Can Crime inspire Business? – examining how to start a trend…

If you’re a criminal, looking for a nice spot to perform some heinous demeanour you’re more likely to opt for a run down, neglected area to go about your work. So does it follow that if the area is suddenly looked after, crime will plummet? Well yes, surprisingly it does. As business owners it turns out that there are valuable lessons we can learn from sudden and drastic changes in criminal behaviour. Mike Carthew of Cuckoo Vine asks if it’s possible for small business owners with small budgets to create similar tipping points and influence consumer trends. Even if your customers aren’t all criminals.

Not worth a penny, but key to some valuable ideas

This topic popped out of nowhere the other morning, when I found a very unusual coin on the pavement in a  little town in Cornwall. I hoped it might be priceless Roman artefact and that I could cash in my new-found wealth and stop blogging. This unfortunately was not the case – it turns out it’s a New York subway token from 1994 – the year marking a 70% fall in New York subway crimes since 1990 . This research lead me to a book called ‘The Tipping Point’ by Malcolm Gladwell in which I discovered a bit of the fascinating history of the NYC subway system. Bear with me.

A story from the mid 80’s caught my attention, when a new Subway Director came into office and  began to change the subways of New York from a dangerous, crime ridden warzone to a modern city commuter system.  The Minister of Transport, David Gunn, did this by following a principle of criminology called the Broken Window Theory, a theory which offers solutions not just to the world of crime, but the business world too.

Bad environment = bad behaviour. But excellent dress sense, so there are pro's and con's I suppose

‘Broken Windows Theory’ states that by tidying up a neighbourhood and keeping on top of building maintenance, crime will reduce. People are more respectful of an environment if the environment itself is respected, petty crime like graffiti and public drunkenness falls, and therefore fewer petty criminals turn into hardcore criminals. Following this theory, the Subway Director turned his back on the pressure from his contemporaries – he didn’t begin by trying to tackle the multitude of violent crimes and murders, or even by policing alcohol and drugs on the subway. He began by addressing the smaller, more manageable problems in the subway – fare dodgers, graffiti and poor maintenance.

Crime is now Illegal in New York

As a direct result of these two bite-sized and easily controlled measures, a change began to sweep the New York subways. The environment was more pleasant, there were fewer petty criminals, aggressive beggars and muggers. An attitude of intolerance to crime prevailed and over the course of four short years the criminal fraternity all but disappeared from the subways. Following suit, the Chief of Police soon became a ‘Broken Windows disciple’ and crime levels in New York plummeted just a few years – have a look at the graph.These individuals were the catalyst for a tipping point, which caused sudden and drastic behavioural change.

As an entrepreneur this is potentially exciting stuff as applies to consumer behaviour as much as crime. Look up the ‘Hush Puppies epidemic’ for an example, it’s the same theory in a consumer context. What we need to ask ourselves as entrepreneurs is how to locate the ‘broken windows’. What triggers or catalysts within our control (like fixing a window) can lead on to a monumental shift in attitude or behaviour of our target audience?

My goal with Cuckoo Vine is bring about a new era within business – where ‘Businesses with Values’ succeed over businesses without values. This is a mountainous challenge by any measure, but ‘Broken Windows Theory’ is an example of how little things can make a big difference. After reading around the topic I believe I’ve identified a potential ‘broken window’. Cuckoo Vine needs a small number of influential followers, high profile businesses who are proud of their values and need a vehicle to demonstrate this. Following this, businesses without values will either have to up their game or fall behind.

So, it might be worth having a think. What behavioural change does your business want to encourage? Are there any easily fixed windows which will influence  your consumers? Have a think outside the box, and let me know how you go.


Cuckoo Vine – Businesses with Values

Cuckoo Vine aims to be the collective for UK businesses with integrity and values. It’s a platform to stand proud of our values and celebrate the good guys out there. If you have something to say about a great company, or you think your business belongs in the mix, get on Cuckoo Vine. It’s free!