To master efficiency, one must recognize inefficiency in all its evil manifestations. I have felt this way since I was a stripling, and over the years, life has presented any number of examples of just how right I am.
For years, I retailed the story of a boat rental operation in a place called Symonds Yat, on the border of England and Wales, to illustrate my point. A magical dingly dell it was, with a river running through it.
One day, on vacation, we spotted people boating down the river in a punt-style thingie. "Let's do that," my girlfriend squeaked (it was the '60s; she was probably on ether). So we followed the signs for the boat rental department.
We had to clamber up a steep bank to reach the Unabomber-style shack that was the rental office. Inside, a giant greasy toad of a man lay on a couch. His job was to rent out four boats on a daily basis.
That was it: Rent them out in the morning, collect the fee and then lie around all day.
"Have you got a boat to rent?" I asked.
"Dunno," the human sloth replied. To find out, he suggested we climb down the hill, see if there was a boat, and, if there was, climb back up again and pay him a day's rental.
"Why don't you go down and look, and we'll wait here," I said.
"Not my job," he replied. "I just rent them."
So we staggered down the hill, found a boat and then stole it for the day. We knew he'd never come after us. This we did not for our own sake, you understand, but to teach the man a lesson.
Later, when I visited the United States, my inefficiency story was replaced. The new one centered on a vending machine that's empty because someone forgot to restock it.
The machine exists solely to sell, say, cans of soda. Unless it contains soda, it is merely an eyesore and, worse than that, the metallic embodiment of a broken promise.
Some schlep has the job of refilling it, but even that simple task is beyond him. A sales opportunity is lost, a potential customer cannot slake his thirst, and a half-crazed Englishman starts ranting to his pals and ruins their day. Bad scene.
Moments ago, I discovered Inefficiency 3.0, and you're the first to hear about it.
I saw an advertisement for a new business magazine, and wanted to subscribe. I dialed up the dot-com address (as the Americans like to say). "Subscribe here," it said, "and receive a free gift, and eternal happiness." On it I clicked.
The screen immediately shot back: "We have a problem." I keep cookies switched off, because it ain't nobody's business what I do. The magazine wouldn't let me subscribe, however, unless I bowed to its fascist dictates. I wanted a magazine, not a geek squad following me around, so I went off.
Er, where was I? Oh, yes, inefficiency. I didn't subscribe to the magazine, which is apparently less interested in its sales than in obtaining secret data about its Web visitors. Dolts!
Let this be a lesson to you, friends. Whatever vending machine life has you restocking, make sure it's always full, for in this dog-eat-dog world, you get only one chance. Mess it up, and the next thing you know, you'll be renting out punt-style thingies.
ROGER CROMBIE is a Bermuda-based columnist for Risk & Insurance®.
November 1, 2007
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