26
Jan
09

Using A Fork to Eat Soup

Snow RemovalLiving in a snowy state, I’m all too familiar with snow removal. This morning at 3:45 a.m. I had the pleasure of witnessing firsthand my city’s snow removal operation. Two road graders removed the bulk of the snow in the road. That’s when the entertainment began, and I got a well-deserved reminder that we don’t always use our tools wisely.

Two backhoes were moving steadily down the street. As they got closer, I realized they were clearing snow piles from driveways created by the road graders. The first backhoe turned into the driveway with its bucket upside down then dragged the snow backwards. This movement was repeated twice, creating a row of snow out in the road, which required an additional forward scoop or two by a backhoe to finish clearing the driveway.

As I watched these two backhoes, it became clear that neither was responsible for a particular action. One backhoe randomly performed one or both actions before moving on to the next driveway. Instead of backhoe #1 doing the initial removal with backhoe #2 doing the final clearing, the process appeared random and inefficient with each driver doing whatever struck his fancy.

Getting Stuck

This behavior highlights our very human tendency to get stuck in a habit, despite the options we have available. Much of our decision-making isn’t necessarily driven by what makes sense but by what we’re used to, even ignoring the potential of the tools we have at our disposal.  The comparison seems ludicrous, but imagine trying to eat soup with a fork in spite of a spoon sitting next to the bowl. That’s what some of our behavior looks like.

It even affects the way we use language. I’ve mentioned it before, but I still find it frustrating when people look at me oddly for using my full vocabulary. I try to take into account my audience and judge what words are best suited for the situation, but there are still times that I get grief for using “big” words. If a better word exists to describe something, doesn’t it make sense to use that word?

You Have to Look Past the Obvious

Despite the existence of an assembly line organization in meat slaughtering, it didn’t automatically replicate in other industries. Henry Ford saw the potential for improved efficiency and implemented the system in his factories, helping lower the overall cost of automobile production. Since then, other industries have implemented assembly lines, giving it little thought. However, it took one person in the beginning to see the potential application in another setting before assembly lines became a common practice. The same things happens with other good ideas or tools.

Thomas J. Watson, IBM’s chairman of the board during the first half of the 20th century, had the confidence to state, “I think there’s a world market for about five computers.” Luckily for Apple, Dell, HP, IBM, et. al., he was wrong (I have five in my possession at the moment). The things we can do now with the computers were only a dream when the first machine was built. Imagine what will be possible in 10 or 20 years. Again, such progress takes someone looking past the status quo and understanding the potential.

Doing More than Talking

We’ve been mired in talk of Web 2.0 for years, with a sprinkling of Web 3.0 beginning to enter conversations, and I’m not sure we’ve learned the lesson of Web 1.0: whatever the iteration, what matters more is what you do with the tools. Like my early morning snow crew, we stick with the tried, whether or not it’s really true. For me, this discussion is less about changing and more about trying. There’s no requirement that one must change if another option is available, but it seems silly to dismiss the option without fully understanding what’s available.

Image courtesy of Urban Eyes on Flickr.

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2 Responses to “Using A Fork to Eat Soup”


  1. January 26, 2009 at 5:42 pm

    Whoa! First off, I’ve been reading your latest entries in my reader & never clicked thru to the site. Nice new look!

    As you know, I also live in a snowy state. My local snow removal, though, is much more orchestrated. First, all snow is pushed to the middle of the main arteries EARLY in the morning, well before anyone is ready to go to work. Then, LATE at night, when folks have gone to bed, the snow is loaded up on a dump truck and transported to our athletic fields (football field, soccer field, softball field, etc). Obviously, if the snow comes in the middle of the day, they get started then, but typically, we see navigable streets in the morning and nice, clean streets devoid of snow the next day.

    I am regularly a very late-night owl and occasionally an extremely early riser and have seen this operation many times. I’ve even stopped twice just to watch for a while. The fleet of vehicles is small – a payloader, a dump truck, and two snow plows. The crew is only two people. The key to the efficiency, I think, is that these same two guys have done this work for years and years – they can finish each others’ sentences and, I assume, can readily gauge when to start and where to go as soon as the snow starts.

    • 2 Britt
      January 26, 2009 at 8:06 pm

      @Shannon: I’m testing a new theme. I’m glad it looks good to someone else, too.

      I believe your point actually goes a long way to making my case. Perhaps these two individuals do believe they’ve got a certain amount of unspoken communication that speeds up their process. However, because they are focusing on the comfort of working in their usual manner, they are missing, potentially, opportunities to improve the way they do their work.


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