Posts Tagged ‘consistency

05
Sep
08

Change in Flux

Attending the state fair today reminded me that some things are timeless while others are in an almost constant state of flux. For us who embrace technology as a way of life, this flux has become commonplace. We’d be perplexed if technology didn’t change over time. In other areas of our life, consistency is something we treasure. I like knowing that the car keys are where I last laid them to rest. I take comfort from knowing that my basic route to the grocery store doesn’t change on a daily basis. This takes me back to the state fair where change and consistency hit head on today.

I haven’t been to this particular fair in 11 years, but walking through the gates this morning I was struck by how much everything appeared the same. The same booths, the same smells, the same variety of people. I went to eat the food and wander the exhibition halls, again, the same as 11 years ago, until I came to this one booth that reminded me I’m very much at the mercy of change.

It was a Mary Kay booth of all places and the random call of a staffer to enter a drawing that caught, and then held, my attention. I knew the face, but I couldn’t give it a name. Our faces probably mirrored each other as we tried to place the other. For some reason, looking at one of my companions helped her make the connection. I was still grasping as she chatted with my friend, and I had to glance down at a business card before it made sense. Low and behold, here was the wife of an old friend who didn’t stay a friend after the marriage.

The situation became somewhat humorous when she mistook me for a younger sibling instead of myself. After exchanging random nonsense, we moved on, and I was surprised at how swiftly my thoughts turned to that change in my life, when my friend was no longer my friend. It was a perfect example of how rarely we have any control over the changes that happen in our lives, and why, perhaps, we cling that much harder to the things that change less often.

I’m a creature of habit in some ways, but not averse to change as a general rule. I, however, like my change to come with an explanation. Change rarely complies with my wishes, leaving me to wonder why things happen the way they do.

Today was a reminder that I’m not the same person I was 11 years ago. And while I’m grateful and happy to be who I am today, parts of me still feel some regret for certain changes that have flowed through my life during those years. I think when we ignore this regret we cheat ourselves out of opportunities to learn more about who we are really meant to be.

Our current society and culture embraces change as a sign of sophistication, even wisdom to some. I can only hope that as we pursue the latest iPhone and tweet our newest friend that we don’t allow change to change our inner selves to the point that we’re no longer recognizable.

24
Jan
08

Predictability vs Consistency

Old Faithful Retro-fiedOn the Fast Company blog, I found this post highlighting the dangers of predictability for a business, in this case, Starbucks:

It’s not just the service that is average, but predictable. The coffee is the same way…Predictability can be a double edged sword. It can put people in auto pilot, for example. Or it can lull a company into believing that all is well as its best customers start moving away. Predictability is the friend of complacency and taking things for granted—on both sides of a relationship. Was Starbucks too much of a good thing? Maybe predictability is fine if you achieve success, then move on to innovate in another (or related) area.

To date, society has taken comfort in predictability, but I think we’re seeing a change. For example, the success of the VCR, followed by the DVR, highlights how we want to watch video on our own schedule. We don’t want the predictability of being glued to the television at a specific time on a certain day.

The Losers of Predictability

We’ve embraced the innovation of picking the time, and even place, for our viewing. And we’ve seen how advertisers and media producers have panicked at the notion that they no longer control our eyeballs on a specific schedule. These groups have lost the predictability of a captive viewing audience, which has destroyed their equations for determining value at a particular time.

I believe that’s predictability’s underlying weakness: once the core of something predictable is lost, it can’t be recovered. The question remains, how do you determine if you’ve become too complacent to innovate and recover? Starbucks answered the challenge to its dominance from companies like McDonald’s by recently starting a pilot program in Seattle that offers a small coffee for $1, along with free refills in on all sizes.

The hope that you’ll one day have this amazing thing that’s too great to change applies to a very small percentage of ideas (classic Coke vs. new Coke, anyone?). The market, and customers, will require that businesses maintain a balancing act between predictability and innovation. Remember the famous words of Charles H. Duell who headed the U.S. Patent Office:

“Everything that can be invented has been invented.“(link)

That was in 1899. He was slightly wrong.

Confusing Predictability with Consistency

Old Faithful, the famous geyser in West Yellowstone National Park, was so named for its predictable eruption schedule. While still predictable to an extent, the average time between eruptions has lengthened:

Because Old Faithful has held to its historic pattern, park naturalists can still accurately predict most of the geyser’s eruptions within a window of about 20 minutes. But some visitors lose patience with the geothermal wonder.

“The one comment the naturalists hear a lot when they tell people the prediction is, ‘That long?'” said Yellowstone spokeswoman Cheryl Matthews. “Some people don’t want to wait.”

The shift in the geyser’s pattern to more frequent long intervals between eruptions does not mean Old Faithful is losing steam, as many headline-writers crowed when the geyser’s slowdown was first widely reported in the 1980s.

Generally, the longer an eruption, the longer the geyser will take to recharge before the next eruption, providing the basis for park naturalists’ predictions. And the longer the geyser takes to recharge, the taller and longer the next eruption will be and, consequently, the more water it will eject.

By taking its time between eruptions, Old Faithful may have figured out how to put on more striking shows by sending water higher on average than it used to. (link)

I would argue that Old Faithful changed its predictability, but not its consistency. Old Faithful consistently produces eruptions, although on a slightly different schedule, but with even more exciting results. You don’t have to be predictable to be consistent, and I think it’s consistency that matters more to customers and creates a stronger impression. You might be muttering, “Aren’t consistency and predictability the same thing?” Not really, from my perspective. Here’s an example of my interpretation.

You likely won’t get the same customer service rep each time you attempt to resolve an issue with a particular company. If you did, that would be predictability. However, if you get the same results, regardless of the rep, that’s consistency. Which would you rather have? The same rep or the same results? The debate is far from over, but as I hear people discussing what I consider to be the differences between predictability and consistency, I hear more people voting in favor of consistency. And I believe that consistency is much more kind to innovation that predictability.

Comments?

(Image courtesy of brothergrimm. Some rights reserved.)




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