Discipline makes Daring possible.

Thank you

Thank you

Thank you!

May 2019 bring everything you wish for.

I’ll be back on the 1st January.

Making Allowances

Making Allowances

We humans have a tendency to assume that everyone else is the same as us – the same age, the same level of fitness; the same abilities; the same knowledge – until proven otherwise.

Usually, we design our systems and processes around these assumptions, and get heavy doors, high kerbs, long-ways-round walking routes, short crossing times; interfaces that require precise and accurate finger-control, or clear eyesight, or sharp hearing.

We’ll all get old.

I suspect that if we designed for that, things would be a lot easier for everyone, right now.

Work about work

Work about work

This graph comes from a 2012 article by McKinsey, on improving productivity for ‘interaction workers’ through the use of ‘social technologies’ for example, collaboration tools such as Slack etc:

The diagram shows that about 60% of what these people do is what McKinsey calls ‘work about work’.

But I also wondered what an ‘interaction worker’ is. Here’s a useful definition I found:

“These include managers, salespeople, teachers, and customer service reps, as well as skilled professionals whose jobs require them to spend a lot of their time interacting with other people. These interactions are with other employees, customers, and suppliers, and involve using their knowledge, judgment, experience, and instincts to make complex decisions.“

The implication of the McKinsey article is that by making these interactions easier and quicker, the ‘work about work’ is reduced, and enormous productivity gains are possible.

I’m sure that’s true, but I think there’s are a couple of deeper questions worth asking:

Which of these interactions are truly productive – in the sense of adding value for the customer?

Which could we strip out altogether?

For me, the obvious answer here is management.

People who routinely ‘use their knowledge, judgment, experience, and instincts to make complex decisions’ can usually manage themselves.

So the really productive question is how to enable that?

Practice makes perfect

Practice makes perfect

Too often we train people ‘on the job’ – which means they only experience whatever they encounter during training.

A much better way to train is to work out the likely scenarios and practice responding to them.

By thinking through likely scenarios first, you can capture the essentials you need your processes to cope with before you design them.

Then your team can get used to responding to them before they have to do it for real too.

This means that people can build up real experience systematically and very quickly.

And if you’re already comfortable with what’s likely, it’s much easier to deal with exceptions.

I’d rather be a Goose

I’d rather be a Goose

One of my favourite books as a child, and still a favourite today, is T.H. White’s “The Once and Future King”.

Some of the most striking episodes in the novel are when the young Arthur is turned into various different animals, to learn about people and different ways of organising society.

The ant colony is metaphor for totalitarianism, based on hierarchy, blind loyalty and complete control, whereas the goose colony represents a liberal society based on nuclear families, mutual respect and emergent leadership.

The ants are completely bound by rules and regulations, the geese are bound by a common purpose and philosophy.

Of course these are metaphors, but when I read of things like Amazon’s patents for a wristband that tracks workers’ hand movements and ‘nudges’ them in the right direction, I do worry that we’re veering too far towards anthood.

Augmented Humanity

Augmented Humanity

This week I caught a few minutes of an interesting conversation on the radio.

The speaker was Dr Vivienne Ming, and the snippet I caught was about the age-old problem of IT, now a problem of AI – namely, that in order to find the best solution to a problem, you have to truly understand the problem first.

More than that, you have to work out the best solution before you apply technology to automate it. And that’s the really hard part, as Amazon found out.

Process is great, but only if it augments our humanity – and like AI, the goal of process should be to as Dr Ming says, to “take the best of what people can do and make it even better by leveraging what machines can do” – to make processes that “challenge us to be better people.”

We could start by recognising ourselves and others as people first.

Doing it ourselves

Doing it ourselves

Mozart could carry an entire opera in his head. But he didn’t expect his orchestra to read his mind. He wrote them a score.

A jazz composer like Art Blakey didn’t expect his band members to read his mind either.

He also wrote them a score. But he left gaps in it for them to improvise in – within the framework of the piece. The piece was different every time, and yet also the same. You can tell when its Art Blakey.

Its tempting to do it all yourself when you want to control the experience your audience has.

But better to work on creating a framework that supports your team in doing it ourselves.

Not doing it yourself

Not doing it yourself

Small business owners like us can easily become control freaks.

Not because we need to be in control of other people, but because we care about making sure our clients get the experience they deserve, the one we promised them.

Sometimes we think its easier to do it ourselves rather than delegate the job to someone else, because we’re under pressure and properly getting someone else into a position where they can do it as well as (or better) than we could takes time, energy and intellectual effort.

So we take the easy route (again) and do it ourselves ‘because it’s quicker’.

That’s a trap.

It’s much better to take the hit of time and energy now, because this will make growth easier in the long run.

More importantly, doing everything ourselves means we never make the space to dream up new, better ways of delighting the people we serve, to dare more, give more and strengthen the bonds we have with them. That’s what really builds a business that will outlast us.

If you need more convincing, work through the exercise illustrated above, and work out the true opportunity cost of doing everything yourself – not just in monetary terms, but also in terms of your own fulfilment.

Why do it yourself if someone else can do it better and more joyfully?

Doing it Yourself (again)

Doing it Yourself (again)

One of the interesting things I noticed about Gothenburg was an absence of what you might call ‘flunky’ jobs.

In the numerous coffee bars, bakeries and lunchtime restaurants I visited (in the interests of research of course), I saw no wait staff, nobody clearing tables. Instead, customers picked up their own orders, and cleared away their own mess as they left – in one restaurant we even cleared our plates and sorted our dishes into trays ready for the dishwasher.

It was as if nobody felt they had to increase their own status by having someone else adopt an unnecessarily menial one (even as a paid role). How very grown-up.

The sincerest service takes place between equals.

Do it yourself!

Do it yourself!

I recently flew back from Sweden. At Gothenburg airport, I got my luggage label and boarding pass from the self-service machine, and waited in front of the designated check-in stations to drop my luggage. There were 4 stations, so 4 queues formed.

After about 30 minutes 3 airline staff members appeared. One sat at one check-in and proceeded to handle a customer. Another opened 2 other check-ins and hovered nearby. The third hovered at the front of the queues.

After another minute or so, while we hesitated, waiting for something to happen, the person managing the queues signalled the passenger at the front of my queue over to the open check-ins, and the passenger at the front of another queue over to the one next door. The next passenger in my queue was sent back to the self-check-in machines behind us to start again, because he didn’t have a boarding pass and luggage label.

It wasn’t clear what was happening at the stations, but when it was my turn I realised I had to take the scanner, scan my luggage label and put my suitcase on the belt. If it was within the weight restriction it would be accepted, otherwise not. I didn’t get to scan my label, because the staff member took the scanner off me and did it herself, as I was going too slowly.

The whole thing raised some questions for me.

If there was effectively only one queue, why have more than one lane?

If the idea was to do it ourselves, why did we have to wait before we could start?

If you want me to learn how to do it myself, why do it for me?

Most of all, what was the point of this arrangement – who was supposed to benefit?

The airline was still employing 3 people. It wasn’t quicker or easier for passengers.

In fact, the only outcome I could see was that everyone was left feeling slightly bemused and a little grumpier than they were before – the passengers because they’d been queue-jumped and made to feel stupid; the airline staff because they were being asked to manage a process that made things worse.

So, what was the point?

It would have been much better to have the 3 staff members running 3 stations, with the fourth open as a self-service. Frequent flyers who know the drill, or people who are happy to have a go at doing it themselves could have used the self-service station, everyone else would have got the benefit of the staff members’ familiarity with the procedure and the equipment, with the added bonus of some positive human interaction.

I suspect that this clumsiness came about in response to an earlier attempt to go completely do-it-yourself, which had failed miserably because the system couldn’t handle exceptions (what happens when someone’s luggage is rejected and there’s nobody there to see?), or took a lot longer (because most passengers just don’t do this every day).

Or maybe it was simply that in order to justify charging for normal service, they had to create an alternative that was not just self-service, but anti-service?

Instead of re-thinking the process, the airline was simply trying to force the new one to stick, dissatisfying everyone along the way.

I see the same thing happening all the time in banks, shops and supermarkets – some lucky staff member now has the job of ‘managing’ a process that effectively tells a customer:

“Don’t expect any service, don’t try and talk to us, don’t try and ask a question, don’t be old, or naive, or need help. We just want your money, and we don’t care if takes you twice as long to do what you came in for, as long as we still get it. Let’s face it, you don’t really have a choice do you?”

There is just one question to ask if you’re thinking about introducing DIY into your business.

Who is it really for?

Customers aren’t stupid. They can tell when it isn’t done for them. That means they’ll be open to an alternative when it comes.

They might even make their own.