The Charlie Watts Paradigm

You walk into a pub and ask the barman…


And he says…


You’d be annoyed and amazed. And you’d remain thirsty.

How likely is that? Well, remember when I decided to buy a bike?

Remember this man?


“I have VERY high standards of douchiness”

‘Course you do, and the associated troubles I had in the shop as I didn’t live up to the guys standard of cycle douchiness.

That was 6 weeks ago.

And still no bike.

I know where the bike is, it is in the same shop as the charming bearded gentleman who sold it to me, but I don’t know where the form is to get the bike.

The form is somewhere in my employers building “being processed” as I am getting the bike through the Cycle-to-work scheme that my employer runs.

I filled in the forms that my organisation had to process 6 weeks ago.

And still no bike.

The forms stated that it could take “3 to 12 weeks”. So in some people’s eyes, I have no right to complain or feel hard done by. It says in black and white how long it could take. But what’s happened to it in those 6 weeks? And what could happen to the form in the remaining 6 weeks?
Mainly this…


Can you spot it?

The actual work needed probably takes minutes, but the hanging around time accounts for weeks.

In fact, the time it takes to DO the work is probably in the region of the time it takes to pour 2 pints of beer and hand over a packet of crisps. Literally.

The Charlie Watts Paradigm

Charlie Watts is the laconic drummer in The Rolling Stones. When it was the 25th anniversary of the band he said the 25 years had been…

“Work 5 years, 20 years hanging around”

It is hard to imagine as it’s so common, but if ANY process that you have to go through says you should expect to wait more time than it takes to do the work, that is a sign they don’t know how to run their work.

A mortgage application, buying a house, Freedom of Information request, any letter that requires a response.
A credit card application, a complaint, a Doctors appointment.

As soon as you read that you must expect x weeks to x weeks, stop trusting them. They do not know how to run their work. You can expect worse.

Those words are not based on data, they are not the capability of the system. They are the excuse barriers within which they can operate and thereby take away your right to complain.

When you hear that something will take an inordinately long time to do, or worse the suspiciously month like 28 days, you can deduce that batch processing is involved. One piece flow would not take this long, it would take as long as the work would take to do. If batch processing is involved then they will be using activity measures rather than end to end time, which means the only person who knows how long it takes to do is you the customer.

People who operate in a Charlie Watts paradigm think it’s normal. They’ve managed stakeholder expectations by clearly communicating the expected timescales, and been polite when customers inevitably ignore them and keep ringing back like demented harridans.


Throw a call-centre IVR in there, THEN we’ll see who has the real problems

My problem is a bike in a shop rather than in my garage. Thank Christ I’m not having to go through a process with a real problem waiting to be solved, like needing Housing Benefit or care for an old person. 

These things are real problems, but they all stem from dull mundane assumptions like batching up forms is easier and more efficient than doing them as they arrive.

If 20 years of a Rolling Stones life can be spent hanging around doing nothing, without anybody noticing, then who will notice if forms hang round for months doing nothing?

This entry was posted in command and control, public sector, systems thinking and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Charlie Watts Paradigm

  1. James says:


    Charlie Watts is part of the Rolling Stones – not a user of the Rolling Stones.

    We can look at Charlie’s performance and conclude that because he spends so much time hanging around, that he is a wasted resource. If on the other hand we keep Charlie busy drumming we might think that we will improve his efficiency and therefore improve the efficiency and performance of the Rolling Stones.

    But that would be reductionist and wrong.

    If Charlie must always be utilized at his drums, then the band must be playing, rehearsing or practicing 7 hours a day (we’re not slave drivers.)
    So now that Charlie is being fully utilized, when do Mick and Keith get to write? When does the band travel? The Rolling Stones remain a blues covers band playing the Crawdaddy Club every night and nobody makes any serious money or original music.

    For the Rolling Stones to become arguably the greatest rock and roll band in the world, Charlie Watts has to be an under utilized resource. He must be available so that the band can ‘pull’ his services when required. Concentrate on his efficiency and his utilization and you don’t improve the efficiency and performance of the whole, you actually undermine it.

    I think they call that Systems Thinking.


    • ThinkPurpose says:

      Ha! Very good. Charlies quote in this case was the thing I was using as a metaphor, not Charlies role. But all true what you say there. In Keef’s book “Life” there’s loads of enlightening stuff about how they wrote and recorded music. Lots of hanging round. And heroin.


      • James says:

        Have you read Modig & Ahlstrom – This is Lean: Resolving the Efficiency Paradox ?
        It’s the Nordic noir of Flow.
        I saw the Lego cancer example that you posted a few months back – that’s based on Chapter 1 of the book.
        I saw internal resource efficiency on one hand and efficiency from the customer point of view on the other as being two ends of a straight line. The more resource efficient you become the more you compromise the quality of your service.
        They describe it as a simple matrix; resource efficiency on one axis, flow efficiency on the other.

        Good stuff. Not as much heroin as the Keef book, mind. Nor indeed Charlie.


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