Friday, May 19, 2017

Lessons from the Underground

Not long ago I came across a reproduction of a vintage poster that was made for the London Underground.  The poster was an attempt by the Underground management to get some feedback from the thousands who rode their cars every day.  Communication and feedback is important and the Underground is famous for anticipating and providing for what their riders need.  So it is no wonder that these posters were created.

I liked the graphics of the poster. Black and white, with red accents—a classic combination.  I liked that the wording was in the wonderful and copyrighted Gil Sans typeface, a typeface created expressly for the London Underground in the 1920's, much imitated but never outdone.  Its crisp clean look also evokes the jazz age and what we call the Art Deco aesthetic.  It is still in use in all of the signage in the Underground, and rightly so.

The poster asks riders to write their suggestions in the big blank white space below the heading.  What could be better?  Immediate feedback.  Instant communication!  A way to know that is inside the heads of those who are the customers and clientele of the Underground.

We all need that kind of feedback because we want to improve our service and meet the needs of our constituents.  So the idea behind the poster appealed to me, ever so much as the look of the poster.
But then, I was drawn to the examples of what people had  actually suggested that “frame” the center panel, these are small illustrations with the actual comments that people made.  When I read the two at the top center, I burst out laughing, and have been laughing about it ever since.

One of the two suggestions says: “Have longer stops at stations.”  And right there next to it the other suggestion says: “Have shorter stops at stations.”  Hilarious!  

Now, I think that the London Underground should make both of those people happy, don’t you? After all they are both loyal riders, who have both offered genuine and heartfelt feedback, of what they both think will improve upon what exists now.  So it behooves the London Underground to make them both happy.

What?  You say that it is impossible to make both of them happy?  You are correct!  And this is a point that extends far beyond the Underground or London or the United Kingdom.  Not every suggestion, no matter how good it may be, can be acted upon. In fact, if you or I or anyone else tried to act on every good suggestion that came our way, we would probably explode or implode.  Or both at the same time.  It cannot be done.  There is no way to satisfy every idea and suggestion – and remember – every person who offers theirs is absolutely certain, without any manner of doubt whatever, that among all the many suggestions, good bad an indifferent, theirs is the ultimate, the best, the sine qua non.

Here’s the thing: If you have ever made a suggestion that has not been acted upon, in any setting, don’t stop riding the Underground – in other words don’t stop being an active part of that organization into which you poured your suggestion.  Or suggestions.  Keep in mind that others are making them too, and many of them are like yours, and many of them are diametrically opposed to yours.  The complete opposite.  Think of the London Underground Suggestions Poster.  Remember those two top panels.  

And then, no matter what, hop on board so that you can get where you are going and on the way you can actually enjoy the ride.