I’ve done a few talks to camera recently – interviews at the itSMF Spain conference and a mock programme at the UK. The UK thought I was perfect for ‘Antiques Roadshow’ and I have to admit I fit the title’s parameters. I watched the people using modern video equipment and it did make me feel old. Nearly 40 years ago I was editor of the student TV society at University and I was recalling how many of us it took to deliver 30 minutes worth of black & white programme onto 2 inch wide reel-to-reel video tape. It seems all but unbelievable watching the kids now (the age I was then) record it in perfectly balanced colour on something the size of a small book – when our kit weighed more than the library. But the whole situation is another example of getting focused on the changes and missing what stays the same.
While the television technology has changed beyond recognition, the basics of interviewing haven’t. So hopefully I helped by trying to follow those basic rules for an interviewee – ignore the camera, keep talking, try to say something interesting. You can judge for yourself at http://www.best-management-practice.tv/best-management-practice-at-the-itsmf-uk-conference-2010. (Actually if you are sad enough to be interested in the earlier ITIL days, I shall be writing an article on that next year.)
So, this TV stuff is like most services these days – the technology bit keeps changing, using new ideas – basically becoming far more complex to understand whilst at the same time becoming ever easier to use. That means customer expectations keep increasing (you don’t find many people content with black & white TV any more) but at the real core, the prime deliverables remain the same. We might talk more and more about plasma vs LCD, 3D, surround sound, HD and all the rest; but the real satisfaction comes from watching people be clever, funny, informative etc in a way that holds our attention and entertains us.
And there is the heart of most of what I have been talking about at conferences for the past few years. It is easy to measure things like pixels and screen size and the number of channels and hours of programming available, but so much harder to measure what we actually want from a TV service.
Keeping that old television link, last week was the 30th anniversary of John Lennon’s murder: a sad time for anyone of my age and background. So I found myself watching old clips of Lennon on a programme recalling his life. Now the man was clearly an extremist with impossible dreams – and I may well return to my belief that we need some extremists to make the majority move at all, but that’s another blog. One of his lines, though, did trigger the realisation that this need for real measurement isn’t a new idea. He was ranting about governments (as usual) and said “If anybody can put on paper what our government, and the American government etc., and the Russian, Chinese, what they are actually trying to do, you know, and what they think they're doing, I'd be very pleased to know what they think they're doing”. Now he followed that with “I think they're all insane!” which perhaps is more about presumed results than objective measurement, but nonetheless the basic concept is interesting.
We want to know what is at the heart of our and others’ behaviour but it is very difficult to express that. It is hard even to ask sometimes in a way that doesn’t sound as if you have failed to pick up the social or business norms; because often we just presume there is a reason and take the usual comfort in things ‘that have always been done like that’. Maybe it is just easier to hide behind the numbers and the detail of how you are doing things rather than making it all that clear what it is you are trying to do, why you are doing it or even who you think you are doing it for.
One last seasonal example maybe, since it is mid-December as I write this. Many of us will get back to work in January to be greeted by the question ‘Did you have a good Christmas?’ For those who did, you will know without recourse to precise measurements – it isn’t based on the number of presents you received, how many carols you sang or how much turkey you ate. Unless the biggest fun you have is skiing, it probably won’t have mattered that much if it snowed. But if you had a good Christmas then you will know – but my, isn’t it hard to set genuinely accurate measures beforehand?
And what can we learn from that, or at least set out to do better? Maybe if we are buying or delivering any kind of service we should at least try to be aware of – if not the ultimate – then at least a higher level goal. And don’t be surprised or disappointed if your expensive new TV might not affect the entertainment value, although it will help you see the ball better in the cricket, and that might be an important factor. And at work, a new finance package won’t make your profit margins higher – but it might tell you faster what they are, and perhaps that makes an important difference. Just be sure that’s important enough for what it is costing you, and that you know the knock-on effect onto the higher level measure.