Why businesses shouldn’t rely on the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion

- April 23, 2018 3 MIN READ

When you hear the word “hippo” I bet the last place you think of is the workplace and I’d very much like for that to remain the case.

First, let me clarify what I mean by ‘hippo’. I am not, of course, referring to the magnificent mammal that patrols the waters of Africa. Rather, I am talking about ‘the work HiPPO’ (the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion). These can be just as destructive as their one-tonne semi-aquatic namesakes in that they are a major roadblock to digital innovation and business growth.  

By solely relying on the highest paid person’s opinion, you are stifling the creative and agile potential of your organisation. Instead, you prevent the employees closest to your customers from experimenting, iterating and rapidly making decisions that will catapult your business forward.

Experimenting is the key word there. Harvard Business School Professor, Stefan Thomke, says that “rigorous online experiments should be standard operating procedure” and “the returns you reap—in cost savings, new revenue, and improved user experience—can be huge.”

I fully agree.

A culture of experimentation

Businesses wanting to avoid falling behind must look at adopting a culture of experimentation, which is centred around asking the question “why?” and exploring the answer with openness and curiosity. It also means listening to the data at your disposal, not relying on the HiPPO, and constantly testing and iterating upon your team’s hypotheses.  

One company leading the way in that regard is uno Home Loans. Uno’s CEO, Vincent Turner, has said that “the system we have for getting to and through ideas matters as much, if not more than, the ideas themselves”.

At one point, the team at uno Home Loans wondered if rewording the language within its advisor communications platform would provide more of a concierge-style experience. The resulting experience resonated incredibly well with its customers and led to phenomenal results.

“It’s amazing being able to work in a place in where we have the freedom to be able to test, fail, learn, and succeed,” says Justin Bohlmann, a senior member of uno Home Loans’ digital marketing team. “It enables us to make progress and stay ahead of the curve with our customer experience.”

Experimentation is so deeply ingrained in uno’s culture that Bohlmann believes, “If we stopped testing, we’d fail. Someone else would beat us.”

A further example is of a large Australian online pharmacy, which despite having happy customers and limited competition, found that they were missing out on critical sales.

By looking at their data, they found that although customers were finding their way to certain product pages, those page visits were not being converted into sales. After conducting some analysis, they looked at how people were interacting with the webpage. They found customers were zooming in on product packaging to look at the product’s ingredients, however, the images were hard to read and pixelated.

In response, the company ran an experiment where some customers saw a plain text list of the ingredients with the product description. That single change delivered a $7M benefit in just one month.

When you look at the financial benefits these small but significant changes can make, you realise how important they can be when it comes to gaining market share. They can literally be the difference between gaining ground and overtaking competition, or losing out entirely.


A common roadblock when building a culture of experimentation is humility. It’s accepting that your opinion might not be perfect and understanding that listening to your customers and following the data is more likely to lead to success.

That’s what companies like Amazon do extremely well. Jeff Bezos, CEO at Amazon, has often stated that his mantra is a “relentless focus on customer service”. He has the humility to admit he may not always know what his customers want, so he listens to them, tests differents concepts, follows the data and adapts the business accordingly.

I cannot stress how important this is. Relying on the HiPPO and having a one-dimensional approach whereby you ignore critical data and always go with gut instinct will be the difference between winning and losing in today’s ultra competitive landscape.

If your business is stuck in this trap, know that you are not alone. Many businesses still cling to the idea that the HiPPO mindset is the only way. But their numbers are shrinking. Now is the time to change. Take inspiration from the Amazons, uno Home Loans, and thousands of other digital leaders and use experimentation to drive your business forward.

You never know, it could be the very thing that catapults your business to levels that never seemed attainable before. Watch this space.

Dan Ross is Managing Director, Australia & New Zealand at Optimizely.