Monthly Archives: October 2011

The Bic Crystal ‘Biro’; The tool of the Paradigmeer

I recently discovered a bundle of old exercise books.  As I untied the string which bound the collection I noticed they were a relic of my schooldays.  What struck me as I thumbed these seminal tomes of my intellectual development, was the smudged handwriting.  Blotches of ink, inky fingerprints and other ink related schoolboy catastrophes highlighted each page.  I was the product of a schooling system which insisted that the ballpoint pen was bad for the development of fine calligraphy!
Luckily the invention of Laszlo Biro has prevailed.  His name is synonymous with the ballpoint pen even though this had been invented 50 years before Biro’s 1938 patent. Marcel Bich bought the patent in 1950 before spending two years perfecting his iconic Bic Crystal ballpoint pen.  So successful was his product that 57 Bic Biros are sold every second amounting to 100 billion since 1950. There can be hardly anyone on the planet that isn’t familiar with it.
1.       When we consider that for years the Bic Biro was the tool we used to express ourselves.  How many of the world’s great ideas started their lives as a line of blue or black ink scribed onto paper by the ball of a Bic Biro. 

2.       Did it challenge the rules?  I would argue it did.  Previously pens were relatively expensive and required skill to use.  The biro opened up the world as a cheap, reliable tool that anyone could use. 

3.       It has popular appeal. Even today as electronics usurp the written word we still carry a ballpoint pen to fill those gaps when only pen and paper can be useful.  

4.       We couldn’t imagine a world without the biro or its many spin offs.  Even, I would suggest in a hundred years time, there will still be biros in use. When your ‘i’ this that and the other, has become obsolete, still tucked away in your desk drawer will be a ubiquitous biro. I look at my desk now, as I type into my super clever computer, beside me are notes, diagrams, doodles and drawings made using a small army of biros.
My schoolbooks are testament to what life was like without the Bic biro. We can only speculate that given the ease with which words, thoughts and ideas could be generated it is possible that without the ballpoint pen we wouldn’t have made intellectual or technological progress as fast as we have, without it.

Why Change?

If I hear yet another speaker quote Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity as ‘doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results’, I shall scream.  Not because it’s a statement I disagree with, more because it is used ‘over and over again’.  
Interestingly Einstein assumed that the Universe was static!  The Expansion Paradigm developed by Edwin Hubble proved that the Universe is actually constantly expanding, which led Einstein to concede that assuming the Universe remained constant was perhaps his biggest blunder.  The only real constant is change itself.
Unfortunately people’s desire to maintain equilibrium and have a high degree of certainty is strong.  Listen to those sages in every organisation who, for as long as I’ve drawn a pay packet, have uttered; ‘It’s not as good as it used to be, we’re always changing things, we need a period of stability…’.  The second constant is that change is uncertain.
If change is inevitable but we naturally hang on to what we know because the alternative is ‘the unknown’, what will force us to move?  The Big Bang was the violent starting point (the singularity) for our constantly changing Universe, thus what is also certain is that any behavioural change also requires a trigger point.  That moment when we become ready to accept that maybe, just maybe, we could do something different. We’ve reached the point at which it will only take a ‘nudge’ to set us in motion.
So far, it seems, all beyond our control.  Change happens, there will be a trigger point and the results will be uncertain.  It is how we perceive this inevitability that makes the difference, which makes this a truly exciting time.  Everyone accepts that whatever our organisation, there will be change; the economy has provided the nudge.  Now leaders can design organisations, encourage mindsets and create processes which will embrace the sentiment behind Einstein’s oft plagiarised words.  But beware:

“Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.”  Albert Einstein

Old habits die hard.

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Frontiers of Customer Experience – Part 3

The 3rd and final opportunity presents a far greater challenge. Once we have taken responsibility for the whole customer experience and educated our customers as to how they might benefit from the full potential of our service, we move into an area over which we might at first seem to be powerless. How can we get our customers to be good customers? How can we help them get the best out of us?

Anyone who has ever faced a customer will know how some of them manage to bring out the worst in even the most accommodating of colleagues. Let’s face facts, we have all done it; been rude, aggressive, ignorant, confused, distracted, disconnected, or considered the person serving us to be incompetent. We all know how to be ‘bad’ customers. So how can we help customers become better at being ‘good’ customers so the person serving has at least a sporting chance of giving them a great experience?
It can be done. When my son took to skateboarding I spent many hours as the taxi service to a local skate park. Housed in a converted warehouse and frequented by an eclectic mix of young people, it may have been draughty, apparently disorganised and mainly held together with gaffer tape, but once those customers walked through the doors their etiquette was a joy to behold. Small kids flattened or concussed would be dusted off by big kids, tricks were applauded and newbies always given a tour of the hallowed ramps and jumps. They all become great customers. So whose responsibility was it to make this happen? Most interestingly these young people had created the customer culture that they wanted, they used the facility to its fullest potential and they learned to skate in the way that suited them best. They even organised the taxi service!
Indeed more organisations are enabling their customers to personalise their experience; iGoogle and BBC homepage are good examples of web-based products where you can do this. The ‘virtual’ environment will lead the way because it is easier to deliver a personalised experience than in the infinite complexity of a ‘real’ customer interaction but this should not stop us being ambitious. What more can you do to:
  1. Influence those parts of your customer’s experience over which you have no influence?
  2. Help customers to take full benefit of your service by learning about your product in the way they prefer to learn?
  3. Help your customers become better at being ‘good’ customers?
These three frontiers represent a challenge for all organisations to explore if we are to achieve even greater levels of customer experience. Like all great pioneers, who are pushing at new frontiers, do you ask the question: ‘What more could there be?’
To find out how Paradigmantics can help you to explore these frontiers, contact Andy Summers for information on our Engaged Customer programme:

Absenteeism, Presenteeism & Stress… Taking its toll on the UK workforce

Here we go again. 

The headline screams: Absenteeism on the rise amongst British Workers.

Shock, horror, a news item that reveals short term unplanned absence due to ill health is rising.  What do we expect?
Uncertainty abounds.  Even if your organisation is secure, there is always an underlying threat of change.  The news reports problems in Greece, Italy and the Eurozone.  You are told prices are rising and your wages will remain the same.  You will be worse off.  So many issues that could affect you and your family are outside your control. You are helpless, your influence over your circumstances is getting weaker; your level of stress is rising.
Then you go to work.  Here you meet other people who are quick to add to your burden.  They reinforce the rumours.  Ask anyone in the organisation what the biggest issue is and they point the finger at a perceived lack of communication.  When your manager informs you that they have told you everything they know ‘at the present moment’, you want to know more.  What is it you are not being told? 
However hard you try the uncertainty grows.
Eventually this tips others over the edge.  They take time off.  This puts pressure on those that are working who have to cover; customers are met with stressed people or a less responsive service.  And through all this, managers become convinced that they are not being kept in the picture, the leadership team puts their collective heads in their hands and despair at why the level of trust is evaporating.
What do you expect?
How can you empathise with ‘John Smith’ whose call you are taking; one which is simply adding to your level of stress? It’s time to manage the situation.  Start with yourself.  What are you doing to take control over your level of stress? 
Too often we come across managers and leaders who keep taking other people’s stress on board and take no action to reduce their own levels.  Leaders in particular keep going until they suffer a catastrophic breakdown which will take months to recover from.  Leaders have to set an example to everyone else and show how individuals can look after their own wellbeing.  If we can get everyone in the organisation to recognise that they can take control and accept personal responsibility for their wellbeing, then any action taken by teams and the organisation to make this uncertain world more certain will have a far greater effect.
For further information on ‘Altogether Better’, Paradigmantics’ Attendence Management Portfolio, please don’t hesitate to contact:

Leaders as the custodians of ‘The way we do things around here’

Rules evolve from the need to control. Often people governed by the rules have no idea where they came from. Why 30 mph as the speed limit in a built up area? Why does the shooting season start on the 12th August not the 11th? Why is 9:00pm the TV watershed? Why do I need a licence to have a radio station?

Once the rules are established we get custodians of the rules; usually the leaders in an organisation. People who have a stake in maintaining the rules and identify with them. They become emotionally attached to the prescribed way. Their function is to continually limit what can happen. As people start to push the boundaries, so new rules are created to stop this. We find rules prescribing ‘best practice’ which means that any other good practice is not allowed. And so a patriarchal mindset prevails: ‘we do it this way because we know best’.

Interestingly if you read the above paragraph again from the perspective of your own personal rules it becomes easy to understand why people find it hard to break from the norm. We create our own set of immutable legislation to which we become emotionally attached.

The odds are stack against making a step change in performance. The rules are set either formally or informally. They are governed by others and ourselves. They are also used as a credible excuse for inertia, so even when we can see that something is not functioning as we want we claim our hands are tied; there can be no more.

‘Cos everybody has sometimes broke the rules’ (Status Quo – ‘Legendary?’ Rock Group)

Where are the brave Leaders who recognise that this is a time of opportunity? How often does a genuine challenge to the way we do things arise, giving us the chance to question the rules we work within and those we set ourselves? Maybe this is the time for Leaders to change from being custodians of the rules to become promoters of innovation.
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