What Would Croesus Actually Do?

Several years ago, I wrote an article entitled “What would Croesus do?” and received extensive feedback regarding that text. The story of Croesus begins with the following characteristics. First, he is a King and is surrounded by some brilliant people. Additionally, while his kingdom has occasional problems, he has unlimited funds to solve them, so, as you can imagine, Croesus and his court are always capable of finding solutions. They have no financial limitations to overcome. 

In their book Why Not? How to Use Everyday Ingenuity to Solve Problems Big and Small, authors Barry Nalebuff and Ian Ayres tell the story of Croesus and his ability to successfully overcome any problem. However, they go one step further by answering the question about what you can do to solve challenges when you do not have unlimited funds, like most of us.

Their process, while simple, is two fold. First, come up with the solution to a problem as if you had unlimited funds, and write it down. Next, since we do not have unlimited funds, think of less costly solutions to this same issue. Now, that is the challenging part, but Nalebuff and Ayres also point out that after you have followed the King Croesus approach, as if you had unlimited monetary resources, you are definitely better equipped to come up with a less expensive solution. In fact, it has been their experience that you may even discover a solution to another challenge you are facing simultaneously.

Here is an example of this happening with a prospect recently. They had a problem. Their “Supplies” cost had been going through the roof, but they couldn’t figure out why. After reviewing their numbers more closely, we discovered that they were using a new product that insured cleaner teat ends and better overall sanitation in the milk barn. This new product had, in fact, improved udder health and had lowered their Somatic Cell Count to 125,000, but they were wondering if they could afford to continue its use…

It was supposed to be a replacement for another previously used product. Yet, they had neglected to discontinue their prior product. Was the new one effective? Absolutely! Was it free? No. In fact, while it clearly worked, it was quite expensive. Fortunately, using it was less expensive than utilizing both it and the item that it was supposed to replace. Thus, as you can imagine, we had found the Supplies cost problem, because using both was like wearing a belt and suspenders. While either of these can be effective alone, you will not need both to keep your pants up.

Recall that the Why Not? authors had suggested we can often find an unexpected solution to another challenge when we use their process. In the case of the producer above, we also learned that several feed additives should have been eliminated after they started a vastly improved job of covering their silages and harvesting their crops at the most optimal time. Guess what? Some of these items, while they were expected to be discontinued, had in fact still been purchased. This is a good example of finding another solution while you are focusing on an entirely different problem.

Both problems were solved by studying their numbers very closely, and, in comparison to the budget and the goals for their operation, determining what they actually had to spend. You can use QuickBooks, Excel or some other program, but, most important, make sure you review all of your costs, closely and often. While we are in good times now, that could change. Besides, your objective should always be to maximize your bottom line profits, not make sure that you spend it all. I know most producers don’t like to pay tax, but please remember that the tax man doesn’t take it all in taxes, just a portion.

Finally, I know that everyone wants to boost their efficiencies, but don’t forget to drop the prior “solutions.” Just use your best judgment, and remember that none of us are King Croesus with unlimited funds. Study your marginal costs and returns. I think you’ll be glad you did.