On Chunking

For those of you who struggle with ensuring that delegated tasks are completed on time, I have some good news for you. New work by some behavioral economists has shed some light on this difficult situation.

Most of us are familiar with the psychological concept of chunking in large part because of a famous paper published in 1956 by George A. Miller entitled The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on our Capacity for Processing Information.

The idea is that our short-term memories can only remember 7 +/- 2 items in a list, such as number, unless we chunk it down into groups of numbers. Some common examples would be phone, credit card and social security numbers.

More interestingly, some behavioral economists have demonstrated that the same concept can be applied to the assignment of tasks. When an assignment is given to a person to complete, it is far more likely to be completed if it is chunked into two or three sub-tasks, rather than just assigned as a single task.

Rory Sutherland refers to this in many of his presentations. Here is one from the APA. He talks about this concept beginning at 2:45, but watch the whole thing it is great stuff!

The lesson here for professionals is this – whenever you give an assignment break into at least two parts, even if it seems somewhat artificial. Some examples:

  • “Enter this data, then call me.”
  • “Review this document for clarity, then email it back to me.”
  • “Create the report layout you want, then convert it to a pdf.”

I believe this will work when you assign tasks to fellow team members, but, more importantly, I believe it will help with tasks that you assign to your customers.

I have begun to experiment with it and it seems to be working.

Pricing That Makes You Go, “Huh?”

images-4So this morning I called to renew my, errr, son’s subscription to the MLB Insiders Club. It gets us him some “free” stuff as well as a monthly baseball magazine. Overall, I think it is a good deal.

I called because the letter I received had no place where I could renew on-line and, well, filling out a form and sending via the USPS is beneath me. I found it odd that you can join the program on-line, but not renew. So be it.

On the mail-in form the prices for renewal were listed thusly:

  • Three years – $59.00
  • Two years – $44.00
  • One year – $24.00

Not bad. This is pretty standard term-based preferred pricing, but here is where is gets weird.

When I called, the representative took my member number and said she would be happy to renew me at the following “rates:”

  • One year – $9.00
  • Two years – $18.00
  • Three years – $27.00

I renewed for three years, but now I am totally confused.

First, why is it cheaper, significantly cheaper, to call to renew as opposed to sending in the form?

Second, why did they present the prices highest to lowest on the mail piece, but lowest to highest over the phone?

Third, in both cases they used even dollar “9” pricing as the base, yet the form used the three-year price as the base and the call-in used the one-year price as the base. Why is that?

Fourth, why is it that via mail, I get a preferred price for a longer subscription, but via the phone, the price is less, but there is no preferred price for multiple years?

Fifth, is this an example of a great price discrimination strategy – charging more to the people who just renew using old technology (i.e., the mail) or an example of a company without a fricking clue as to pricing?

Sixth, why do I even care about this?

Sorry, that last question was my inside voice.

Your thoughts on the first five questions would be appreciated. I’ll reserve the last one for my shrink.

My “Why” – Latest Edition

Two years ago, I posted twice about my Why statement. (See those posted here and here for further explanation.)

Since I am convinced that one’s Why is a ever emerging concept, I thought it would be appropriate to share my latest Why, which is:

I believe that entrepreneurs continue the work of creation. I help entrepreneurs (mostly Sage partners and customers) understand how they create value for their customers  and better capture that value through the prices they set.

Please note that the first sentence is the key. I have been testing this at gatherings such as cocktail parties and even PTA meetings when I am asked the usual obligatory opening question, “So, what do you do?”

I have been replying with my Why. This is usually followed by a quizzical look, but after a brief moment, some variation of the phrase, “Tell me more,” is uttered. This leads to some great conversations. Conversations I never would have had, if I did not start with Why.