Monthly Archives: February 2008

Shaken, not Stirred

Well, that was exciting…It is not often that this remote and dusty corner of England shows up on the national news, but the earthquake of last night was certainly an interesting seismological experience.

Lincolnshire is not exactly an active seismic area, as the BGS press release shows
The last event of any note was in 1703 in the Humber Estuary, so it is the first time my house has had a good shake since it was built.

Having been briefly shaken out of bed last night, I have spent the morning working playing with Google Earth to plot the epicentre of the earthquake and see how close it really was. Just 3-4 miles, in fact, although the location moved from east to north of Market Rasen as the BGS updated its reported data in the morning.

Of course, Google Earth is like a chinese meal, you want another hit shortly after, so I also had to look up the official Dullest Place in Britain (Grid square SN8323) as determined by BBC Home Truths listeners who must have quite a bit of time on their hands to have scanned through the full set of OS Landranger maps to find the emptiest square.

This notable location is not so very far away in North Lincolnshire. I should however say that Lincolnshire Wolds are much more interesting than that, we do at least have contour lines, and we now also have our very own seismographs…

The interesting technological feature of the night was that almost as fast as thought itself, my daughter received many texts from friends from the local area, reporting example, that their parents were running around panicking, but that they were chilled (of course).

In the end, my wife summed it up stoically to my daughter:
“It’s just an earthquake, dear, go back to bed”

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The Tyranny of the "Customer Journey"

I cover many miles in my working year and am now very familar with the various petrol stations on the routes radiating from Lincolnshire. In my travels, one of the most irritating new inventions of the retail designers is the “Customer Journey”.

The Customer Journey is an useful design concept in the web world to ensure that somebody using an online or multi-channel service gets a joined-up experience, alas more often in the talking than the execution. However, the designers laying out shop formats have now to make this a physical reality, taken to a level of absurdity by the constraints of some service station buildings.

For example, one petrol station I have visited many times used to be like this:

Customer Journey Part 1

Now it looks like this:

Customer Journey Part 2

By the introduction of a silly little metal gate and some plastic signage, they try to make people walk all round the shop so presumably they will suddenly discover they need an electric tyre inflator (only £2.99 with every 20 litres of petrol), or an overwhelming need to stock up on anti-freeze in July.

Maybe the incidence of casual purchases does rise with this type of shop format. However, it does feel much like the customers are treated as dumb cattle being led by the nice man down the corridor to the stunner and the sharp knives.

If other people feel the same way, then I think that the overall effect is probably exactly the reverse of that intended by the designers. Much like that perhaps when Edinburgh drivers rebelled against the disastrous City Centre Traffic Management Scheme which showed that all the modelling in the world is of no use if you do not take account of human quirks and cussedness.

On the first journey when I came across this particular “customer journey”, I clearly had too much time on my hands whilst driving home in the dark hours when I invented a riposte in the form of the Customer Service Self Feedback Form (or the Unhappy Voucher), which I present to you below.

Unhappy Voucher

Click on it, print a copy or two and give some unhappiness to the next person who treats you badly or whose company inflicts some lunacy upon you…

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Stupid PIN machine design

According to statistical studies, being taller than average is supposed to bring some advantages in love and money. However, being 6’4″ tall, my experience is certainly different when it comes to being a taller person in an average sized physical world, and I have for many years harboured a paranoid suspicion that there are some chippy design Napoleons out there (you know who you are) deliberately trying to make life miserable for people of greater than average stature.

Air travel is probably the worst: I cannot achieve the “brace” position, instead just bite the seat cushion in front and hope for the best. Also, much touted flat beds are just flying coffins to me, packed like a sardine as I am into a space just wide enough but 4″ too short. Sleep, huh!

Over the last couple of years, various pieces of technology have got closer to the ground to accommodate the needs of wheelchair users and other such. Whilst it would certainly be churlish and ungallant to complain about that in our post-modern world, I will however strongly criticise the engineers who come up with the appalling ergonomics of equipment requiring a CHIP & PIN machine, which they embed three inches into the metalwork at knee level. In the picture shown below, you can see the view I get of a supremely bad example at a local car park…

stupid pin machine

Come on, guys, get a grip and design something that works for everybody!

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On Traffic Lights…

I was disturbed by Martin Cassini's report on Newsnight proposing the abolition of traffic lights, which surely don't deserve such a fate.

Being fascinated by many forms of technology and their place in their world, traffic lights are often one of the first things I have seen when I go on business trips around the world.

Although most other people will not have spotted it I am sure (or be remotely interested), there is actually quite a variation between countries, and the style of lights can maybe even indicate something about the self image of the parent country.

For example, Paris has those pointlessly tall, rather haughty and arrogant faux-gold painted posts (so tall indeed that they need little repeaters at driver level), largely ignored by everybody.

In Dublin, I have seen a huge variety of different types from that looked like they had been bought in job-lots from the US and UK when they had some money to spend – a bit like the apparel of a deranged and eccentric old maiden-aunt.

US lights are for the thrill-seekers amongst us who love that random moment when the red light flicks to green.

In Sweden, lights are very logical and have a green-amber phase instead of a plain amber to bring balance to the coruscating display.

In Switzerland, the lights are totally prescriptive, every red and amber filter light has a simulacram of the green arrow carved on it in black. No confusion there then, unlike the UK, where modern installations leave you wondering just which red light you should be watching (usually the wrong one).

Actually racking my brains, I cannot remember much about the traffic lights I encountered in Australia as I was negotiating the notorious “Melbourne hook turns “.

And to Nigeria, where the only traffic lights I saw there in the glittering capital of Abuja were switched off…

Functional Specialism: the Dead Hand of Adam Smith

In his seminal book “Mastering the Dynamics of Innovation”, James Utterback described the seemingly inevitable process by which young, thrusting innovative organisations become sclerotic.  In particular, they are typified by:

  • Mechanistic, functional hierarchical organisation
  • Low level of innovation
  • Low interaction with market place
  • Not customer focused
  • Fragmented processes (following Adam Smith and functional specialisation)

By happy coincidence, whilst reading Utterback, I was also reading  Hammer & Champy, “Reengineering the Corporation”, which describes the consultants approach to taking these sclerotic old companies, and revitalising them and getting them fit for the 1990’s…  The new pattern was a mix of process-orientation, supported by coaching from centres of competence.

As we now know with hindsight, this model is itself flawed, but it did offer a solution to the dead-hand of Adam Smith, and functional specialism, killing off innovation.

Here is the chart I drew for myself when I was originally puzzling through this conundrum…Charting a New Course for Growth

Of course, the next question is (with 10 years hindsight), what should be the shape of organisations for the 21st and 22nd century?