Can’t get no dissatisfaction

The light works in my girlfriend’s kitchen.

I bet the light works in your kitchen and you don’t even think about it. Well the strip light in this kitchen hasn’t worked properly for ages. For the want of 99 pence worth of a new starter, we have both been getting up on a chair to fiddle with the old starter to make the fluorescent bulb flicker and come on and stay on. We just hadn’t quite got round to going to an electrical shop to get the starter. So up on a chair every time we wanted to turn on the kitchen light. We even took to leaving the light on all evening when we left the kitchen so that if we popped back to make some tea, we didn’t have to get on the chair again to turn the light on again. Talk about a work-around.

The thing is we got used to it. After a while, getting up on a chair to make the light come on didn’t seem so much trouble. We forgot that it was a bother. It became the way things were done.

I recall way back when, working for an investment bank as an analyst messing with dozens of Access databases and Excel spreadsheets. One day I had to add an extra calculation to the daily work which would have meant a couple of days effort to update the Access database. Instead, because the trader wanted it that day, I exported the data to Excel, wrote a quick and dirty calculation in an hour, ran the calculation and then reimported the results to the database to continue the day’s work. This extra procedure added 90 minutes to my day, every day.

I continued that extra step for months. I forgot that it was slow and cumbersome. I got used to it.

It took six months before it started to bug me and I got so bored of the extra step that I spent the two days implementing the calculation in Access. After that the calculation whizzed along in the blink of an eye. Those two days spent right at the start would have saved me 24 working days over the six months I waited. In fact the two days of work would have paid for themselves in only eleven days.

In order to implement change, big or small, you need some negative emotions. You need to be dissatisfied, bored, shocked, appalled, angry and critical. If you are tolerant, accepting, placid and content with your lot, nothing will happen. This is why change agents are always searching for the “burning platform” so they can get people to jump instead of having to push them off a “quite comfortable thank you” platform.

For an evening, the newly fixed light was a revelation. “Wow! We don’t have to climb on the chair to turn the light on! Amazing!!” How sad that we take joy in things working as they always should have done. I recall my boss at the bank giving me a pat on the back for rewriting the calculation to save that 90 minutes a day.

A vision of a better way is nice and shiny, but how about a bit of tedium and rage to get us not just to where we should be, but beyond, to where we couldn’t dream of? If only we could stop being so accepting of the messy, awful, boring, infuriating status quo.

Get moving. Get some dissatisfaction.



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  1. Tim McMahon -

    I couldn't agree more. Complaceny is the death of an organization. I call it the just good enough culture. They are easily pleased with status quo. Rather than go with the tide do something about that dissatisfaction and take a chance tom make it bette. As Liker says, ever day up a little (in reference to climbing the steps of improvement).

  2. Rob Worth -

    Thanks Tim. But of course the real trick is not Excel spreadsheets and faulty lights, it is organisational change on a grand scale.

    I shall try to address that in some future posts.