As we know, identifying controlled variables requires a little persistence even after you think you’ve got the answer. Maybe especially after you’ve reached a conclusion. **This illustration of the issue is currently making the rounds under the title “****Dumbest Kid in the World?”
A young boy enters a barber shop and the barber whispers to his customer, “This is the dumbest kid in the world. Watch while I prove it to you.”
The barber puts a dollar bill in one hand and two quarters in the other, then calls the boy over and asks, “Which do you want, son?”
The boy takes the quarters and leaves.
“What did I tell you?” said the barber.
“That kid never learns!”
Later, when the customer leaves, he sees the same young boy coming out of the ice cream store.
May I ask you a question?
Why did you take the quarters instead of the dollar bill?”
The boy licked his cone and replied, "Because the day I take the dollar, the game’s over. **
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Rick Marken obviously likes the wonderful little story Bruce Nevin tells
about the boy and the barber. So do I. It also reminds me of an incident
I was doing some work related to the selling of Yellow Pages ads when one of
the crew managers asked me to look into a perplexing situation for him. It
seems some of his reps were engaging in what he thought was odd behavior.
They would be on a roll, really racking up the sales and then call in sick
(and he had good reason to believe they weren't really sick). He couldn't
understand why they would break off when they were having a good run.
I won't bore you with the details but after a lot schmoozing with the sales
reps what I found out is essentially that the compensation system had a
feature in it that some reps were exploiting to their advantage. Sales
commissions were paid two to four weeks after the sale. But, payments for
sick days were included in the pay period immediately following the sick
days. If one of the reps in question had had a bad run of luck regarding
sales, then he would go out on a few sick days just before those low
commissions were to appear in his paycheck. Sick days were paid for on the
basis of average commissions.
Long story made short, the sales manager viewed the sales reps as out to
maximize their income and couldn't understand why they would call out sick
in the middle of a good run. For many of the sales reps, that was true.
But, for many others, a steady income stream was more important and that was
what they were controlling for - thanks to the quirk in their compensation