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I am mildly obsessed with dabbawallas. Several months ago, I was watching the India special of Top Gear when they described Mumbai’s mind-boggling businessman’s lunch delivery service. They mentioned the dabbawallas’ error rate is 1 in 16 million – in other words, they deliver a meal to the wrong place or fail to deliver in 1 in 16 million deliveries.

This is a better than six sigma accuracy rate in a massive, chaotic city in a developing country for a process with very little automation carried out by often-illiterate laborers. Their process is simple, repeatable, and relies on the knowledge and resourcefulness of the wallas (who have to use shortcuts or less-traveled routes to overcome traffic jams). Their success is a reminder that we don’t have design every process or procedure to the smallest detail to get consistent results, and that we can rely on the judgement and knowledge of non-professional workers.



There’s a short article in USA Today about retailers using apps to help shoppers find items in their stores (link). The article mentions that an estimated 20% of retail sales are lost because shoppers can’t find items! I was thinking about how people are becoming more and more accustomed to on-demand performance support in their daily lives, and about how much productivity and efficiency we’re losing when (20%?) when we don’t provide that in the workplace.

And then it occurred to me – the places that really needs this kind of app are hospitals! Typically cobbled together over decades from buildings of different sizes and aesthetics, hospitals are always tough to navigate. Wayfinding is a perpetual challenge for hospitals and the current state of the art is offering maps, trying to optimize signage and encouraging staff members to walk patients and visitors to their destination. The effectiveness of these methods are spotty (just as they are in the [much simpler] retail environment). An accurate wayfinding app could be a terrific boon to satisfaction in the hospital environment.

Outside the Comfort Zone

In my last post, I answered a question about on-demand learning. I recently had a need for some on-demand learning outside of work myself. An online community that I belong to decided to put together a magazine. The call went out for writers, artists and photographers to submit their work and for copyeditors to help put the magazine together.

With no works to submit, but still wanting to contribute, I signed up to be a volunteer copyeditor. I am a good writer and editor, and I figured it would be an easy way to be a part of this interesting idea. A few weeks later, I received an email for the magazine’s volunteer editor talking about “slugs,” “AP format” and “running wicked fat on copy.” As I read that email, it dawned on me that I had no idea what a copyeditor actually does.

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