Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Safety cartoons

Found this site with good safety cartoons by Ted Goff. You need to pay to use them but it is quite inspirational just looking through the many examples

Lateral thinking examples

Final bits from Sloane's book. A few examples.

How to stop people chipping pieces off the Parthenon. Get chips of marble from the same quarry and distribute around the site each morning. People take them thinking they have got a piece of history.

Make the class look clever in front of the inspector. Tell kids to all put their hands up to answer questions. Put left hand up if they know the answer and right hand up if they do not.

How to become a millionaire by buying coconuts for $5 and selling for $3. Start as a billionaire and redistribute wealth in this way to the poor.

Why are items prices at £x 99p? Not to make price seem less. Required clerk to open till to get change so sale was recorded and clerk could not pocket the money.

You are driving in your 2 seater sports car. It isspouringg with rain. You see 3 people at a bus stop. An old friend. The man/woman of your dreams and an old lady whodesperatelyy needs to get to hospital. Which one do you pick up? Give keys to friend and get them to take old lady. Wait with you dream date.

You phone to get train time. You arrive half an hour early, why? On phone told train is 22:10 which you hear as 20 to 10 (i.e. 21:40).

Easy jet do not give free drinks. Make money and need one less toilet so can fit in more seats.

Great mistakes

More from Sloane's lateral thinking book (see previous postings). Examples that demonstrate Mark Twain's view that 'the greatest of all inventors is accident.'

A monk names Dom Perignon invented champagne when a bottle of wine accidentally had a second fermentation.

1839 Charles Goodyear discovered vulcanization when he accidentally dropped some India rubber mixed with sulphur on a hot stove.

3M invented a glue that was not very sticky, but used it to make Post-it notes.

Pfizer were testing a new drug to relieve high blood pressure. It failed, but men found it had an interesting side effect and the drug became Viagra.

In 1978 the Sony Corporation were trying to develop a small, portable tape recorder. They could make a small machine, but not one that would record. It was going to be written off. But the chairman (Mr Ibuka) realised that combined with light weight headphones they were also developing they could make a new product. People scoffed at the idea of a tape recorded that could not record and did not have a speaker, but we know it as the walkman.

1928 Alexander Fleming was working with infectious bacteria. One lab dish became contaminated with mould. Instead of throwing it away. Fleming examined further and discovered penicillin.

Bold statements

These are from Sloane's lateral thinking book (see previous posting)

Simon Newcomb (1835 - 1909) a leading US astronomer. He declared that flight by heavier-than-air objects was completely impossible. Even after the Wright brothers first flight he claimed that aeroplanes were impractical and worthless.

Dr Dionysius (1793 - 1859) professor of natural history and astronomy at London University. Warned that railway trains traveling at speed would asphyxiate their passengers through lack of air. Also, that steamships could not cross the Atlantic because the would need more coal than they could carry.

Ernst Werner von Siemens (1816 -1 1892) German engineer of the Siemens company. Declare that 'electric light will never take the place of gas.'

Charles Duell, commissioner of the US patents office said in 1899 that 'everything that can be invented has been invented.'

HM Warner of Warner brothers said in 1927 'who the hell wants to hear actors talk?'

Albert Einstein said in 1932 'there is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable.'

John Langdon Davies, fellow of the royal anthropological institute suggested in 1936 that 'by 1960 work will be limited to 3 hours a day.'

Ken Olson, CEO of DEC said in 1977 'there is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.'

Gill Gates stated in 1981 '640k ought to be enough for anybody.'

Lateral thinking

I've been reading a book by Paul Sloane called "the leader's guide to lateral thinking skills." I don't think it is very good at covering lateral thinking. It quotes a lot of supposed examples which you can say may have been successful lateral thinking, but it misses the point that there are many more examples of where similar ideas have failed. Also, many of the examples are purely marketing. Suggesting lateral thinking is simply a way of selling people something they don't really need or packaging an old item so that people think it is something new. For example it quotes a "good example" as the people who worked out they could sell more tooth paste by making a larger hole in the tube and more shampoo by adding the word "repeat" to instructions.

However, there are some useful quotes and examples with a more general application. A few are below.
"Inaction s not an option." This is why there is the continual need to change.

Most companies focus their effort on efficiency and refining current processes. This is not enough. For example, refining the way to make LP's, 35mm film, gas lamps, horse drawn carts etc. does not reflect the fact that these items are largely obsolete.

Selling change to people requires managers to paint a good picture of where you will end up.

Change is uncomfortable. It means there will be winners and losers. Anyone involved risks failure.

You need to take calculated risks in change.

The concept of reversibility is a huge factor in the success of a business. Having a plan B is always a wise decision.

Studies have shown that people under pressure are less creative. Instead, people need realistic goals.

Need to remove the fear of the unknown and fear of failure.

Edward de Bono said "you cannot look in a new direction by looking harder in the same direction."

A ship is safe in harbour but that is not what ships are for

Being 85% ready and out there is better that being 99% ready and out there too late. Assess risks of imperfection before issue.

Monday, April 17, 2006

IT Projects

From Sunday Times 16 April 2006. Translate jargon from government

"We will seek to accelerate the pace of development as available resources permit" - It's going to take years and go way over budget

"The costs to date are for computer infrastructure and software. There will be other costs for implementation" - You don't get much for £6 billion. We're going to need a heap more money if this thing's ever going to fly.

"Our suppliers have been unable to maintain full availability without interruptionn during integration of multiple systems." - The software's useless and we haven't enough terminals

"Technical issues preclude reliable figures on compliance and throughputt." - This is monster is so out of controll we no longer have any idea what's going on.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Accidents in the home

Slightly bizarre claims in this page on the Saga website

Claims that "according to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), most accidents in the home are caused by human error and are preventable." I had a quick look at the RoSPA site and couldn't find the reference. However, my view is that you can't say because an accident is caused by human error it is preventable. Especially as the Saga article goes on to say that "age plays a part in susceptibility to being hurt at home."

Anyway, some interesting data from the latest government figures (I presume this is from 2004 or 2005) include:
  • 37,048 people had to go to hospital because of mishaps involving slippers in 1998.
  • 1543 sustained injuries involving tissue paper,
  • 371 had accidents putting on their underwear -
  • 59 people got hurt in accidents involving Blu-tack!
  • 4000 die annually in the home
  • 70 die from accidents when doing DIY.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Lotus Notes

Interesting article in the current The Ergonomist (April 2006) number 430.
Talks about poor usability of Lotus Notes. Software tends to be bought because of its great power, but users use very little of this, and the bits they do use (email and diary) are the most difficult.
Article claims most of the problems would be relatively easy to fix, but usability never features highly on the lists of developers or procurement staff.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

On the beach

A classic example of human factors. Took my two boys and two nephews to the beach the other day. The nephews were wearing wellington boots and my boys were wearing trainers. Of course it was one of the ones with boots on that got wet feet. The boots gave him a sense of security so he took more risks.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Drug trials

I see the conclusion now is that human was not involved in drug trials that put 6 people in hospital last month. It seems all protocol were followed and even in hindsight the reaction could not have been predicted.
This is another great example of how people understand risk. We all know there are risks in drug trials, which is why they are done in the first place. People don't seem to understand what that risk actually means. In particular, even we know there is a risk there is an expectation that no one will be harmed.
These articles give the latest update.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Ergonomics conference

It is the Ergonomics Society's annual conference this week. As a registered member of the society I supposed I should be there. But it is in Cambridge, which is difficult and expensive for me to get there, and I expect most delegates are more likely to be my competitors than potential clients.
There is a session devoted to the oil and chemical industry that I would have been particularly interested in. I must try and get a look at the papers being presented.
Next year's conference is in Nottingham. I'll try and make more of an effort to attend. I might even submit a paper.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Piper Alpha

I watched the BBC's Piper Alpha video at the weekend. Even though I have seen it several times before and studied the accident in some detail, it really highlighted what a tragedy the accident was.
I think a lot of people think that some people did some very bad things to cause the accident. In reality, the errors made were fairly minor. It is just that several happened together, and they combined with more fundamental weaknesses in the platform's design and company's management systems.
Especially relevant to some work I am doing at the moment is the importance of good incident response systems. Of all the systems and procedures we have, these ones have to work very well and they have to be practiced at length and often. How many companies can say that this is what they do?