January 5, 2006

Sloppy Thinking

Seth Godin published a blog entry bemoaning his neighborhood's clean firetrucks. He attempts to make the point that organisations spend too much time on busy work, concluding with this thought:

What a great way to describe a stuck but busy organization. "They sure have clean firetrucks."

But he misses the point. Firemen clean the truck when there's nothing else to do. Quite apart from the beneficial effects on morale and esprit de corps that such cleanliness engenders, you really don't want a fire service that's busy all the time.

Such a fire service can't afford a single idle moment: queueing theory tells us that a 100% busy resource inevitably falls behind, as it can never recover any slack time that it experiences. Given the urgency with which a fire service is required when it is required, I'd much rather see clean fire trucks (which, by the way, in the UK are called appliances) than have to wait when I need a fire put out.

I've enough respect for Godin that I'm prepared to overlook his stretching an analogy to make a point, but I'm sure a lot of people have given him hell for "badmouthing the fire service".

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