Career HR & Training

Be A “Smart Dummy”

Guest post by Dan Tobin, author of Learn Your Way to Success.

What questions did you ask, and what did you learn at work today?

When speaking to a senior executive from a consumer goods company,  he mentioned that whenever he put together a problem-solving team, he always included in its membership a “smart dummy.”  “A smart dummy,” he explained, “is a bright individual who has no background or experience with the problem.  It is someone who can ask the naïve questions that others are afraid to ask.” This executive had assembled a team to find ways of reducing the company’’s freight –costs that ran the company tens of millions of dollars a year.

Most of the members of the team were from the company’’s logistics and finance operations.  The smart dummy had no background in this area.  In one team meeting, the smart dummy asked, “How do we know that we are getting the lowest shipping rates from our vendors?”  The head of logistics replied, “Because the rates we are charged are below their published rates.”  The smart dummy followed up with, “Have we ever asked the vendors if they can give us any additional discounts?”

When the company called the various freight vendors and asked for a larger discount, they were immediately given additional discounts of from 3 to 5 percent, saving the company several million dollars a year.  Without the smart dummy on the team, the people in charge of logistics would have never asked for the additional discounts.

Asking questions is a primary way in which we learn.

Daniel R. Tobin has more than 30 years of experience in the learning and development field. He has founded two corporate universities served as vice president of design and development at the American Management Association and delivered keynotes and workshops on five continents.


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