Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Of thought-trains and process-chains

Back in the day, there was a railway station in a small village called Buxar in Bihar. People would take trains all over the country from that station, more people would come and drop them, see them off. Most bought platform tickets while seeing people off.

Then one day, a guy couldn’t buy a platform ticket in a hurry. While exiting the station, he told the checker that he had forgotten, and the checker, reasonable man that he was, let this guy go, with a promise to not lapse another time. “How much difference can a 5p ticket actually make?”, the guy thought. The next time, he again forgot, and got away. The word spread. Soon, many people were not buying tickets. They were flouting other rules as well, like crossing the tracks on foot, and not on the bridge. Bringing 2 wheelers to the platform. And so on.

Today, if you enter the station, and go to buy a platform ticket, people laugh at you for not having enough sense that a ticket is not required.

Isn’t that how, over the years, conventions get made?

There was not a problem with the planning the railways did at one point of time. It was not a problem of enforcement, since the ticket checker was a reasonable man. Accommodating, warm, cheerful and reasonable. He did his job with diligence and honesty, and worked to exhaustion. It’s not a problem of deviation, that is the nature of flow.

Perhaps, in the pressures of daily work, these considerations were somehow lost. Perhaps, they were unnecessary to begin with. How much difference could a 5paisa platform ticket make? Was it really worth the effort of checking each person for a ticket and enforcing the above-said law? Is it really practical?

We might face similar questions in our head from time to time. We might question processes that we are supposed to implement. Because they’ve been handed over. And in our day-to-day lives, we might sometimes find them slightly inconvenient.

What might help is to realize that the people who made the processes saw far bigger things way ahead than we could. They set up a system. They conceived the plan. They saw how it would unfold over years, maybe decades.

Perhaps it’s not a bad thing to question a process before accepting it. But it definitely seems a bad bet to write-off a process without understanding it’s bigger purpose.

Have a nice day.