Friday, December 14, 2007


On my way to Manchester to do some interviews at Jodrell bank this morning. I step up to buy my ticket and again I’m told it won’t be valid by the same guy who told my my ticket to Glasgow wouldn’t work. I eventually get the ticket this time, but I put it to him that last week he attempted to overcharge me for my ticket by £150. He said “I just go by what it says on this screen” a predictable but insufficient response. Now that he has been made aware of the problem with his sytem will he raise the point with the people running it? Will he take steps to avoid defrauding the customer in the future? Will anybody accept the responsibility for this? Will any systems be changed? I doubt it. The rail system will continue to institutionally defraud its customers and nobody will be made responsible.

I’m guessing the companies make millions every year from mis-sold tickets.

Last night I got a summons from Salford council for non-payment of council tax on my house there. I’ve been continually sending letters to them to prove that the house was empty and derelict for the period they’re trying to charge me for . Each time, the emails have not been received or the letters lost. Finally I’ve sent them a package containing recipts (which they requested). I got no response from this, no rejection of my appeal, no further bills, no note with the slightest indication that there was any kind of problem. Then suddenly yesterday, a summons.

This is clearly wrong – and it’s not just a matter of a letter going missing – it’s continual and sustained incompetance and irresponsible behaviour. Will anybody accept the responsibility for this? Will any systems be changed? I doubt it. The council will continue to take people to court without making a responsible effort to asses their claims.

It’s the same with George’s treatment yesterday. The two hospitals failled to commun icate so until we intervened, Kings were ready to up his dose of medicine without carrying out the required safeguards - potentially endangering his life. The notes passed from St Thomas’ to Kings failled to convey what needed to be done. They also failed to explain what had changed in his condition that made operating before Christmas impossible.

Actually they didn’t say impossible. They said “his operation should be delayed possibly until after Christmas”
I asked the doctor who read it: “does this mean he possibly won’t need the operation”

“No, he definitely needs the operation”

“then does it mean it will possibly be before Christmas?”

“no. it won’t be before christmas”

“so what does ‘possibly’ mean then? Does it mean definitely?”


We seem to be living in a culture in which whole organisations are structured around making sure that nobody ever has to take responsibility for anything. Whatever goes wrong, the buck can always be passed contiually. \Nobody is ever empowered to say that they made a mistake and the consequence is that nobody is ever able to rectify that mistake in any but the most temporary way. The doctors can redress the problem by testing George, but they can’t stop the confusion between hospitals which presumably puts thousands of other people in danger. The ticket office can issue me with the correct ticket when I argue with them, but they can’t change the system that incorrectly sells the tickets. The council can cancel my court case, but they can’t stop sueing innocent people.

Communication is always blamed – but could it be that they’re right – that these organisations are made up of thousands of perfectly working, perfectly spinning cogs doing their jobs perfectly but that their work is rendered useless by the oil – the connections between the cogs?

Well, it’s true that as we segregate and specialise further and further – as responsibility for jobs has to be handed on from one person to another when people go on and off shift and when the needs of the case change – the potential for things to be got wrong increases.

That would make the protocols we use to transfer information between people and systems the central challenge of most of our working lives - the single most important thing to get right in any job. I’m certain that it isn’t considered to be.

In any case, it doesn’t answer the problem. Protocols are designed by people, managed by people and used by people. There’s still responsibility there. Or there should be.

The other option is that the buck does stop somewhere – or more specifically that somebody’s getting an awful lot of bucks or at least saving an awful lot of bucks by making problems iinvisible.

People make mistakes, but if they’re not made aware of them and they’re not allowed (and forced) to accept them then those mistakes multiply and grow. Failng systems are perpetuated and become models for other failing systems.

I eventually get my ticket and move to the platform.

Both magpies are there today.

I put my ipod on and select Howard Jones
“No one is to Blame”

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