Bonfire of Insanities

I’m not sure when it happened but at some point people just lost their minds. Even otherwise rational people are behaving like sugar-loaded children on Christmas morning; running around in circles screaming for no apparent reason.

I’m speaking, of course, of the mobile device market.

A snappily dressed fellow goes on a stage and says the words “iPhone” or “Surface” and next thing you know thousands of people are lining up to pay hundreds of dollars for one without the slightest idea of what it really IS. In the consumer world this has become commonplace but what’s startling is how often we’re seeing this in the BUSINESS world now.

A few weeks ago I had a business person tell me he couldn’t wait to buy Microsoft Surface tablets for his entire staff. In fact he planned to pre-order them as soon as he could. I asked him a few increasingly uncomfortable questions:

Q: “What’s the Surface going to help you solve?”

A: “Well, it’s going to, umm…make us more mobile.”

Q: “Oh. In what way?”

A: “Well, our users can…you know, take it out of the office.”

Q: “Can’t they leave the office now?”

A: “Yeah, but the Surface will let them leave the office and still use Word. Or something. Probably.”

Q: “Probably?”

A: “Well I’m not sure it’ll actually run Word, but it’ll probably run at least some version of Word. I’m guessing.”

Q: “Guessing. O.K. So what are you estimating for the ROI on this move?”

A: “Well, probably a lot I think.”

I just blinked at him.

A: “Well, the returns are sort of uncertain, but I figure it has to improve our productivity, doesn’t it?”

Q: “Maybe. So you’re willing to pay the price for a dozen of these to improve your productivity. Fair enough. What is the price of a dozen of these?”

A: He blinked at me and shifted in his seat uncomfortably.

Q: “We don’t know the price, do we?” I said with a smile.

A: He blinked some more.

Hard enough to calculate the ROI when you don’t have any real sense of the R, but it’s impossible when you don’t even know the I. Baffling to hear otherwise intelligent business folks insist that the next big device is totally worth it…when you don’t have any idea what “it” is. How can you budget for an item you don’t know the price of?

Get a grip folks. I know the new toys are sexy and fun. Some of them probably will turn out to be great productivity tools. I’m excited to try out a Surface myself…but I won’t make a decision to order and deploy devices I’ve never actually seen and don’t know the price of.

That’s not good business. That’s just insanity.

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