Thinking like a freak means looking at common, everyday problems through an out-of-the-box lens. This process lets you question every step involved in your current systems and processes. It also means re-examining whatever conclusions you arrive at. How can you be sure you’re actually performing at the highest level if you’re not willing to deconstruct the way you’re currently working?

2015_JUN_ALL_PRODUCTIVITY - Stephen Dubner on 7 ways to think like a freak

According to Stephen, re-evaluating the “way things have always been done”can help you to discover some new, avant-garde ways of doing business. This should be backed, whenever possible, by solid data gleaned from research. Here are the key takeaways from Stephen’s main thesis on how anyone can gain the benefits of thinking like a freak:

1) Start with the Customer

Everything must start with the customer. Ensure you are running the right tests, and conducting the right research, so you know what your customers really want. This may differ from what they say they want or what your market research suggests they want. In fact, surveys and market research may just be telling you what you want to hear (more on this below). Find new, data-based ways to discover your customer needs. Then at least you’ll know that what you’re doing is based on genuine customer knowledge, needs, and insights.

2) Find Real Data

To succeed, you must find data that truly reflects the real world, rather than data that reflects what people say they will do or how they perceive they do things. According to Stephen, “Survey data and market research data are some of the lowest forms of data. We don’t know our own behavior very objectively, especially if we project into the future.” For businesses, this means honing in on data rather than opinions. Sometimes the best research is the research we conduct in-house, with our own data and our own eyes.

3) Money Doesn’t Matter

Well, of course money does matter, but it’s not always the most powerful way to retain, motivate, and incentivize staff. Seek different ways to incentivize that will achieve real results. Look at the real reasons for what your employees are and are not achieving and try to change that. Keep in mind that for many people, money really isn’t what’s most important.

“Human behavior change is really hard,” Stephen told the Xerocon crowd. “Figuring out how incentives really work, as opposed to guessing, is important. The real moral of the story is, rather than relying on people to do the right thing, come up with incentives to help encourage them to do it.”

Stephen shared the tale of how Cedar Sinai Medical Center in LA came up with a number of methods to change their doctors’ behavior. They wanted to encourage their doctors to wash their hands after seeing patients – a simple task that could dramatically reduce the spread of disease. They tried issuing a memo imploring people to do the right thing. They tried offering Starbucks gift cards as a reward. They even tried having nurses jump out to surprise doctors with applause whenever they spotted them washing their hands. A lot of it was pretty creative, but none of it worked.

Finally, someone had the idea to appeal to a doctor’s conscience. Physicians were asked to place their hands on petri dishes, which were then sent to a lab to cultivate whatever bacteria had been found on their hands. The horrifying results were posted as the screensavers on all the hospital’s computers. By appealing to medical professionals’ own values in such a visceral way, the 9% observed hand-washing rate increased to nearly 100% virtually overnight.

4) No ‘Magic Bullet’ Data

A lot of data makes it difficult to determine why people behave the way that they do. Consider workforce science – the process of understanding what employees do, why and under what situations. Look deeper for data that explains the reasoning behind employee and customer behavior.

5) Throw Out Convention

Many businesses continue doing things the way they always have, purely because that’s the way the last person did it. Wrong! Rather than working within the traditional framework, throw it all out and consider how you would do things if you were starting from scratch. Even if you don’t actually do it—the thought experiment alone can yield powerful results. You’re guaranteed to find room for improvement.

6) Be Like a Child

“Thinking like a freak means to be willing to think like a child a little more often,” Stephen said. Children often ask ridiculous but wonderful questions. By emulating that degree of open inquiry you can help ensure that you’re asking the most unthought-of, unconventional questions too. As much as a child continually asking why can be tiresome, they do make you look at a situation, problem, or opportunity in a whole new way. This opens the door to a better, more efficient, less costly or more inspiring way of approaching business.

7) Make Decisions, Not Habits

Often we believe that we are making informed decisions, and yet the truth is that we are acting out of habit. If you want to implement real change then you need to make a goals list, keep track of the decisions you are making, and measure your achievements. Make real decisions and act on real goals—and make the effort required to do things differently in order to break old habits.

Fortunately for all of us at Xero, Stephen believes accounting has a bright future. No matter what kind of transactions currency the future may bring, there will always be a need for an accounting system which is:

  • User-friendly
  • Accessible
  • True
  • Accurate
  • Dynamic

Overall, he says the keys to being successful in business today are to:

  • Experiment and test early
  • Measure consistently
  • Be prepared to change or abandon a once successful idea if or when it begins to fail

So look beyond the traditional data. Understand that the way things have been done before isn’t always the best way forward. Seek to uncover the reasons behind why people do what they do and what will truly incentivize them. If you can do those things you not only help your business, you’ll be well on your way to thinking like a freak.

Russ Fujioka Xero

This content is provided courtesy of Xero Accounting Software - used by hundreds of thousands of businesses all over the world.