22 Signs of the times

One eager reader writes from his phone to inform me that this blog has become his “portable curmudgeon”. Portable cannot be denied.

As a communication consultant constantly on the move, I am dedicated to analysing and improving the way we get our messages across to one another. So I have been scooting around, innocently gathering examples. Of what? Of the contemptuously condescending public signs and announcements that continually belittle the collective intelligence of the people of our fair and favoured land. In particular, the travelling public. Examples follow.

No Smoking
No kidding. Really? “We would like to remind you that smoking is not permitted in any part of the aeroplane, including the toilets.” This is a vital message. Surveys have found that a staggering 94% of air travellers in 2009 have not heard of the global embargo on smoking on planes imposed 17 years ago and indeed believe that smoking offers a wide array of health benefits. This is why you always see people on planes huddled together near the galley helping each other through the cold turkey trauma of not being able to cup a stub in their yellow-stained palms, as the big bird trundles along the runway.

No Spitting
This sign was originally sited on the top deck of Glasgow trams (1914-1965). Spitting was a popular activity then among city folk, but it became necessary to outlaw the sport when cigarette manufacturers realised that people were spending too much time gobbing and not enough time furiously smoking cigarettes, which was permitted on the top deck of trams. Today no one in Glasgow smokes, so there is no need to ban spitting any more. It’s really slippy up there.

If you see anything suspicious, please report it to a member of staff
A general purpose reminder that the world is flat, the moon is made of cheese, distrust is the safest option and paranoia by far the best way of keeping the civilian population acting like rabbits on a lamping expedition.

Any unattended items may be removed and destroyed by security forces
Forces? In which dystopian novel are we now actually living? These scripts are seriously darkly Orwellian. At St Pancras International today (as every day) the above message was tannoyed every two minutes. We didn’t have “security forces” two months ago.

Passengers with luggage are reminded to use the lift
Reminded? If I’ve been told once I’ve been told a thousand times. Because some woman with a tinny voice says it every time anyone passes a motion sensor on the platform bridge at Luton Airport Parkway. If you are lucky enough to be waiting endlessly for one of First Capital Connect’s premium uncancelled services, you will grow fond of her voice. Or cause a passenger incident.

If using the stairs, hold the handrail and take care
People are finding it increasingly difficult to remember how to walk these days. Thank goodness the woman with the tinny voice is here to help again. A special Luton Airport Parkway DVD of safe walking techniques for valued customers is available online. Surprisingly, it offers no advice on how the handrail should actually be held. This omission provides a potential insurance claim goldmine for the clumsy. Take care, won’t you?

And how this relates to business is…?
Written rules remove the need for personal responsibility. All those haranguing signs and announcements above rob us of the dignity of commonsense.

The business equivalent is the whole nine yards shelf of QA procedures that nullify the notion of thinking for yourself. No one I know in business loves those things. That’s from CEOs to purchase order clerks. So why do we still have ISO?

If your company has a method statement for how to open envelopes to avoid paper cuts, maybe you should cut and run.

Every successful organisation knows that a tick box exists to be ticked and forgotten. They then get on with the dynamic principle upon which every good business operates: how can these brilliant people we’ve employed increase their own job satisfaction by exploiting their own initiative and so add to the commercial benefit for all?

Nielsen Dinwoodie
business messages people remember

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