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Preventing Poor Performance

An outstanding book, FREAKONOMICS. If you have not read it, you MUST. The book will help every reader – all of us redefine the way we view the world. The most important lessons we learned from the book – the world may be complex but is not unknowable if we just can ask the RIGHT QUESTIONS. All it takes is a new way of looking.

I liked the concept of Broken Windows. I first read it in Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell and now again in the FREAKONOMICS by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. The concept first appeared in an article titled Broken Windows by James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling, which appeared in the March 1982 edition of The Atlantic Monthly. The idea is based on the following example:

“Consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it’s unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside. Or consider a sidewalk. Some litter accumulates. Soon, more litter accumulates. Eventually, people even start leaving bags of trash from take-out restaurants there or breaking into cars.”

A successful strategy for preventing vandalism, say the book’s authors, is to fix the problems when they are small. Repair the broken windows within a short time, say, a day or a week, and the tendency is that vandals are much less likely to break more windows or do further damage. Clean up the sidewalk every day, and the tendency is for litter not to accumulate (or for the rate of littering to be much less). Problems do not escalate and thus respectable residents do not flee a neighborhood.

In this context, I can only think of the Singaporean example of clean neighbourhoods.

The theory thus makes two major claims: that further petty crime and low-level anti-social behavior will be deterred, and that major crime will, as a result, be prevented.

How can we apply the broken window theory to the world of work to prevent poor performance?

By: Tan Sri Dr. Palan

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