If…Then. Or Maybe Not.

By Dawn Lospaluto
In July 7, 2011

Most business people tend to be logical thinkers—or, at least most people who succeed in business seem to make decisions logically—and a key instrument for logical decision making is the use of “if…then” statements (also called “syllogisms”). An “if…then” statement includes:

* A major premise (e.g.: If business people are logical), and
* A minor premise (and [if] John is a business person),
* Followed by a conclusion derived from putting them together (then John is logical”).

Unfortunately, “if…then” statements often work better in geometry and logic exercises than in the real world. Take the case of a printer who is trying to increase revenue and has observed the growth of digital printing. He says to himself:

* If print buyers want digital printing, and
* If I buy a digital press,
* then print buyers will want to buy digital printing from me.

Well, maybe. Or maybe not.

If, on the basis of this logic, he adopts a “build it and they will come” philosophy—investing in equipment to draw new business—he may be sadly disappointed. His logic is flawless, but his conclusion is suspect because one (or more) of the assumptions on which his premises are based is faulty.

Do print buyers want digital printing? Some do, but most want high quality, quick turnaround printing at a fair price. Digital printing is one way to give them that, but it may not be enough of a draw to win their business from other methods or other companies—or at least enough new business to justify the investment in new equipment.

Some buyers want variable-data printing, and they may be very interested in buying digital. In retrospect, perhaps his syllogism might have been better put:

* If print buyers want digital printing to do variable-data printing, and
* If I buy a digital press that can do high quality variable-data printing at a fair price with an acceptably fast turnaround,
* Then I have a chance to win some of their business.

Ensuring the validity of your assumptions is the key to drawing successful conclusions. That’s why each premise begins with an “if” that acts like a flashing warning sign that says, “the conclusion you will reach can be true only if the thinking on which you are basing it is true,” i.e., in the old computer lingo, “garbage in, garbage out.”

And, of course those assumptions should have quantifiable back up to prove their validity. If enough buyers (how many?) want enough variable-data printing (how much?), and if I buy a digital press (at what price) that will offer a competitive advantage (what margin?), then I have a chance to win some (how much?) of this business (and will it be enough to justify the investment in a new press)?

The approach of the logical (and wise) business person is to research each of his or her assumptions carefully before building a business argument on them, no matter how logical it may appear on the surface. Start by playing devil’s advocate with each of your premises—looking for holes and flaws that may weaken its validity. Only after you have tested them thoroughly, should you even consider drawing a conclusion.

Dawn Lospaluto

Epicomm Senior Director of Communications, Dawn has been the editor of Epicomm 's "Bottom Line" magazine and its predecessor publications, "NAPL Business Review," Printing Manager," and "The Journal of Graphic Communications Management," for 20 years. She also writes and edits several Epicomm member print and electronic newsletters, including [Re]View, Management Bulletin, Highlights, and Discover; press releases; and various marketing materials; and oversees Epicomm 's book publishing program. Dawn previously served as corporate managing editor for Allied (now Honeywell) Corporation and as a reporter and editor for New Jersey's largest evening newspaper. She is a graduate of Douglass College (Rutgers University) and holds an M.A. degree from Fairleigh Dickinson University, where she has served on the adjunct faculty.

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