Thursday, December 16, 2010

Belshaw's World - running on empty

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 8 December 2010. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line. You can see all the columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010

This is column 100 for the Armidale Express. That’s quite a lot; 75,000 words!

Do you ever have one of those times when your mind is just a blank, unable to work?

It’s like those times in class when your teachers asked you to answer a question and you had absolutely no idea.

Well, we are back in the rental market again.

We knew when we took our current house that the maximum lease period would be eighteen months. Still, we were glad to take it.

It’s not just that the house is nice, although it is rather special. It’s also that we had to vacate our previous house after just six months when the owners decided to move back in.

Moving costs are high. When you have to do it twice in seven months it adds the equivalent of a $100 per week to the rent. That hurts!

I am sitting here knowing that I should be checking rental houses on line, but just don’t want to do it.

I have come to think that our modern life style is really running on empty.

When your car is empty, it’s harder to start and there is the worry about running out of petrol. You know that you have to fill it, but you put it off for that short run.

We live in a just in time world. Increasingly, everything is geared to doing things at the last moment, or at least doing things in very quick time. Increasingly, there is little scope for recovery if things go wrong.

Much of my life for the last twenty years has been spent managing or advising professional services firms.

At the moment, I am working on an assignment for a new legal services on-line business. With the thinning out of middle management, the reduction in in-house knowledge, demand for technology that might provide a substitute is increasing.

Part of the work can only be described as anal, detailed line by line comparison of grouped templates accompanied by the development of use instructions.

This is very detailed stuff.

By nature, I am not a detail person. I much prefer more broad based analysis leading to action. However, I taught myself to work this way to overcome my personal weaknesses. Now I find a degree of demand for these services.

There is a dreadful irony here.

Mr Fittler, my Dem School primary teacher, complained about my spelling. He and later teachers suggested that my inability to spell would hold me back. Now I find myself doing detailed proof reading!

Fortunately my work is not all anal. I also spend time working out how different types of customers might use the service, linking this to marketing strategies. That’s more my style.

Today the managing partner was complaining about client habits.

“They are all so busy”, he said, “that they think that a short email plus a few documents is an instruction.”

It doesn’t quite work this way.

Clients forget that the legal document – contract, confidentiality agreement, licensing agreement, whatever – is simply the legal wrapping. The law cannot resolve any basic problems in the arrangement surrounded by the legal wrapping, although the law may determine winners and losers.

In my professional writing and in my training, I have tried to emphasise the importance of what medicos call the diagnostic.

No good doctor would simply accept the symptoms described by the patient and then prescribe without at least trying to check and understand the basic details. Yet this is just what too many other professionals do.

In a way, I cannot blame them.

In a time poor world where they and their clients are all running on empty, the pressure to just react is enormous.

See problem, fix problem and do it now is the refrain. In the end, the client pays, for a good diagnostic can save costs.

In the project management arena, I once tried to explain it this way.

The Japanese spend a lot of time conceiving and defining the project. Implementation then follows quickly.

In Australia, we are impatient of the first, then spend a lot of time trying to fix things that should have been worked out in the beginning.

The Japanese approach is generally more cost effective.


Mark said...

Another good post Jim, thanks :)

Jim Belshaw said...

Thanks, Mark!