True but useless

The Heath brothers, Chip and Dan, have an entertaining style and together they have generated a number of readable, informative popular psychology/business books. I enjoy the books and generally agree with a lot of what they say. The brothers do run into the problem facing a lot of “practical books” —  they feel the need to be definitive to help the reader take action. Sometimes I wouldn’t agree with their recommendations and don’t find the support that they present for their strong conclusions totally convincing. Furthermore, sometimes their use of concepts is a little loose. Like many writers they throw around the term rational which isn’t at all well defined. That said such books have an ability to share useful concepts and ways of thinking.

The one concept that stuck with me from Switch was the acronym, TBU. Much of the analysis done is “””TBU”–true but useless” (Heath and Heath, 2010, page 28). This captures a lot of academic research but also, to my mind, covers a lot of analysis at work and in life in general. I have sat in too many meetings where people have established facts which everyone in the room agrees with but these facts are completely irrelevant to any action that can be taken. “If we had more time we could do this” is said when no time is available. If you can’t do anything about something why focus on it? This is especially true in politics when the state of the world is regularly decried with like minded partisans but the same partisans often have no practical ideas on how to improve things.

In business meetings when a team member says something that is completely accurate but there is nothing that can reasonably be done about it why not try the TBU acronym?

Read: Chip Heath and Dan Heath, 2010, Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, Random House