What would you do with $5 and 2 hours?

Posted by Allan Steinmetz on 13 March 2019

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What would you do with $5 and 2 hours?

Last week, a friend sent me an email from a blog post that he receives weekly from Ozan Varol who touts himself as a “Contrarian.”

He cited an entrepreneurial experiment and teaching workshop which took place at Stanford University. It was summarized in a Psychology Today article in May 2009. In his post he describes a class room scenario where students are assigned into teams. Next, each team is given five dollars in funding. Their goal is to make as much money as possible within two hours and then give a three-minute presentation to the class about what each team achieved.

As one would expect the losing teams focused on the five dollar bill and how they could use that money to generate incremental revenue and win over the accolades of their peers. They instantly became tactical rather than strategic.

The teams that made the most money didn’t use the five dollars at all. They realized the five dollars was distracting, and essentially worthless resource. The teams that did well ignored the five dollar bill. Instead, they focused on the bigger picture and a strategy. They sought to find a more significant opportunity rather than to focus on a five dollar bill.

The team that made the most money approached the problem differently. They realized that both the $5 funding and the 2-hour period weren’t the most valuable assets at their disposal. Instead, the most valuable resource was the three-minute presentation time they had in front of a captivated Stanford class. They sold their three-minute slot to a company interested in recruiting Stanford students and walked away with $650. Brilliant. They examined every timeframe/process as a monetary asset and exploited it in their favor. The winning teams did not have a fixation on the five dollar funding and what they were going to do with it but rather, what was the overall goal and objective; making as much money as possible. No one said they had to use the five dollars to get the job done.

One particularly successful team ended up making reservations at popular local restaurants and then selling the reservation times to those who wanted to skip the wait. These students generated an impressive few hundred dollars in just two hours.

When shiny objects and cash blind us, we stop seeing other possibilities in the peripheries. It’s when you zoom out and determine the broader strategy that you can walk away from a flawed tactic. Don’t react first. THINK first and react second.

I shared this email with members of my family and staff. It generated a productive conversation about “Perspectives.” Do we look at our responsibilities broadly or limited to the things we need to accomplish daily? Are we looking at a NorthStar or on the ground below our feet? Do we worry about the small things or on bigger more important matters? Are we specialists or generalists? Do we think outside the box or are we content with the way things are? Do we focus on the “what” rather than the why”? Do we “live to work” OR “work to live”? How do you define your role, brand and purpose?

I know you can get philosophical very quickly, but you have to wonder whether or not these were traits that were exhibited by Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk and the innovators of our future. I’ve always thought of myself as an “out-of-the-box thinker.” Reading this reminder piece just reinforced these ideas for me. I thought I do the same for you today. Enjoy thinking outside the box.

Happy Spring! Happy Thoughts!

Allan Steinmetz CEO - Inward Strategic Consulting 617-558-9770