Saturday, 27 March 2010

Zebras and pelicans

I've had a very interesting couple of days talking strategy with the rest of Betfair's Executive Board, discussing a number of things from French legislation (which will achieve exactly the opposite of what it purportedly aims to do), through budgets and product prioritisation, to how business is going in various different territories. We covered a lot of ground.

One of the things that came up during the meetings revolved around the change from being a start-up to being a bigger company, ten years on.

It made me wonder how many of the things that annoy us all in life today are the result of us having done things quickly or without sufficient thought in earlier times, such that eventually someone put in a rule to make sure that on future occasions, we covered every base.

There are lots of things which make sense in certain circumstances, but which, if applied in every single situation, serve only to drive us all nuts. In an everyday context, what we know today as Elfan Safety crept us on us incrementally because we couldn't be bothered to cover our bases on the occasions where it would have made a difference to do so.

This came up in the context of how difficult it is to get things done quickly in a big office if people are permanently made to jump through hoops. For example, you might get slowed down on a project by being forced to consider every single global issue, even if you're producing something that is specific to one geographic area. But because you once forgot to consider the global picture at a time when you were launching something world-wide, someone put in a process which now requires you to consider the complete check-list every single time you do a job.

I thought that the obvious parallel was the demise of the zebra crossing.

Today, you can't drive 200 yards in town without hitting a traffic light. Half the time, the traffic lights as for pedestrians; and often, they go red when there's no pedestrian there. At 2am, you find yourself stopping at a light which has gone red to allow someone to cross.

What seems like way back when, we didn't have any traffic lights purely for pedestrians: instead, we had zebra crossings. When you drove past at 2am and there wasn't anyone there, you didn't have to wait.

The trouble is, of course, that as life got busier, people who went past at 2pm, when there wassomeone there, didn't bother to stop. Because, increasingly, we didn't 'do the right thing' of extending a common courtesy, the choice got taken out of our hands; and, bingo, we had pelican crossings everywhere you look.

The question is, in a business context, once you've got pelican crossings all over the place to slow you down every day because you forgot to do the right thing in the first place and had process foisted on you, how do you get back to the time when you had zebras everywhere?

Anyone who has any interesting thoughts on how it can be done effectively, drop me an e-mail!

1 comment:

  1. I always think that by 'going back to the floor' like the old BBC 2 program did a great amount for improving businesses.

    It often seems that the managers etc get out of touch with what is actually happening on the ground floor and by going back and spending a day or a week with those who actually do the jobs and talking to them you can find out ways to improve things massively which often lead to the job getting done quicker and better and also empowers the workers.

    Just a thought!