Dumb and Dumber: A Study of Management and Decision-Making Structures

Anyone born before the early 1990s is likely familiar with the comedy film Dumb and Dumber, starring the geniuses that are Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels. If you have not seen the movie or need a refresh, I will give a brief synopsis. Lloyd Christmas (Jim Carrey) and Harry Dunne (Jeff Daniels) are best friends who discover a suitcase full of money after Mary (Lloyd’s eventual love interest) leaves it in Harry’s limo. They decide to travel to Aspen, Colorado to return the briefcase, unaware their lives are in danger because the money is connected to a kidnapping. Harry and Lloyd travel across the country while pursued by assassins and police, to return the money and find love. Hilarity ensures from start to finish. Caught up now? Good.

Arguably one of the funniest scenes in the film is when Lloyd goes to get “the bare essentials” with the last of their money and is subsequently robbed by a “sweet old lady on a motorised cart”. Watch below for the full scene.

Let’s consider Harry and Lloyd’s situation from a management point of view.

Their mission (the WHAT) is to return the money and find Mary. Their strategy (the HOW) is to travel cross-country using the money they are supposed to be returning to cover the necessary travel expenses. Their Purpose (the WHY) is to make us laugh.

Through careful analysis of the above case study (watching it while eating a bag of Kettle chips), it is evident that Harry and Lloyd employ decentralised management and decision-making structures. They operate in a flattened hierarchy where each is trusted with making decisions that are made towards their common goal or mission.

The benefits of decentralisation include flexibility, increased morale, development of expertise, resilience, individualisation, and the ability to process information faster and more accurately. By employing a decentralised management structure, Harry and Lloyd promote recurring values of “success through trusted friendship” and “stupidity”.

Another benefit of a decentralised organisational structure is the granting of greater autonomy and trust. Harry and Lloyd are empowered to use their knowledge (limited as it may be) and experience to innovate and implement their own ideas into their workflows.

However, like all decentralised organisational structures, there needs to be a clear understanding of the mission and a framework/structure for effective and timely decision-making, ensuring it is aligned with the overarching mission, and not exceeding the capacity of the individuals or teams. Here is where Lloyd and Harry come unstuck. It is clear from the above scene that Lloyd’s and Harry’s definition of the strategy and “bare essentials” is not aligned. Lloyd, if he were not robbed by the sweet old lady would have returned with an oversized cowboy hat, a ball and paddle, sparkly paper pinwheels, and a box full of assorted accoutrement (likely booze). This evidently would have contributed little to their mission. There was a breakdown in communication due to a lack of an agreed-upon decision-making process.

If there is a clear understanding of the team’s (or organisation’s) mission, this allows leaders to delegate decision-making to individuals and teams with the implicit trust that the decisions made will be with the intent of achieving the mission. Studies have proven that the more complex an organisation is, the more they must employ a decentralised organisational chain of command, to aid in rapid decision-making and easing the burden of their leadership. Quite clearly, Lloyd and Harry are in a complicated situation. The negative consequences incurred from their lack of an effective decision-making process could have been avoided had they agreed upon what defined “bare essentials”. Additionally, had a policy been implemented that gave clear boundaries for decision-making in unforeseen circumstances (i.e. locking your wallet in a newspaper vending machine), the negative outcome (robbery) could have been avoided.

Harry and Lloyd, through the employment of strict data-driven evaluation of new environments and ideas, could have created an effective blend of both centralisation and decentralisation. Centralisation of mission and purpose, and decentralisation of management and decision-making. As research has proven, individuals given the trust and tools to make decisions and innovate, are far more likely to be successful if the mission and purpose are clearly communicated and understood, and a strict decision-making structure is implemented, allowing for rapid and accurate decision-making in what is an increasingly evolving and uncertain world.

The trust placed in each other through a decentralised management structure and the reliance on rapid and accurate decision-making via a structured framework would give Harry and Lloyd the ability to move with speed, accuracy, and surprise to maintain their competitive advantage. We can learn a lot from Harry and Lloyd.