It's Only Common Sense: Stop Leaving out the People!

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How many times have you been on the phone in the middle of one of those quagmire calls? You know the calls; you’re trying to get some help for that new software you bought, or you’re calling the utility company to see why your bill went up for no apparent reason, or better yet you’re calling your cable company to see what happened to that channel you like, or you’re calling an airline.

So you keep getting shuffled from one person to another, and each time, you have to repeat your name, address, phone number, social security number (for security reasons, right!) and your account number to that new person before being shuffled off to a new person once again.

You’ve been there, I know. We all have. While I was going through this last Monday, I started wondering why they always needed this information so many times. I already gave it to the first person; why isn’t the information then passed on from person to person automatically? It just doesn’t make any sense.

Then, after about 30 minutes of this, I as I was starting my deep breathing exercises so I wouldn’t lose my cool at the next person to come on the line, it occurred to me. This isn’t about the people on the phone; it’s not their incompetence that is making this system messy and inefficient. No, not at all. It’s not the people, it’s the software! They must be using some terribly hard-to-use software that is making it seem like they don’t know what they’re doing and making them appear like complete idiots.

That got me thinking about systems in general, systems that are designed by left-brained people who have no idea how people actually think. In fact, most of the time they don’t want to know or consider how people think. Their philosophy is that things would run a lot better if people were not involved. These geniuses develop systems that look great on paper, but just don’t work when used by real people to help other real people.

Here are some examples:

This one is too easy: Microsoft Outlook invitations. We’ve all gotten them; we’ve all tried to figure them out and we all hate them. Microsoft should be ashamed of themselves. To me, this is the single best example of poor left-brain/right-brain communications. And Google’s invitation software is not much better. In the past two weeks I have received three Google invitations inviting me to a meeting at 10 pm on Friday nights from people who swear that’s not the time they had entered. And please don’t try to start explaining what went wrong; by then we’ve already spent much too much time on this issue. Just send me an e-mail that says I’ll call you at 1 pm your time on Friday, that’s all.

My little town of 15,000 people feels that a certain intersection is not pedestrian-friendly enough.  Actually, an influential real estate developer rehabbed an old mill into expensive condominiums and now he wants the people who bought those condominiums to be able to cross the streets more easily. And since they are all about 87 years old, they need a tad more time to do that. So now, after spending $100,000 and a year’s time, the committee members and city planners (don’t get me started on city planners) have decided that they should take down all of the traffic lights and rebuild the intersection into a rotary, or roundabout or whatever BS name thy call it where you live. For those of you not familiar with a rotary, it’s a giant circle with cars entering from all directions. They drive around the circle until they see the street they want to take and if they are in the correct lane, they take it; if not, well, they can drive around again or get in an accident.

First of all, here is something you are never going to hear anyone say: “I love that new rotary they just put in.” Never will you hear that. And second, a rotary is a planner’s wildest dream; it is one of those systems that looks great on paper, does well in studies done by other city planners, but it just does not work when people are involved. Most people hate rotaries and handle them in one of two ways. The first is not going to those parts of town that have them. The second is by just shutting their eyes, biting their lips, and jumping in while hoping for the best. Rotaries are an example of left-brained people coming up with a system that will work well as long as people are not involved.

What should the planners in my town do instead? Reprogram the light system and extend the time allowed for pedestrians to cross the busy streets. I am one of the few people who have actually left Maine. I have been to those faraway Western states with their very wide six-lane streets (ours are two lanes) and seen how they extend the time to allow everyone to cross the street safely.

The point here is very simple. People are here to stay; people occupy the world and we have to keep people in mind when we develop systems. That’s not a difficult concept. It’s not hard to grasp, is it? When you are developing a system, make sure you take into consideration the most important part of that system…the people. It’s only common sense



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