee September 02, 2016

Use a sticker on the bottle that reads something cute and funny such as: " I know you like me, please dont take me home, the boos thretened to discontinue me :) ! ;)

funny, cheap and shows awarness of the incidents...

Dee September 02, 2016

I would also have the sticker cut in the shape of a heart and placed right in the middle of the bottle; large enough to fit the text!

Lev Ono September 04, 2016

I agree, Michael, that we were overthinking the problem. The point of the exercise is to challenge a team to think of a simple countermeasure given a set of clear constraints. The author says it's a real example and the thought exercise has been tackled by over 100,000 people. In real life, these kinds of problems rarely have a "one right answer" - the best way forward, for now, is a matter of the situational constraints.

Reply »

Jenny September 13, 2016

How about removing the caps from the bottles? It's harder to run off with an open bottle of shampoo

Reply »

Todd Clarke September 22, 2016
1 Person AGREES with this reply

Hi all, just wanted to share my visual one page summary for Matt's book for those interested in a concise and visual summary of his awesome book. Cheers. 

http://visualonepagers.com/brain/

Reply »

os545 September 01, 2017

I know this is a year old but I just stumbled on it. Nowadays I'd be more worried customers would fill the bottles with something else. Theft not a part of it, just malicious behavior.

Reply »

Thinking About Lean Logic
All Problem Solvers Must...?
"We Are Unique"
"What Do I Need to Know?"
7 Things Coaches Need to Get Over