Why Hide the Twenty Dollar Bill?

Recently, I was in a fast food restaurant, paying for a meal that cost less than $10. Although I usually use a credit card for these kinds of transactions, in this case I handed the employee a twenty dollar bill. Out of habit, and policy no doubt, she put my $20 under the plastic cash tray inside the register, and then gave me my change.


Once upon a time, probably long before most people reading this became active shoppers, people put $20 and larger bills in ’secret’ locations for security – if someone tried to rob you, they might just take the contents of the top cash drawer and make a run for it, not noticing that the $20, $50, and $100 bills were stashed elsewhere.

But isn’t this habit a little quaint? We have security guards, video cameras, and other security features. And, more importantly, the perps know about the old ‘hide the high denominations’ trick. Co-evolution between thieves and victims in the last couple of decades has rendered this behavior useless – yet it’s rampant.

Sticking to legacy processes like hiding $20 bills under the register isn’t just seen in the fast food industry. We see it in large companies and other organizations like the government as well. Managers often cling to legacy processes for stability, and to avoid rocking the proverbial boat. What if one fast food franchise started bucking the rules? That might look bad for the owner – he might look like a ‘maverick’ or someone who’s ‘not a team player’ – and most people don’t want those monikers attached to them.

Legacy processes are often silly but relatively harmless.  Perhaps the time and energy invested in hiding a $20 bill is negligible. But is everything as harmless?

Some legacy behaviors actually become harmful when they get in the way of doing a good job at whatever it is that you do. Perhaps your harmful legacy process is doing the same analysis with slight variations on multiple government computer systems, because you report to three different masters within a huge bureaucracy. It’s harder to find your information, it wastes your personal time, it costs government money, and most crucial, it’s inefficient.

Secretary Gates is currently proposing the end of, or alteration to, some legacy military systems and processes within the Department of Defense – and he has quite a battle ahead of him. There are always entrenched interests battling for the status quo.

Whatever the situation, a true leader has to take a stand against legacy processes that don’t work. They have to put their individual gratification and advancement (possibly) at risk for the betterment of the organizational group. And it does happen. Sometimes they crash and burn, but when their ideas work these people are celebrated as visionaries. Few and far between, such mavericks are truly the agents of change.

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This post was written by:

Mark Drapeau - who has written 225 posts on Dr. Mark D. Drapeau.

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2 Comments For This Post

  1. @DerekNP81 Says:

    I wish you’d thrown the word “singularity” in there somewhere.

    This species still has the same brains and bodies as the cavemen; the push toward adaptation and constant learning is the best thing that’s happened to our evolution in 100,000 years!

    I’m scared yet thrilled to imagine how soon I might become anachronistic, and the nature of what will replace me.

  2. AV Flox Says:

    On a visit to my native Peru when I was young, some relatives were discussing dinner options when I suggested cebiche–a lemon-marinated, raw fish dish. They were scandalized: “You cannot eat raw fish after 4PM!” my grandfather told me. “It’s terrible for you!” Having grown up in the Northern Marianas, and just come through Japan, I was dubious. I spent the entirety of the trip asking people why, exactly it was harmful to eat fish after 4PM. No one knew.

    Just last year, on another visit, an attorney friend explained that in a not-so-distant past, fish were delivered quickly to the sierra, but due to the predominance of ice boxes, perishable items such as fish were not served past the hour of 4PM as a precaution. The notion was internalized and eventually, the people forgot it.

    I have not verified this, but if that mentality of unquestioningly latching on to the past is that prevalent, the question of why trying to do business in my country is such a nightmare is no question at all.

    Excellent post.

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