A Game of Plinko as a Lesson in Operational Values

Constantin Macri 23/03/2023 | 13:37

In business, there are more variables than you can shake a stick at, and getting them under control can be a challenge at times. Ironically, there’s a lot to learn about managing these variables from a game that first appeared in a game show from the 80’s. We’ll give you the takeaways below.


  • The game show that started it all

In 1983, a game show called The Price is Right made its first debut. It introduced this ball dropping game called Plinko, the modern-day variants of which can even be played online using cryptocurrencies and stablecoins like Tether. In essence, the gameplay revolves around dropping the ball from the top and seeing it descend as it bounces through the pegs, hoping to get it to the compartments with the best prizes. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? It might, until you consider there are 54 pegs in total, each contributing to the unpredictability of the outcome.


  • Every variable in a corporate scenario is yet another peg

If the game had only 1, 3, or 6 pegs in total, the outcome would be easier to predict. However, just as any real-life corporate scenario, there are always going to be multiple variables at play, anything from decisions made on the spot and all the way to how well your team performs the task (which can be influenced by even more variables). Do you see the pattern? In a lot of ways, it’s like playing a game of Plinko with each peg representing a new variable that affects the outcome of the scenario.


  • A human mind is prone to making mistakes

As much as you may be inclined to convince yourself to the contrary, human resources are not robots. As such, they are prone to fatigue, stress, and other psychological as well as environmental factors. Now imagine putting a team member in a role where thousands of results-impacting decisions need to be made per day, perhaps one every couple of seconds. It’s very likely that a mistake will occur at some point, especially at the end of the workday when fatigue starts to kick in.


  • Balancing productivity against accuracy

The practical example discussed above introduces another dilemma – given that there is a limited amount of hours in a day, especially towards the end where decreasing attention spans are at play, should you give preference to productivity or accuracy? Ideally, the answer would be both, but in a practical scenario, that’s hardly ever the case. We could get rather scientific about this, but the takeaway is that no two industries are the same. Therefore, operational efficiency boils down to analyzing the unique characteristics of your business.


  • It all comes down to your ROI

To expand on the point made above, you should make a rough calculation to what extent a certain mistake has a negative impact on your ROI. Some mistakes may not be critical, while others like shipping a faulty product could literally cost you a customer. If pushing your team to the extent of their capabilities ultimately results in them making more of these costly mistakes, diluting the complex question of productivity and operational efficiency to “work as hard as you can”, surprisingly, might not be the right answer. At the same time, there is a pressure to ship a certain number of products every month since workforce labor is a cost and there are rents to pay. It’s all a fine balancing act.


  • Identifying the issues and devising a solution in advance

Although it’s impossible to predict every scenario in advance, you can list out the ones that are the most likely to happen and the ones that you bump into on a regular basis. That will give you the right framework to consider all the possible solutions. Sometimes, experimentation and improvisation might be necessary to resolve an issue, but it shouldn’t be relied upon. It’s much better to have a plan prepared in advance so you can move straight to the execution phase without wasting valuable time scratching your head.

Real-life variables are like pegs in Plinko. The more of them that are at play, the harder it’s going to be to predict the outcome.


  • Conclusion

Getting good at the game of operational efficiency is learning to live with the fact that certain aspects of your business will always be out of your control. But in most cases, it’s possible to put them on a spectrum of predictability, which is an important stepping stone in getting them resolved swiftly and efficiently. It’s also about balancing productivity versus not making costly mistakes. But no matter what you do, it’s like playing Plinko – the more pegs or variables there are at play, the harder it will be to predict the outcome.

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Constantin Macri | 28/06/2024 | 12:25
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