People seem to like a thing to be right or
wrong. Yet the older I get the more it seems to me that very few things are
totally right, and that there is rarely only one right answer to real
I was driven to these thoughts by a really good
posting on Back2ITSM from Stephen Mann about Spiderman and the Avengers. He was
concerned with things that change over time and the danger of being out of date
and therefore no longer correct. You
should read that posting – in fact if you are interested in service management
you should get already be looking at this facebook group – very much the place
Anyway, I am not going to repeat Stephen’s
words here – rather I want to follow a tangential aspect of right and wrong
that his posting triggered in my mind.
It’s just that I don’t think that right is
always an appropriate idea, and I think too many people in service management
think there is a right answer to every question. Actually, truth be told, if I
risk making it way too clear that I am a grumpy old man, then I think there is
far too much expectation of there being a right answer in most aspects of
I don’t know if commitment to that concept of
‘one right way’ is something that we are born with or something we teach our
children. I suspect the latter; certainly it is there at an early age. I recall discussions with my girls about
nursery rhymes. Several versions are around – different recordings,
publications etc inevitably with slightly different words in them. All of my
girls wanted to know which one was the ‘right’ version – certain in their own
minds that one of them must be right, and the others therefore wrong.
The more data and information we ‘enjoy access
to’, then the less chance there is of any one set being ‘right’. I have even heard as an explanation that we
now live in a scientific age – that older attitudes to life were less precise.
And yet I was taught – as a science student – that a solution is right for its
context not necessarily in an absolute sense. I recall one electronics lesson
that has always stuck in my mind and served my in very good stead in my working
life, across a whole range of service management – especially in measurement.
It hinged on the lecturer going through the
week’s assignment which involved working out the effective resistance of several
configurations of components. We had all
(and I mean all, from the clever geeks, to the lazy ones like me) worked it out
using the given resistances of each element in a frighteningly complicated
configuration, and come up with a precise effective value for the combination.
The lecturer drew it on the board, then proceeded to wipe out most elements as ‘not significant’
– left about three components and did the calculation in seconds. We all screamed ‘cheat’! He laughed, reminded
us that the stated resistance of the components is given as ±10%, so there was no point in taking
seriously anything that wouldn’t affect the answer by more than a few percent.
I spoke with the lecturer afterwards and he
admitted they did the same exercise every year to get that very point across.
The right answer is one that fits the circumstances, be that imprecise measures,
limited time, lack of profile with management or whatever situation you
establish you are in.
That lesson about being right enough for the
job is one we are losing with modern technology giving us an answer to
ridiculous precision from input that is
often little more than a guess.
That principle of knowing what is needed before
you deliver is – of course – far more universally true than just being about
measurement. But it is easily forgotten in an age that often delivers more
answers than questions.