The Egg Thief

May 11th, 2017

Staying in a hotel in France, breakfast was a self-service affair. One morning, I placed two eggs in the boiler and returned to my seat to wait for them to cook. As I watched the eggs from a distance, another guest rose from her seat, approached the egg boiler and took ‘my’ eggs. Being British I whispered my outrage to Sara, saying nothing to the offender. Watching carefully I enjoyed the moment when she opened the eggs to find them uncooked!

Simmering and smirking in equal measure, torn between anger and laughter, I returned to the egg boiler, placed two more eggs, this time waiting and guarding my breakfast.

Looking round I realised that there were no instructions on boiling eggs, there was no protocol laid out for guests to follow, we were expected to ‘know’ what to do and how to behave even though we might never have been before.

The ‘designers’ of the ‘egg boiling process’ (assuming design with intent) had made assumptions about the ability of guests to work out what the process was AND about how we would, collectively, behave. In the particular instance and in the absence of any instructions both my behaviour AND that of the ‘thief’ who stole my eggs was reasonable – but we had differing ‘reasonablenesses’!

It might be useful to reflect for your organisation how people experience your processes? What assumptions are YOU making about your clients and visitors? What are you not telling them in the belief (explicit or implicit) that ‘it’s obvious, they will know what to do’.

Many of our large organisations are guilty of assumption based indifference to ‘outsiders’ experience of them. How can ‘everybody know’ that the door is ‘staff only’ unless they are told – and when we change the criteria without telling everybody why are we surprised that they are upset? How can ‘everybody know’ that it takes a month to complete the process unless we tell them? How can ‘everybody know’ what the success criteria are for an application unless we have articulated them and made them explicit? How can ‘everybody know’ that ‘we have always done it like that’ when it is never stated?

Lack of comprehension of process means that neither the individual (whether customer or supplier), the organisation nor its managers can make useful or meaningful decisions. Is it any wonder we, or our customers get irked and irritated, that we find ‘the system’ to be dysfunctional through the lens of ‘our’ reasonableness, because ‘they’ made assumptions about us!