Brain Buster

Unintended Consequences

In the mornings I listen to This American Life. I’ve been commuting again after a year off so I’ve had a stack of them to go through and it’s great to be listening to podcasts again. I’m only about 3 weeks behind and this morning I heard a story about Colorado Springs and the fact that a tax increase was shot down and so they started turning off street lights. When residents would call the would actually be told “Remember the $200 increase that got shot down? Yeah, that’s why. If you want your light back on it will be $150.”

Oh, you want us to landscape the park again? $2,500. And yet that wasn’t the part that got me thinking, it was the next call – a man just coughed up$300 to get the lights on his street back on and a city councilor said “You know if you had just voted for the increase you only would have had to pay $200 and you would have your lights, your park, snowplowing and other services.” the man responded something to the effect of “No, this way is better”. As the Councillor then summarized – the citizen was willing to pay a premium because he didn’t trust his elected officials enough to use the funds to his satisfaction.

In our town, you pay for your trash bags. I like this model – if you recycle and don’t buy a lot of crap you have less trash and you pay less. You could argue that this penalizes large families and the poor since larger families generate more trash and the price of the bags are a higher percentage of a poorer family’s income. You could also counter that the constitution says nothing about your right to generate unlimited trash. Both would be right (unless there’s some amendment I missed the memo on). You’d be right in both cases. And this creates a whole slew of interesting economic questions and unintended consequences: Was it better to just have the trash fee as part of the property tax or does this discourage recycling? Is volume of trash a concern? What happens in the parks as everyone sneaks trash into public trash cans (I see it all the time)? People “exporting” trash to work or neighboring towns?

Until the dawn of both the spreadsheet and the internet the cost of measuring these things was more expensive than just saying “throw it all into the property tax”. Now with more ability to track changes down to the dollar, and share that with the public we may be poised for significant change here. Add to that the financial pressure of public jobs under scrutiny for benefits expenses far above the public sector and the pressure for change increases.

As I was thinking about it I saw a related example in front of me, a new technology, the Waze GPS app, alerted me to a speed trap. As I slowed down to the limit I thought “There goes $150 that’s going to have to get squeezed out of the budget from somewhere.”


Productivity Booster


Over the last 3 weeks I’ve had 2 trips to San Francisco, one for Cloudforce and the other for Sales 2.0. At both of these events I heard the hype surrounding Gamification – adding game play elements to your business process. At Cloudforce Mark Benioff was talking about their acquisition of Rypple. In addition to whatever employee review/feedback  system you have you give employees the ability to award badges to each other that show up in the user’s profile (in this case in

The central idea to gamification is that people will spend hours on end chasing digital trinkets, and this seems obvious based on the success of things like Farmville, Foursquare, or sticker chasing on Get Glue. While researching yesterday I came across a great post (worth the read) claiming that gamification is BS, and while the argument has merit, that doesn’t mean it won’t work. As a friend of mine experienced in motivating sales people has said regarding their competitive nature: “I’ve seen them get in a fist fight over a bag of M&M’s”

After hearing about Rypple I came across a wide assortment of companies providing game functionality to the sales cycle such as ePrize, BunchballBadgeville and Hoopla (I have to admit, their ESPN style leaderboard eye candy is very cool). It will be interesting to see how many of these companies show up at Dreamforce this year. I’d go on about how well these tools can shape behavior, but the fact that I spend time checking in to 5 Guys Burgers and Fries so that I can continue to be the Foursquare Mayor is proof enough.