Merge's Blog

Garbage in, garbage out: poor inputs result in poor outputs

garbage in, garbage outGarbage in, garbage out is a phrase I learned in one of my first-year Computer Science classes, back in my university days.  It was used to express the important concept that incorrect or poor quality input will always produce faulty output.  I learned this phrase in the context of computers, but it’s a phrase that is just as easily applicable to the world of work.  Except, in recent times, I think we might have forgotten it.

Whether it’s hiring employees, sourcing out raw materials, or investing in training, I see repeated examples of short-sighted managers focusing only on solving the immediate problem.  Staff shortage? Let’s hire the first warm body that seems to have the required modicum of skills.  Need to cut costs?  Let’s find the cheapest material inputs.  New software or processes?  Let’s give our people the bare minimum of training and get them back to doing “real work” as soon as possible.

The problem with “Garbage in, garbage out”

The problem of course with all these approaches is what I said earlier – garbage in, garbage out.  When you are desperate enough to hire the first applicant simply because he meets the required minimums, you’ll never get off the turnover treadmill.   When your entire focus is on trying to find cheaper average inputs, your final product will always be of poor quality.  When you shortchange your people on the training they need, you’ll find yourself having to waste time and money doing it again later.

Steering clear of the garbage in, garbage out pitfall requires a change in your mindset.  Successful leaders understand that inputs matter.  In the long run, it’s far more efficient and effective to get the right inputs than it is to try to improve and polish the wrong ones.  Just like the coach of a hockey team knows that a group of exceptional players are more likely to win that a group of average ones.  Just like the chef in a restaurant knows that fresher quality ingredients will cook up a better meal.  Just like a tech company knows that more intelligent programmers will deliver more expert coding.  Leaders know that rather than trying to cultivate the mediocre, it’s smarter to invest time and money on finding exceptional people, materials and services in the first place.

Your thoughts?  I would love to hear your perspective on today’s blog post, please comment below.

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