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After a month of Sundays our Collaboration Coaches have found an answer to the oft-asked question about systems thinking success stories. Such stories abound in industry, they're just not recognized as such. One excellent example comes from eWeek, 23 Apr 01, p.56ff, "Giving Customer's More Say" or online at

http://www.zdnet.com/eweek/stories/general/0,11011,2708805,00.html

from which we'll report some key tidbits. In order to understand the answer, you'll have to endure a short screed, and some polemic, then the article should make the point clear. At least that's the goal. [Actually, a 'Short Screed' is kind of like 'jumbo shrimp,' it's rather a contradiction in terms...]

The Screed:

The politically incorrect answer is that you won't find a neat little package of systems thinking success stories because this discipline operates at the 'daily living layer' and the results achieved really matter to real ordinary people, so it has been very difficult for the traditional consulting organizations to

  • suffocate the sponsor
  • brand the children,
  • herd the usual suspects into the next trend-du-jour,
  • and rewrite history along the way

about all the messy, inconvenient details that result from putting people first. Coincidentally, that approach happens to be our mission statement: Treasure People and Exploit Tools. AirTrans Corp has admirably done this, as you will see below.

The Polemic

It's high time people started reclaiming their brains at work. Some of today's greatest market successes have been "from out of nowhere" because the established industry leaders are trying to force life to fit into a tidy formula, which anyone with children knows is a pure myth. Chris Argyris has written forcefully about this in this work, Overcoming Organizational Defenses.

Examples from Literature and Board Games

The Harry Potter Series by Joanne Kathleen Rowling, recently profiled in Reader's Digest.

Most publishers took issue with the boarding school setting (very politically incorrect) of her first work in the series, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. The plot, like her sentence construction, was "too complex" they said.

This same complaint nearly killed one of the most famous board games of all time: Monopoly, the Parker Brother's classic. After World War II, production of game pieces ceased, to avoid excess inventory, since the marketers were "sure" that they had ridden the trend as far as it would go. Naturally, children picked up the game from their parents, and it has sold well internationally for decades.

Annie Williams, deputy head of Christ Church Primary School in Camden, UK, compares Rowling's style to Shakespeare, and has even prepared worksheets from the Harry Potter books to help her students with grammar.

The content is fanciful, yet the construction is masterful, in the same vein as Lewis Carroll's Alice series and the popular TV cartoon Rocky & Bullwinkle. Stories of parents reading stories ahead of their children are common.

Barnum as a Project Manager

PT Barnum is reputed to have said, "You'll never go broke underestimating the intelligence of the American Public" which unfortunately too many software vendors took clearly to heart.

Allison Linn, in an Associated Press column, Balance shifts in desktop control, reported computer makers feared we would be "confused" by having the choice of more than one browser on the desktop. Hmmm...does this have anything to do with PC sales falling off a cliff? Perhaps we the purchasing public weren't the ones who were confused. Systems thinking is not for the faint of heart.

George Will hits the nail on the head with his 21 July 01 column, where he makes the point that "Some pleasures are contemptible because they are coarsening…they have public consequences in driving the culture's downward spiral." Here at the Rock Eel Café we don't do "large scale interventions" or other $800/hour claptrap. We help people solve business issues involving the appropriate deployment of technology. Pure and simple. Our corporate parent, the Systems Thinking Institute, is equipped to handle the global multi-nationals that need a more formal presentation and reporting structure. Here at the Café, if you don't like what's on the menu, you can speak to the Chef on duty, and more than likely, they'll cook up something just for you.

Now the meat of the story:

[adapted from eWeek, 23 Apr 01, p.56ff, "Giving Customer's More Say"]

Exploiting tools, to serve people

One of the key reasons AirTran chose a speech recognition technology instead of the more commonly used Interactive Voice Response, (IVR) was call efficiency. With IVR callers respond to menu options and questions by entering answers on the phone's keypad. With speech recognition, callers get questions answered much more quickly by saying what they wanted instead of scrolling through choices the programmers think make sense.

Rocky Wiggins, vice president and CIO at AirTran Airways chose a speech recognition system because it handles repetitive requests far more scalably than people, allowing human service agents to spend their time handling more complex issues.

A recent study by Frost & Sullivan Inc., in Mountain View, Calif. found questions were answered with speech recognition for around 35 cents each vs. up to $1.50 each using human operators.

Contrary to popular assumptions, speech recognition doesn't replace live agents, but rather augments them.

The system design, development and deployment SpeechWorks provided to AirTran cost several million dollars, so this top-flight solution isn't for everyone.

The system interfaces with AirTran's flight scheduling among others, and actually understands "yeah" and "uh huh" as "yes." Asking the caller to rephrase what he or she said is another input validation tool.

Your Recipe for Success is Just Waiting to Be Served

If our outlook makes sense, contact us. We'll be happy to customize a productivity-boosting strategy for your firm. A Collaboration Coach from Rock Eel Café will work with you until the kitchen is clean...When the appropriate layer of attention is targeted and your available resources are intelligently deployed, most business issues get solved and stay solved, allowing you to focus on the bigger picture: serving y.o.u.r. customers.
Schedule a Collaboration Coaching™ Session 
More Food for Thought from the Rock Eel Café 

 
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