Roger the script monkey

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Can you do any of the following:

  • Pay a mortgage or rent?
  • Rear a child?
  • Own, run and drive a car?
  • Choose, book and go on holiday?
  • Go shopping, buy clothes, meet new people and converse?

If so, you are probably “an adult”. When you are an adult, you can do all sorts of things without someone telling you how to do it. You manage an entire life, with predictable and unpredictable events, and somehow you manage.

Until you get into work….

Do you work in a job where what you have to do and even what comes out of your mouth has been written by somebody else? Congratulations! You can put your brain on hold for 8 hours a day whilst someone else takes over. There are lots of jobs where your side of the conversation with a customer has been decided in advance.

This is pure distilled command and control lunacy, and it is everywhere.

Ring a call centre and speak to a person, say his name is “Roger”. Roger won’t be speaking to you, instead a script will be speaking to you, being read out by Roger, but written by a group of people many miles away from Roger and at some point in the distant past. They have never heard your name, they don’t know your problem or your particular context, but they will be speaking, as if from the grave, through the mouth of poor Roger.

His words will appear on a screen to speak out, when you reply he will click on the screen in front of him to tell the computer your reply so it can tell him the next words to come from his mouth. The whole of the conversation goes like this, pre-scripted from the grave of common sense.

When Roger goes home of an evening, somehow he manages to survive and deal with the multiple complexities of life, acting and speaking on the hoof. But back in work, his brain takes a back seat as he speaks someone else words and they make his decisions for him.

Roger gets little from this arrangement. Few people could engage with work pre-decided for you, no autonomy or mastery can be pursued.

And, it doesn’t work. Handily there’s a law that says why it doesn’t work: Ashby’s law! You can quote this at people who think it makes sense to write scripts.

I’m not going to go too much into it, it’s dull enough when written down. Here it is:

“only variety can destroy variety”

There. Got it?
Variety? Like “Britain’s Got Talent”? No!

What it means is that a system (Roger in the call centre) can probably only respond effectively to the variety of challenges presented to it (you, ringing up the call centre) if it has at least as many ways of responding to it (the pre-scripted conversations) as will be presented to it (all the problems that every customer ringing the call centre will have).

Can you spot the error? I’ll repeat it. The call-centre managers are keen thinkers, they build a system to be able to deal with the variety of human demands coming into the call centre. They then give this to a human to speak.

A bit slower now. They take the human being out of the human , replace it with pre-scripted and pre-decided words, to deal with another human.

The answer laboriously spelled out, for any keen minded call centre managers who may be reading this: You already had a method for dealing with the huge variety of human shaped problems. You employ them. Use them instead. Train them, support them, give them systems that they can work in that helps them help the customer achieve their purpose.

It’s not a pipe-dream, plenty of places do it. Here is just one.

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3 Responses to Roger the script monkey

  1. Andrea Chiou says:

    Thank you for this post! Few people, even in institutions of ‘higher learning’ have no CLUE what systems thinking is, and sometimes we get harsh reminders, as follows:

    Let me recap an experience I had this week. Location: George Mason University, Fairfax VA. Problem: Daughter’s password could not be reset via web because their implementation required you to remember HOW (in freeform) you entered your birthday, your ‘make, model and/or year’ of your first car, etc. We tried every combination seemingly to no avail. [she was last enrolled there in a summer program two years ago and had not written the 'hint' answers down anywhere].

    The next option to recover her abilityi to log in was to print out, fill in and fax a form, which I did for her. I faxed that at the end of business on day 1. By day 2 at 9:00 a.m. I got an email saying they received it but we needed to also fax in a photocopy of her picture ID. My daughter was in the middle of final exams in Switzerland, and under extreme stress and time pressure. But I finally got this last bit of documentation from her and I faxed it to GMU at end of day 2. On Day 3, in the morning, I noticed that only two spots were left in the summer class she wanted to take. I called the registrar and asked if I could register her by phone (she had already been accepted in to take summer classes, by the way). The registrar said NO, registrations can only be done via the internet, no exceptions. Even though I explained the situation, the registrars office said it was not their problem.

    A little later the help desk sent me back a form email saying they had received the second fax, but that I would have to start over. The reason was that both forms had to be faxed on the same day. At the end of a given day, all faxes are destroyed. I am a fairly reasonable person, but this was getting really farcical to me. I was saying things like: WHAT?! You close a case before it is resoled? WHAT!? You are building a fortress to keep a mouse out? HUH?! What could possibly make resetting a password so consuming of one’s energy? A bank password reset can be done more easily than this. GET WITH THE TIMES!*(*@&$# Why don’t you have preset answer lists like any other reasonable institution. Why do you choose FORMAT of a birthdate as a way to check if someone is who they say they are, etc. etc.

    But, despite my harsh words, my heart went out to the poor worker who manned the phones, who just said: its the policy – handed down from Richmond. I said, huh? yes, but no one said the policy has to be *implemented* the way you do. Do you realize how the parts of the university are not fitting together? I am losing out on my ability to register for a popular class because of your archaic password reset? He really had NEVER thought about it.

    Well – your post seemed like a good place to share my story. I will send the link over to the head of IT so he has some interesting Monday morning reading. Thanks!

  2. ThinkPurpose says:

    Thanks for “like” and the comment Andrea.
    Imagine if you’d had to phone a helpdesk to sort out that little conundrum just now?
    No script for that!

  3. Pingback: This is what your brain looks like on Command & Control | thinkpurpose

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