If you have not read Charles Handy’s book The Age of Unreason then I heavily recommend it. In a nutshell it turns things upside down and tries to change our perspective on situations. One situation that Handy writes about is the issue of Consultants in our National Health Service. As most people realise, these are the most skilled and highly paid professionals. They often like to have time away from work, sometimes on holiday, sometimes playing golf and sometimes in lucrative private practice. Problems arise with their ever rising salaries. Handy’s solution is to keep paying them the same salary but allow them to work less time for the NHS. Their hourly or daily rate thus rises but the cost to the taxpayer does not. This leaves our consultants free to play golf (not earning any further money) or work in private practice and earn even more money.

Now this solution may not be ideal but it is a possible solution and it comes about by turning the situation upside down i.e. by not sticking to reason, hence the idea of Unreason. In the current world economic situation many rules have been discarded and hence reason has gone or been suspended. There is a new world order (possibly devoid of bankers) where new rules apply, or possibly where no rules apply. The situation is ripe for people with a fertile imagination and brimming with confidence to make an impact.

This course of action builds upon our banana observations and tries to examine the boundaries of a problem. First of all let us ask some questions:

  • Is the aim to increase the cost of consultants to the NHS?
  • Do we actually have to pay them more?
  • How might consultants like to spend their time?
  • Are there other ways for consultants to earn more?
  • Can we still make use of consultants for teaching training purposes?

Probing of the boundaries of the problem often reveals previously hidden courses of action. Some of these may be conditional e.g we can have consultants working less time but only if we safeguard some teaching time. OK, so lets do that.

A company supplying parts to the automotive industry was having a tough time. They did not like spending money on repairing equipment but needed to do something. Faults were usually reported to the factory manager who either did something about it or not (the more likely scenario). Control was taken away from the production line workers.

Luckily Unreason prevailed and the workers were empowered (grudgingly at first). So what happened?

  • Leaks were fixed in air hoses
  • Less leaks meant not running all of the air compressors
  • Air compressor running could be alternated this decreasing service bills
  • A total annual saving in running costs of £10,000 per annum

An the improvements did not stop there. Their colleagues who worked on an electro plating line began experimenting and found ways to double the throughput of the plating process simply by reorganising the positioning of components on the hangers that immersed them in the plating baths.

This is not quite so dramatic as Handy’s NHS solution but is a practical illustration of a burst of Unreason helping. Next time you get stuck, try asking ‘why do we have to do it this way?’ or ‘can we try doing it this way?’ and see what happens. You’ll be surprised.

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