"A Fail Wail"

2009
Apr
27

I’m not going to join the Geek Chorus bewailing the overuse of the word “FAIL” (usually all caps and used as a noun), because I know that not just the Dominant Internet Culture but the Dominant American Culture loves having a single all-inclusive term for concepts like this, and the next most popular candidate was the Homer Simpson “D’oh!”. I prefer the Hanna-Barbera Cartoon Dog “Ruh Roh” (shared by Scooby Doo, Muttley, Astro from The Jetsons and any other canine with less than full human speech voiced by Don Messick). But what I really like, yet knew it’d never catch on (because it uses too many syllables) is “This Is Broken”, a catchphrase of Seth Godin, who has replaced Tom Peters as The Business Guru Who Least Makes Me Cringe.

One reason is that Seth resembles a less-crazy version of REM’s Michael Stipe but also he has occasional outbursts of pure, unvarnished honestly like when he commented on this video of his “This Is Broken” presentation “I have to admit that very little in the way of progress has occurred as a result.”

Anyway, I have an example of “This Is Broken” I see everyday that he could easily include in future versions of his speech.

borkedramp1Signs like these appeared at almost every onramp and offramp of Highway 101 in San Luis Obispo in January, as part of some major project to upgrade the 101 to 102.0, I think. Apart from the fact that the hour at which the ramp may, intermittently, be shut down is totally unreadable on the first sign, why is there “24 HOURS” just above where the sign shows specific hours? It’s the same thing on all the signs, with variations in the hours. Obviously, “This Is Broken”, but as Godin got into in his presentation, I wanted to know how it happened and why.

You can imagine all kinds of dysfunction possible in a part of the California Department of Transportation, but I think the explanation is not all that heinous. The Project Manager puts in an order for 10-20 signs, using an Order Form supplied by the Signpainting Department. Most of the things you can put on a road closure sign are pretty much boilerplate, so the form is mostly “check this box if you want the sign to say this”. And the Project Manager checked off “MON-FRI 24 HOURS” instead of just “MON-FRI”, or maybe his checkmark missed the box and the signmaker misread it, or maybe there wasn’t a plain “MON-FRI” option. Anyway, the signmaker got the order and filled it as specified, with both “24 HOURS” and “blank PM to blank AM”, because it was NOT HIS JOB to question the wording of the signs, just to make them as ordered. As it was NOT THE JOB of the people who placed the signs at each on-ramp and off-ramp, and if the Project Manager saw it, he probably hadn’t been given the time or money for re-painting signs, so it was NOT HIS JOB either. Thus, signs all over the San Luis Obispo area that don’t make sense. A case of Occam’s Razor meets Burma Shave.

This Is Broken. Still, if I ruled the World of Clichés, I’d rather say “This Is Borked”, a variation on the theme that is, itself, linguistically broken, not to mention giving the Sci-Fi geeks among us a mental picture of Mork from Ork combined with Star Trek’s Borg, which is about as broken, or borked, as you can get. Nanoo nanoo.

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