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Imagine having to dial triple-o…

May 22, 2013

At a recent rehearsal I walked past two of the younger members of the cast who were playing with one of the props – an old fashioned circular dial phone. They were doing what all of us do when we see one. Putting their fingers into the hole and rotating the dial and then enjoying the satisfying click-click-click-click as the dial returned to the starting position.

Imagine having to call triple-o! That would take forever to dial...”

old dial telephoneNow my recollection is that is exactly the reason why triple zero was chosen. It was a combination of numbers that you had to dial very deliberately to be connected to emergency services. It reduces the number of accidental dialings.

You had to mean to do it.

It was pretty hard to accidentally butt dial triple zero! Your two year old was unlikely to call an ambulance while playing with the phone – mostly because the one telephone in the house was up on a table somewhere out of reach, but also because of the difficulty in dialing three zeros should they succeed in using the cord (yes the cord) to pull the telephone down onto the floor.

Triple zero made sense at the time but my young colleagues aren’t to know that. The only place they come across those sorts of telephonic devices is as props in the theatre or the occasional antique store.

Maybe it is just my age but I am increasingly witnessing the same sorts of conversations in the organisations I work with. Only it has very little to do with the age of the people having the conversation and more to do with how long they have been involved with the organisation.

There is often a very good reason why things are the way they are. Like my young colleagues, those with a shorter history bring with them a different context through which they view the procedures and practices of the organisation. Sometimes, many times, that creates opportunities for improvement. But not always and I have seen many examples when an ignorance of the history behind why it is done that way creates problems today.

With the increasing trend towards the use of temporary and contract staff (along with secondments and expats) large parts of today’s organisation has a corporate memory of only three or four years. They are quick to decide we don’t need this or that role – why would you do it that way in the first place? It is not until the organisational equivalent of butt-dialing triple zero that they come to see there is a very good reason why it was done that way.

I think it goes the other way as well. Very few people believe they will stay in the organisation more than a couple of years so they don’t spend much time thinking very far into the future. It is the organisational equivalent of the short term government policy decisions that arise out of the three or four year electoral cycle, and the results are just as damaging.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. May 22, 2013 7:54 am

    A lament I share, Paul – really enjoyed the dial-phone analogy.

  2. May 22, 2013 2:41 pm

    Paul, I have often found this in my recent experience. Sometimes, those who have discarded something because they didn’t appreciate why it was done then don’t recognise that this is the reason that things go pear-shaped. It’s about not understanding or appreciating corporate knowledge and memory, and sometimes just plain straight out narcissism.

    • May 22, 2013 7:55 pm

      I agree Graeme. There is often a large degree of narcissim when I see it happen in the corporate world. Sadly it goes well beyond the past not being relevant.

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