Garbage in, Garbage Stays

Last week in New York, my fellow Consulting Hall-of-Famers and I were treat to a deli lunch at New York’s iconic Katz’s. If you are not familiar with Katz’s, it is in the famous deli scene of the 1989 hit movie, When Harry Met Sally ( At Katz’s, I met a corned beef sandwich there that made an offer I couldn’t refuse. Even as my stomach began to say ‘no’ to what must have been a pound of corned beef stacked high on rye, my mouth continued to say ‘yes.’

Katz’s for all its greatness has one idiosyncratic practice. When you enter Katz’s, a man at the door hands you a purple ticket and tells you that you must hand over the ticket upon leaving in order to be allowed to exit. No explanation offered. This ticket thing is serious business. Our waiter, who was just superb, even joked, “Don’t be like me! I lost my ticket five years ago, and now look what I’m doing!”

None of my world-class consultant colleagues nor I could figure out what on earth this ticket process is for. Maybe it was originally designed to keep people from leaving without paying, but watching how people paid and exited, it would be easy to slip out by simply pretending to be part of another party that had paid. So, it couldn’t possibly be for that.

The purpose of the purple ticket process has likely been long forgotten. Nonetheless, people continue the process simply because that is how things have always been done at Katz’s. The purple ticket process has become a waste of time in getting people in and out of Katz’s, a waste of labor as there is one full time employee dedicated to distributing and collecting purple tickets, and and aggravation for Katz’s customers. It has become sludge in the process pipeline, and should be cleaned out.

This kind of “sludge” is not confined to just processes, but is also common in databases, like CRM databases. When I do sales management consulting, one of the first things I do is audit the sales pipeline. Often I will find that more than 50% of CRM database entries are defunct, constantly slipping, or otherwise ambiguous and should be removed. Like sludge in a pipe, defunct data builds up if not regularly cleared out. CRM data sludge diminishes performance and throughput, makes meetings longer, delays decision-making, clouds judgement, and retards action. My colleague and fellow Hall-of-Famer Colleen Francis refers to the phenomenon of CRM data sludge as “garbage in, garbage stays.”

How many “purple ticket” processes do you have in your business? When was the last time database sludge was cleaned out? Do you think your business’s performance may be being hindered by sludge? How might this be effecting customers?

In organizations, we need to regularly clean out the sludge to keep performance at peak levels, and as much as possible, not introduce it in the first place.


Last week while in New York, I learned of a stabbing of an 18-year-old Japanese woman in a neighborhood close to where I live in Tsukuba. The news came via an email from Tsukuba International School, where my son attends, warning caution. Violent crime in Japan is far rarer than in the United States, and almost unheard of in Tsukuba, so this incident was jarring for many people. Having left my wife and son in Japan, I felt uneasy with the notion that there was some violent criminal at large in our peaceful neighborhood.

The victim described the attacker to police as a man wearing a mask and speaking “broken Japanese,” implying the man was foreign. There has been a lot ado in Japan in recent years about rising rates of foreigner on Japanese crime, although it seems to me that that vast majority of crime perpetrated in Japan is Japanese on Japanese. The victim’s comments apparently prompted the police to patrol the surrounding area looking for foreign men as possible suspects. In a city like Tsukuba, home to Japan’s premier science university and a thriving international community, it does not take long to find a foreigner on the street.

An American friend of mine and his Japanese wife run a successful English language school in the neighborhood. One of the English teachers from the school on a break crossed the street to buy something at a convenience store when the police stopped him for questioning. The hapless teacher had stepped out without his ID, a transgression for which the police may detain a foreigner in Japan. Bad move on his part. I don’t know exactly what was said, but the police ended up taking him back to the school, presumably to check out his story. And there the police were, in the school, questioning the owners while a patrol car was parked outside, its lights flashing red, causing the students in the school to question all the commotion. Ultimately the police left, but not without likely causing some damage. For the police even to be asking questions of someone, even if he is innocent, raises suspicion in Japan. People can be tainted  quickly here. The school caters to both adults and children, and I can imagine some Japanese parents simply not wanting their children to be in a school where the police show up to question people.

Last night, the principal of Tsukuba International School posted a link to a follow-up news article on the incident. Apparently, the woman had lied to the police. Her wounds where in fact self-inflicted. She admitted, “I hate myself, so I stabbed myself.” There was no comment on what motivated her to implicate an imaginary foreign attacker.

I don’t blame this woman. She is clearly psychologically damaged. Nor am I writing this to single out Japanese society for criticism. The Japanese certainly have no monopoly on xenophobia in the world. Rather, an incident like this one reminds me how quickly people seek out validation for their own world view, particularly when highly charged emotions are at stake. If you believe that foreign criminals are invading your society and perpetrating crime against innocent Japanese, the stabbing of a young woman justifies that view and becomes a hasty call to action–in this case unfortunately, the wrong call.

In order to grow, it is important to question your deepest held beliefs and worldview. If they can stand up to your rational questioning, and these beliefs advance your personal peace and prosperity, hold on to them. If they do not, perhaps it is time to let them go and replace them with better ones. In the case of this stabbing incident, a little more rational questioning would have been helpful to the woman, who is a danger to herself, and to the members of the community in Tsukuba.

Tips from the Million Dollar Consulting Mentor Hall of Fame

I am just wrapping up a week in New York ending with the annual meeting of the Million Dollar Consulting Mentor Hall of Fame into which I was inducted last year. This a group of some of top consultant’s from around the world. Let me share some tips and insights from our meeting.

  1. Business optimism abounds, around the world and in Japan. Cash-hoarding companies are now looking to invest again. Be prepared to offer new value to your customers and prospects. Be prepared to invest in your business’s capabilities.
  2. Turn off the Internet. Stop checking email. An American company experimented with forcing its sales people to communicate with customers by means other than email by deliberately shutting down internet access in the office and on mobile devices during four hours every day. The result? Sales increased from $45 million to $60 million annually. Stop telling me how essential it is for you to be on email all day long.
  3. The top issues of concern of privately held small to medium size businesses in Canada are (1) professionalizing the capabilities of the executive management level team, (2) being proactively strategic as opposed to reactively tactical, and (3) having a succession plan in place both the deliberate and emergencies. Where does your business stand on these?
  4. The problem with CRM systems is garbage-in, garbage-stays. How much “sludge” is in yours? Clean out of sludge, and streamline your sales.
  5. Invest in developing the capabilities of your top people, not in remedying the deficits of the mediocre. That provides the greatest return.
  6. Beware of information technology providing merely an illusion of productivity. Ask yourself how the condition of your business has improved. Ensure that technology complements rather than complicates you business. This is a leadership issue, not a technical one. If you are a leader, take the responsibility.