Tag Archives: communication

The Story of the stolen bike that wasn’t actually stolen

Important Lessons for All Businesses about Systems, Processes and Communication

bike stolen

Let me take you back to summertime – it is the 21st July, a beautiful sunny morning. I’m heading to my local train station – on my bike, to catch the 7.29am to Paddington.

I’m running on time, but as usual, there’s a huge ticket queue – and so I’m rushing. I lock my bike – head for the queue, make the 7.29am, all is good (crammed as usual, but at least I made the train).

That evening, I head back to my station – go to collect my bike – and it’s gone. The lock is still in place – and still locked and attached to the bike rack – but, no bike.

I head into the station, speak to at least three First Great Western station attendants – advise them that my bike has been stolen, ask what the protocol is – and am advised ‘sorry to hear that’ and to call the police.

With heavy heart, I walk up the hill, get home, complain to family about my loss – and then start proceedings to report said stolen bike.

When speaking to the British Transport Police to inform them of the theft, I’m advised that the stealing of bikes at my train station is apparently taken ‘very seriously’ – as it’s a bit of a hot bed.  I’m advised that my case has been reported and someone will be in touch.

A couple of weeks later I get a call from a very nice PC – she advises that my case is now being progressed – and wants me to provide her with a formal statement.  I spend at least 40 minutes on the phone advising her of the situation, my description (so they can discount me from the CCTV review) – the timings, the bike’s description etc.  And, by the way, my bike had been marked and registered with the police bike registration scheme.

I advise I have the lock – she advises, that I shouldn’t touch it too much as it may be used for finger printing.  Lock is transferred to clean plastic bag!

The next step is for her to come to the train station, review the CCTV and then see if they can nail the criminals.

At this point, I ask what the chances of my recovering the bike are – and she advises, very low – probably zero. But hopefully, they can make an arrest.

So – this leaves me without a bike – and with no likelihood of my bike being returned, I now have the chore of getting a new bike – considerable cost and considerable time.

Approximately 6 weeks after the initial theft – I’ve got a new bike in place, and the PC is coming to review the CCTV footage.

Unfortunately, bad news – the CCTV wasn’t working – and so no footage was captured. There was a malfunction with the system, etc, etc.

Some 8 weeks later, it transpires that the CCTV system was not the only system malfunctioning.

In mid November, I receive a call from another PC from British Transport Police at Paddington

Joyous news – they’ve recovered my bike.

‘Is it smashed up’, ‘where is it now’, ‘how did it turn up?’ I had so many questions.  However, it transpires – that it had potentially been at the train station where I believed it had been stolen from – all the time.

I know – you’re thinking, what’s this madness she’s talking about.

Well, apparently, if a bike is ‘unsecured’ at said station, due to it being a ‘hotbed’ for bike thefts, the station wardens, and any plain clothes police officers that periodically patrol the area, will take any unsecured bikes (bikes which are not locked up properly) and put them safely in the ‘lost property’ storage in the station.

Who knew?

Well, apparently… – nobody. Not the nice PC initially investigating the crime, and clearly not any of the three station wardens that I spoke to, when I advised that my bike had been stolen, ‘but how odd that the lock was still wrapped around the bike rack!’

Today is December 21st – so it’s exactly 5 months to the day, that my bike was supposedly stolen. I was called early this morning by another PC from British Transport Police to see if they could recover the bike to me.  As it happens, I was around – and the bike and I were reunited.  Speaking to yet another again, very nice PC – he advised that there are at least 30 other bikes in the ‘lost property’ storage! (What was that about the station being a hotbed for bike thefts!!!).

Whilst speaking with the PC who was organizing this last piece of the case – I queried the following:

a)    Why are there no notices around advising bikers that if their bike isn’t secure – it may be taken into lost property.  ‘Good idea’ he advised – we should do that.

b)    Why when I advised my bike had been stolen – wasn’t there a protocol to first check the lost property before advising me to raise a formal case with the police.

c)     Why, when I raised a case with the police – didn’t the nice PC investigating the crime first contact lost property to see whether or not it was simply a case of the bike potentially not being secured and therefore, not stolen but in fact, just stored!

In the 5 months – with just one simple bike, that really isn’t that valuable (in monetary terms), just look at the waste of resource that’s happened. Numerous phone calls, the filing of reports, letters sent to me advising me of progress with the case, police officers having to physically hand back the property.

Not to mention the expense and time of me having to unnecessarily get a new bike (and believe me it was not a fun experience – just a whole pain in the backside).

And now – I have stuff that’s surplus to requirements – I have two bikes!

Charlie Chaplin could have turned this into a slapstick sketch – it’s such a farce. However, it’s also indicative of what happens when processes are created – and not fully thought through or communicated.

Without thinking things through, end to end and a lack of effective training and practice – and communication breakdown – businesses, people, departments, governments – they all waste resource. Waste of time, waste of money, waste of people – people who should potentially be working on more important things that make a difference to either the world or the bottom line.

This farce is true – and whilst we may sit here reading in disbelief – sadly this isn’t that extraordinary. There are thousands if not millions of truly stupid and pointless, processes and disconnected dots happening all the time in industries and businesses of all shapes and sizes.

My advice to all is to:

  • Check your processes thoroughly, ensuring all dots are joining up.
  • When you identify a disconnect – where the dots aren’t joining up, don’t let that disconnect extend – but instead grab it, investigate it and do whatever you need to do to pull it together.  Make someone accountable (that may be you), accountable to ensure that you do not let such stupidity and waste of resource happen again.
  • Communicate, communicate and then communicate some more –ensure everyone ‘gets’ the processes you create – and that they are clear on what’s happening – and finally – you can’t just say it once and it will be – it takes practice – so…
  • Test things out periodically to check your communication and training is fully ingrained.

That’s all from me – rant over, insights shared.

Ever optimistic, owner of two bikes, Maidenhead

Beware… The Curse of Knowledge – 5 ways to overcome your nemisis

For anyone that knows me – they know that I’ve always got a recommendation of a  ‘good book that you’d enjoy‘ at the ready.

Amazon business books must love me – as I buy books weekly! (In fact 3 books ordered this week, Getting Goosebumps, (@googledave) Stop Talking Start Doing and Do Less Get More – both by (@shaawasmund)).

I love to zip my way through them – sometimes reading two or three books at a time – scribbling notes and collecting gems of knowledge. It’s rare I don’t pick something up – and it’s wonderful when I pick upL plate on something that’s potentially been challenging me for years.

In my recent reading endeavours, I was introduced to Made To Stick a pacey and easily digestible tome – packed with practical insights into the power of stories and theories around why some ideas stick and others don’t. One area they touch on which really chimed with me is the Curse of Knowledge.

The Curse of Knowledge – the premise that the more you know about something, the harder it is for you to imagine what it’s like to lack that knowledge. This was a real ‘ta dah’ light bulb moment for me. As, I don’t know about you – but sometimes, I’m in meetings with people and when explaining something, all I get is bemused blank looks.

It’s as if my logical plain English discussion has been turned into a totally incomprehensible foreign language which no one understands.

What I now better understand, it that it’s my nemisis coming into action, mwah ha ha   –  the curse of knowledge.  When people look at me as if they don’t know what I’m talking about – that’s because they probably really don’t know what I’m talking about.

Thankfully, it’s not that I’m a terrible communicator (honest) – but rather that I am talking to them as if they already know what I know – and they don’t.

What does this mean for the way we communicate?

The curse of knowledge is such a significant factor in how we communicate. Not only with our colleagues, but also with our marketing communications. When we’re explaining something to a customer, client or new team member – either via talking, video, email or however else, we have to remember that they don’t know what we know.

We have to remind ourselves to turn back the  experience dial and think about what we had to know to know what we now know. (Too many know’s here but you get my drift).

And if you’re in the business of influencing people, management, business, selling – and you’re looking for people to do what you want them to do – or buy what you want them to buy – then the curse of knowledge becomes a big challenge.

Here’s one way of looking at it…

Liken it to driving a car. When you first stepped into the driving seat to take your lessons – you thought about every single thing that you did. You actively listened for the step by step instruction from your instructor.

You nervously checked, double checked and triple checked your mirrors, indicators, seat belt and that your foot was on the right pedal.  You probably then read up on your highway code or theory practice – so that you were fully immersed and prepared for any eventuality.

Ping yourself forward a few (or many years) and driving’s a breeze, right? You don’t even think about it.  But that’s because you’ve been doing it a while, it’s become part of what you do – it’s natural.  And importantly, it’s really difficult to remember, not knowing how to drive. If you now had to explain to someone how to drive – you’d find it challenging, you’d probably cut corners and you’d get frustrated that they weren’t ‘getting it’ – after all, it’s not rocket science – it’s just driving.  Right?

Well apply this scenario to work, business or life. The same principle applies. And when you become aware of the curse of knowledge, you start to see it’s manifestations all around you. In conversations, I find myself talking B2B and B2C and putting up slides filled with acronyms that I am familiar with and therefore, I assume everyone should know. Only to be asked, what does that mean?

And the worry is, just how many people do we think sit on their hands and don’t ask for fear of looking like an idiot. Not only does the curse of knowledge hamper communication and getting the point across – but it also stops you from genuinely connecting with people. There’s nothing more rewarding than being heard – but communication is a two way street and you need to be talking in a language everyone understands in order to achieve that effectively.

So here are my 5 simple lessons for overcoming the curse of knowledge:

1.     Be aware

Once you know about the curse of knowledge just start sense checking how you’re communicating.  You’ll start to spot the assumptions you make all the time.  People aren’t idiots or being difficult – they just don’t know what you know – just like you may not know what they know.

 2.   Sense check

Check in with someone that is similar, or part of the audience you’re looking at communicating to. Does it make sense to them. It is pitched at the right level. Do they understand what you’re saying. Is there anything that they don’t understand. Is there any jargon that could be simplified.

3.     Start at the beginning

Rather than diving in and assuming a high level of knowledge, ask where people are to gauge where you need to start. I’ve found it really useful to say things like ‘I’m not teaching grandma to suck eggs here – but I’m starting at the beginning just so that we’re all on the same page – for those of you that know this, great and bear with me for a few minutes, and for those of you that don’t already know this – great, I’m going to go through it briefly.

4.     Does that make sense?

When you get the confused looks, or you feel you might as well be speaking Japanese (to non Japanese speaking people;)) – then check in. Ask the question – does that make sense? See who is getting it and who isn’t and then be prepared to start at the bottom and work through things step by step for those that aren’t.

5.     Step into their world

Having empathy and patience is key to effective communication. You may not remember all the steps you took when learning to drive but you will remember how vulnerable you felt the first time you sat in the driver’s seat – and remember that for others learning something for the first time, they too may be feeling a little ‘fish out of water’. So work on drawing your audience in by understanding where they’re coming from – and breaking things down so it’s easily communicable.

For me – uncovering the ‘curse of knowledge’ – has set me on a mission to change and improve some of the ways I communicate. Here’s hoping you find it’s something useful to be aware of too.

As always – any questions tweet me @michellecarvill or email michelle@carvillcreative.co.uk.  

Michelle Carvill, best selling business author, speaker, founder and Director at Carvill – the social media marketing agency. For information about how the team at Carvill can help you – simply get in touch or visit our website for more information.