Meaning Guide

An interesting train of thought (or how to tell if something is meaningful)

I was on the train a while back, when the conductor announced:  “We apologise for the delay to this service, caused by technical difficulties arising from train allocation at Worcester Shrub Hill”.  The lady with the trolley happened to be going by my seat and said good-humouredly “Oh don’t you just love these fabricated excuses.”  I smiled.  So did everyone else.

I liked that experience so much I wrote it down.  It’s a great way of telling when something is meaningful – people smile.

And, I thought (being an organisation-watcher), what a lovely metaphor for organisational life.  On one hand the adherence to abstract policies and processes leading to jargon-laden communication that people just ignore.  And on the other hand the human beings creating meaning in spite of it all, by sharing stories over coffee breaks, standing photos on their desks, passing anecdotes down from legendary figures of old, griping and moaning to each other on the ride-share home, digging out so-and-so’s hand-written map of how things actually work, calling the managers by nicknames when their backs are turned and so on and so on and so on.  Finding a way to stay smiling, not because of work but in spite of it.

What happens in your organisation when something goes wrong?  Do people roll out corporate-sounding “fabricated excuses”, or take the opportunity to build connection through the acknowledgement of shared human fallibility?

My last journey home to Oxford was on this brand spanking new IET.  It felt a bit like being in a futuristic morgue, but it didn’t feel very liable to break down.

So who knows, maybe if this proves as reliable as Great Western hopes, kindly acknowledgements of human fallibility from outsourced trolley attendants will become a thing of the past.  Which would somehow seem a shame.

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