Anticipating randomness

My commute to the office this morning was complicated by two random events, neither of which were a big deal in isolation, but which combined to create a phenomenon of somewhat greater significance.

The first was where a taxi-driver, a gentleman who clearly had absolutely no idea of the UK's traffic regulations or of road etiquette, was attempting to reverse out of a side road, onto a busy main road at rush-hour.  The side road, from which he was seeking to extricate himself, had two clear 'no-entry' signposts facing out, so perhaps it might be reasonable to expect that his car would not be attempting the manoevre by reversing.  Never-the-less, this was a taxi, so perhaps one should simply expect the driver to operate according to some esoteric rulebook which the rest of us have no access to.

The second event was where a driver, in the main road, was attempting to turn into that same side-road, despite (a) the presence of the reversing taxi, and (b) those nice, big 'no-entry' signs.  This individual was not to be diverted from her intentions.  Indeed, the steady escalation of irritable horn-sounding from the now gridlocked traffic seemed to strengthen her resolve, judging from the determined flick of her head, and the persistent nudging of the front of her vehicle towards the tail of the taxi.

And so, we had an impasse.  A busy arterial road was suddenly blocked in a kind of absolute sense, so that not only was nobody moving at all, but the resulting chaos effectively prevented a solution.  We all sat there, grim-faced, whilst our air-con did its best to keep us cool.  I was reminded of that immortal scene in an Austin Powers movie...


Now, in this instance, we did, admittedly, have two individuals trying to do things which were either daft or illegal, or perhaps both at the same time.  One could not have anticipated that two quite separate individuals would attempt such a feat of collective stupidity at precisely the same moment, but the reality is that if only one of them had acted thoughtfully, considerately, or legally, then there would have been negligible impact on the rest of Cardiff's driving community.  There is a lesson here, I think, and it relates to our advice process.

At ValidPath, for some years now, we have been advising our Members  that good practice is to document one's advice process.  We've even written a template to help firms do it effectively, which can be downloaded here.  The point is, that by writing these things down, committing them to paper, it forces us to think about what actually happens as we proceed along our advice pathway - and anticipate the kinds of things which might go wrong.  Anticipation is the name of the game here.  Clearly, 'life' does not consist of a predetermined sequence of events that we may predict with some kind of certainty.  Life is about randomness - and therefore if, in business terms, we are to avoid (or minimise) the risk of gridlock, then not only must we control our own unhelpful behaviours, we need to anticipate to some extent what may be happening elsewhere, perhaps not under our direct control.  Do we have, for instance, a realistic measure of the propensity of product-providers' customer services departments for monumental idiocy?  Do we anticipate our clients' almost infinite capacity for procrastination?  Do we allow sensible amounts of time for things to happen?  Do we attempt to craft our client communications so that they are clear, accessible, unambiguous?  Do we base our service proposition upon a pragmatic view of human nature, or do we still persist in donning our rose-tinted spectacles?

All of these kinds of issues should have quite definite effects on how we design our business processes.  What have you done about them?
Kevin Moss, 02/08/2013