Enough is enough

By Tim Wilson

“Enough is enough” - a frequently used phrase in the English language, slipping easily through the dense, cluttered dialogues (and monologues) of modern life. Maybe it’s a tautology, or could it be a pleonasm? Is it a complete waste of air on behalf the speaker, and of synaptic energy by the listener? It even looks odd on the page - using one of the more bizarre English spellings (ough as in rough, not as in bough, or as in ought, or as in cough) twice in three words. And yet, it is essential. There are few phrases so readily available and so satisfying to blurt at volume when a situation comes to a head (whatever that means). Your audience will take note, and they will recognise the sensation you’re experiencing in that moment – whether they sympathise or not.

So when, exactly, is enough enough? How do we determine sufficiency? Clearly it’s less than everything. There’s little point in asking if you’ve had enough if there’s no more to be had. Equally, it must be more than none – witness how rarely you’re asked if you’ve “had enough of next week yet?”. Enough lurks somewhere between nada and the whole shebang, but it can be tricky to spot when you go looking for it.

Brands and retailers have wide product portfolios, delivered through extraordinarily complex global supply chains. When considering the risk of modern slavery being used in those supply chains it is simply impractical to check every supply chain for every product – the costs would be enormous. Checking the whole shebang is not an option, but doing nothing will lead to reputational and regulatory problems. Logic suggests that if you can’t do everything, and you mustn’t do nothing you should seek to do something. So, here’s an interesting question - “is it possible to check some of the products, and use the results to decide how many more to check?” This would mean choosing a product from the catalogue and collecting the information required to determine the risk of modern slavery, then using the results to decide what to do next. This approach – called sampling - is a normal part of daily life, but context is critically important.

I generally don’t check the air pressure in each tyre of my car each time I use it. This measurement doesn’t seem to change that frequently – and I often notice immediately when it does. On the other hand, I always check under the bed before going to sleep. Everybody does right? As Grandma said “You can’t be too careful when it comes to scary”.

So, for well-known situations that don’t change often we can sample infrequently. But things that change frequently, or that we simply don’t understand very well, we tend to sample more often. The problem for modern slavery risks is that – in many cases – system knowledge is missing. The supply chain involved in making the product is simply unknown. In his extraordinary 1950’s essay, “I, Pencil”, Leonard E Read clearly articulates this problem. So, what should you do when you can’t do nothing and you can’t do everything? When you need to check but you don’t know enough about the thing you’re checking to judge how much or how often? As the Taoists would say – it starts with the first step. Start collecting information about some products and see what you learn. Have a strategy if you must (we can help!), create a supply chain mapping program if you like (we can help with that too)– but get started. There may be instances where nothing is enough, this isn’t one of them.