“Smart people do dumb things.”
Here’s the proof: How much money would you have right now if I gave you the ability to unwind any three financial decisions you have ever made? Years ago, after suffering a humiliatingly large dumb tax, it dawned on me that I have a seemingly unlimited ability to hit unforced errors and sabotage my business and financial success. I suspect you do, too. It turns out that the key to getting rich (and staying that way) is to avoid doing stupid things. I don’t need to do more smart things. I just need to make fewer dumb mistakes. The vast majority of our dumb tax is a direct result of emotional, overly optimistic, and poorly thought-out decisions. Every one of those three decisions you would love to unwind was an avoidable mistake.
Thinking is critical to sustainable success in business; said another way, business is an intellectual sport. The principles and structure suggested in The Road Less Stupid by Keith J. Cunningham will enable anyone, (regardless of the size of the business, the currency, or the industry) to run their business more effectively, make more money, and dramatically increase the likelihood of keeping that money. It all hinges on Thinking Time. This is a business book for business readers who want to learn the principles and strategies of making great decisions and minimizing risk. The structure of Thinking Time will enable you to minimize reacting emotionally and defaulting to the most obvious “best idea” available in the moment. The series of short chapters and subsequent Thinking Time questions are designed to maximize clarity and create better choices… either of which will result in fewer stupid mistakes. This is the real “secret”: The chance of success goes up when you think, plan, consistently execute the right things and worry about the possibility of loss. Here it is on a bumper sticker: Operators react and sweat. Owners think and plan.”
Many chapters can also help those in bank management as it relates to loans, loan reviews, annual reviews and the initial credit analysis. In one bumper sticker (which is Mr. Cunningham’s way of pointing out an obvious point), he says “Emotions and intellect work inversely. When emotions go up, intellect goes down. Optimism is a deadly emotion in the business world.” This is particularly true when there is a new request on the table and it’s a large transaction. Everyone is excited about the opportunity to the newest and greatest customer. Look at us grow! We do the normal analysis and possibly stress-test the individual credit, but we forget look at the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th order consequences. In loans, this could be the complexity of the loan, global analysis, and determining if we have the proper information and expertise to one, make a great loan decision; two, are we capable of servicing the complexities after the loan is made and is the borrower truly willing to open up their financial life so that we can get a true financial picture? In the ongoing servicing aspect, are we in a hurry to get the annual review completed and forget or don’t get all the information for the global analysis and therefore skip the 2nd, 3rd or 4th order consequences that ultimately could place last year’s biggest and best customer on the classified loan list? Are we analyzing the collateral properly along with the cash flow in the annual review to make sure both aren’t deteriorating? It is prudent to take some advice from Mr. Cunningham on his 5 core disciplines of thinking time and all 5 must be present.
One of my favorite chapters in this book is Chapter 44, “Cause and Effect”. In this chapter, he distinguished the difference between cause and effect. Again, in analysis and annual reviews, we look at the effect and not the cause. He describes the cause as the problem or issue and should be measured with critical drivers. He describes critical drivers as an early warning system that illuminates where the loan might be veering slightly off course and gives you enough information, so you can do something about it before the situation becomes a problem. This is different than a K.P.I., key point indicators. In loans, a K.P.I. may be a debt-to-income ratio. It is an effect of the most recent financial information which is already stale and historical. A critical driver may be the average collected balance in the operating account as it relates to a month-over-month trend. You may ask yourself, what if the operating account isn’t at our bank? Well, that may be a 2nd, 3rd, or 4th order consequence we didn’t think about in the beginning.
The first four chapters of The Road Less Stupid set up the discipline, which is really thinking about things and giving an order and disciplines to achieve. The next 44 chapters are short and can easily be read in 10 or 15 minutes, and each chapter ends with Thinking Time questions. Bankers are smart people and easily relate all these topics to banking. I highly recommend this book and if you enjoy it, Cunningham has another book, The Ultimate Blueprint for an Insanely Successful Business.” It’s about optics and measuring the correct optics and can easily be translated into your bank.
David McSwain is an Oklahoma bank consultant and president of McSwain Consulting providing loan risk management solutions, bank loan review services, and bank consulting services to community banks in Oklahoma, Texas, and Kansas.