#197 Sweating the Small Stuff

A few weeks back, I was having lunch with a friend who is a long-time St. Paul resident. He was telling me some of the history of his neighborhood, east St. Paul, and when he got to some of the famous gangster stories of the area he mentioned one of the old mobster hangouts that is still pretty popular with modern gangsters. He said, "The cops know all about it. Every Wednesday night, the neighborhood is surrounded in black limos when the gang guys show up for their meeting. The drivers drop off the bosses and find a parking spot close to the restaurant." He described this flood of black suited stereotype gangsters whacking each other on the back and deciding what part of Minnesota they are going to screw up next over a big steak with a side of spaghetti. He made it sound almost civilized.

I disagree.

Maybe the biggest problem with the lawyer-based legal system we suffer is that we put all of our resources in exactly the wrong places. In life, manufacturing, and in business in general, it's a good idea to consider the old saying, "Don't sweat the small stuff." The Pareto "80/20 Rule" is all about that tactic. If 80% of your expenses come from 20% of your problems, the idea is to work on that 20% first. When you've solved those problems, you work on the next 20%. Randomly cherry picking easy problems to deal with because the 20% are complicated is exactly how General Motors ended up being a 2nd tier manufacturer. Our major manufacturers have been playing catch-up since Japan fired up the Quality Revolution in the 1960's.

But the small stuff is exactly the only thing we sweat with our criminal justice system. We arm our police and send them after everyone but the folks who are committing the really big, really harmful to society, crimes. We waste time and money chasing down people doing drugs in the privacy of their own homes, people having sex for money, kids downloading music and movies, parking violators, and people who don't mow their lawns regularly. While police are piddling with silly crap, Rome is burning and the Huns are tearing down the walls.

February 2009

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