“Launching an Imperfect Service”. An unlikely conversation at the cashpoint (ATM)

Paul Taylor - favourite in Vulpine communities
Paul Taylor – favourite in Vulpine communities

Picture this. Friday night and I’m queuing at the village cashpoint (ATM). An unrecognised voice behind me pipes up with… “that bloke from Bromford was good last week, I liked what he said about launching an imperfect service” The ‘bloke’ in question was Paul Taylor.

It turns out that my fellow cashpoint user and I had both been at an event in Cardiff eight days previously. The purpose of the event was to share experiences of supporting users of public services to become more self sufficient, more capable and less dependent upon services delivered ‘to’ them. The broad theme was prevention. Rather than public services dealing with symptoms and consequences; focus efforts on helping people develop their own capability. A summary of the excellent presentation about the Bromford Deal, can be found on Paul’s blog Making a Deal: Unlocking Potential in Communities, and below:


Conversations at the cashpoint. The conversation at the cashpoint came around to three things that had left a big impression on both of us:

  1. Launching an imperfect service. Paul made the point that when Bromford launched the Deal it was imperfect. They acknowledged that things were not going to be perfect, some things might not work, but they got on and did it. This kind of openness and honesty isn’t something you see every day. Its quite different to lots of projects which ‘plan and plan’ for perfection, delay starting, and things still go wrong.
  2. Do small things, fail and learn fast. This is one of the ideas I really like and have written about before in posts like, ‘release trojan mice and win small’. Paul made the point that you need to try lots of small things, fail at some of them, but learn the lessons and move on quickly. One significant quote which summarises the approach relates to implementing IT solutions; “its bad loosing £20K on a pilot, but loosing £200K is awful”.  This links in very neatly with the idea of launching an imperfect service, learning and making things better.
  3. Communities and Individuals have abilities. For me this is the key to prevention. It is all about asking the question, “what can you do or offer?” rather than “what’s wrong with you?”. Every individual and community has assets, talents, skills and abilities. Better to focus on helping to developing and release these, rather than treating people as a series of ‘problems’ that need to be solved.

This was the ultimate ‘Person in the Pub’ Conversation. For ages I’ve been part of an environment where we have been trying to develop a style of communication that is summed up as ‘what would be the messages you would give the person in the pub?The idea is that you can develop a message that could be easily delivered to someone, in a pub, so that they understand the key point and could repeat them to someone else.

Well, I think Paul may have cracked that challenge. The conversation in the cashpoint queue wasn’t quite the pub (it was only 90 seconds away), but something similar was achieved. Two relative strangers had been at Paul’s presentation and managed, 8 days later, to hold a detailed conversation about what had impressed them.  At 6pm on a Friday night we could have talked about anything; the weather, beer, rugby, television, politics or beer; but we chose The Bromford Deal. Now that’s a pretty good example of getting your message across I think.

So, what’s the PONT?

  1. Check out Paul’s slides. They aren’t your average slide deck.
  2. An open and honest communication style, admitting to imperfections, goes a long way in connecting with your audience.
  3. Individuals and communities have abilities. Better to focus on what people can do, rather than their problems.

Picture source: The fox a the ATM/Cashpoint. I think the source is from boingboing.net 2012 http://boingboing.net/2012/02/14/fox-queues-for-atm.html. It is a bit difficult to find the exact source as it was all over Twitter and Reddit.

We don’t get many foxes at the cashpoints in South Wales, it is more of a big city thing apparently. I have seen a horse the train though (then again it might have been a big dog).

About WhatsthePONT

I'm from Old South Wales and I'm interested almost everything. Narrowing it down a bit: cooperatives, social enterprises, decent public services, complexity science, The Cynefin Framework, behavioural science and a sustainable future. In 2018/19 I completed a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, looking at big cooperative enterprises and social businesses in NE Spain and the USA. You can find out more here: https://whatsthepont.com/churchill-fellowship/

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