Talking machines

July 3, 2009

Yesterday a had a very interesting “engagement” with a parking ticket machine. I visited the ministry of Health Care and Sports ( yes they go together in the Netherlands) and I drove my car in the parking house , drew a ticket at the entrance ( visa was also an option, but I refused to lean backwards to find my wallet in my jacket) and parked my car at 10.50. The purpose for my visit was a briefing with the program manager ‘ZichtbareZorg’ (transparent Healthcare), a large quality transparence project on the subject of quality indicators. A huge complex problem that needs strong management and leadership but encounters a large amount of frustration, irritation and so on from the hospital quality managers who need to respond to the Government’s wants and needs.

The team dealing with the subject needs some ‘empowerment’ so I am going to make them familiar with their identity and destination, story development and dealing with complexity.

After a good and thorough briefing I asked for a ticket to leave the parking building, but my client told me they had gone out of tickets. At that same time I subconsciously had taken the original ticket out of my shirts pocket, but there was none.

Problem 1. I said goodbye to my client and left the building but needed my ticket to enter the parking building. From that point I started to talk to machines and encountered new ways of communication. The machine man told me I really needed the ticket. I acknowledged but convinced him that my ticket was in the car. Where else could it be… I convinced the machine and got inside. Went upstairs 3 floors, entered my car, and looked for the ticket. But there was no ticket.

Problem 2. Went down to ground floor, to the payment machine and tried to find the I (inquiry) button. It was somewhere hidden but I found it finally. Pushed the button and another male voice appeared in my imagination. I was advised to go back to my car, and find the ticket. I know the men are not great stuff finders, but I refused.

Problem 3: the machine man had a solution. He would offer me a ‘lost ticket procedure’. He would virtually transfer a ticket, with an unknown price. Then the only thing I had to do was to finish the payment routine. Ok. In a few seconds the ticket appeared as well as the price: 75 Euro!

Problem 4 I got angry and started conversations with a machine. I do know body language accounts for over 70% of perception so I needed a lot of energy to persuade my hidden adversary to capitulate. I told him that this was my first time here, once a year have problems with lost tickets and promised better behavior next time. In the meantime more than 5 visitors waiting in line….

The machine man made a great decision. He offered to send a live colleague. After 15 minutes he appeared. I started my negotiations again and finally we got to a solution together. I would pay for a one day ticket. I was not told the price, but I accepted blindly.

Within 2 minutes I would know the answer: 10 euro’s, the machine told me. For 2 hours. Just 2 euro’s above normal.

I left as a happy client. Talking to machines is another challenge for me. Did I “earn” 65 euro’s or lose 2 euro’s? I’m fine with the result. Who cares?

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The Cynefin Company (formerly known as Cognitive Edge) was founded in 2005 by Dave Snowden. We believe in praxis and focus on building methods, tools and capability that apply the wisdom from Complex Adaptive Systems theory and other scientific disciplines in social systems. We are the world leader in developing management approaches (in society, government and industry) that empower organisations to absorb uncertainty, detect weak signals to enable sense-making in complex systems, act on the rich data, create resilience and, ultimately, thrive in a complex world.

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