Self Service: TRIZ Inventive Principle No. 25 (Hitting the iceberg)

Last night I had the worst shopping experience of my life. This morning I woke up early, and angry and typed this.

At 8pm last night we called into, what used to be my favourite supermarket, Morrisons for a medium sized shop. By 9pm I was seething, telling off senior staff, hardly speaking to my wife…

After a quick run round the shop at 8pm we headed towards the tills looking forward to our chat with a friendly face who would comment on everything that we had bought. “Oooh that’s a bargain”, “I prefer this washing up liquid too, nicer on your hands” and “do you need any help packing”. But tonight was going to be different.

None of the tills were manned. We were pointed towards the self service area by two ‘assistants’. “That’s all that is available, but we are here to help” they then went back to chatting to each other.

I must point out I hate self service tills, I also have a tendency to spot all the problems in the “at the till process”. At Oxford Creativity where we teach Inventive Problem Solving we work to identify all the benefits, then all the costs and harms. In the following ‘new’ process I can see absolutely no benefits for me, the customer, only costs and harms.

  1. Put all your bags in the bagging area. We always bring too many bags, and of varying sizes, but we managed this order. [raises blood pressure and puts you in your place]
  2. I managed to work out, by trial and error, just where the bar code reader was, then the fun began…
  3. All the delays and problems checking items out are now on your shoulders not the person manning a till. Which means I was constantly apologising to the poor man waiting behind me. [solution: get your bar codes and system perfect Morrisons before you experiment with us. This is not a ‘safe to fail’ experiment. I threatened never to come back three times]
  4. The process is designed for one person not two. As you try to speed up, passing items to my wife, if she hadn’t got the item into the bags, the scanner refuses to scan the next item, so we started shouting at each other. [solution: Marriage counsellors at the check outs]
  5. Then the fun began, a cucumber. No bar code. I placed it on the scales area, hopefully. Choose an item was the instructions. Is it a fruit or a vegetable. Alphabetically presented. It wasn’t hard to find the right button but there was a lot going on on screen. [another harm, we will never become as acquainted with their clunky system as a trained till operator]
  6. My first ‘reduced price’ item. Spring greens. Computer refused to scan the bar code. After three attempts I went into Basil Faulty mode and began hitting the machine with the greens. “Do you need some help sir?” our assistants interrupted their chat and, seeing the first signs of chaotic failure, intervened. “Your wife is still holding the eggs, they need to be in a bag to continue”. “But, I don’t want these on the bottom of the bag beneath the potatoes” said my wife in her defence. [Marriage counsellor]
  7. Bottles were easier, swish, swish, swish, but it is now hard to pick up, manoeuvre, swish, pass to wife and still keep a check on whether the price is what you expected. [another harm]
  8. Then we hit the iceberg. An iceberg lettuce with no bar code. Placed it on the scales. Chose Fruit and Veg. Does it begin with an ‘I’ or an ‘L’. Tried I, not there. Tried L, not there. Tried SEARCH option. ICE – is it a bag of ice?. Tried Lettuce – item not found. Pressed button for assistance. “What is this” I playfully asked the young assistant. “Is it celery?” she looked confused. At this point I was trying not to scream. “it’s a lettuce” I helpfully suggested. She then went through all the options I had taken and said “It doesn’t appear to be there”. “Just a minute” and she was off. I apologised twice to the man behind and began whistling. Our assistant returned with another iceberg lettuce, this time with its bar code still on the plastic wrapper. “ Sorry, they keep falling off”.
  9. Eventually we reached the final item. Pressed DONE. “Have you got a reward card?”, fumbled in wallet then realised it was on my key ring. Then tried to scan my ‘extra points’ voucher. Computer said ‘No’. “ You missed the chance to use your voucher at an earlier step”. At this point I was seriously considering walking away, I apologised again to the man behind. He said that he was “seriously considering walking away” and abandoning his trolley. A different assistant intervened. With a swift flash of a pass card, a few codes and passwords, we were back at a previous screen which asked “have you got a voucher?.
  10. You would think that was it. Left to pay for the shopping. I pressed ‘PAY’ only to be told we needed assistance. Waited, apologised and finally we were cleared with a swish and a password that we were over 25 and able to buy alcohol. After this experience we need more alcohol than we bought, but I am not going back in.
  11. You can now remove your bags from the bagging area. Well, we could if we could lift them. No more filling bags in your trolley. Putting all the bottles and soap powder in one bag was a very bad idea. [solution: ambulance on standby outside for back problems and the occasional bruised eye from all the punched faces that will undoubtedly ensue]

I did give feedback and complain immediately, First before we started the check out from hell, second when we hit the iceberg and finally to a ‘Team Leader’ I found chatting to the staff outside the building.

I guess they want us all to conform and order food online. The staff must dislike this process as much as we do, its like a turkey preparing for Christmas. There is no benefit or discount for the customer only the transfer of hassle and aggravation.

I did notice that none of the older till staff were on duty, ‘assisting’ and why would they, which is a shame because Morrisons looked to be providing a real service to the community.

Perhaps we should organise a protest and fun evening where we all go en masse, and buy lots of separate, un-barcoded fruit and veg and purposefully enter the wrong cheaper options, or just go and do your normal shop.


We need more stories like this

Emerging from the original RIPPLE – COPD Project in Coventry, this is one of the seven further ‘safe to fail’ experiments in surrounding districts.

The Wolverhampton CCG TWIRL Project

Less than six minutes long, please watch and consider the implications if we were able to deliver more medical services in this way

Beginning, as an idea, at a workshop I facilitated in February 2016 at the Football Stadium in Wolverhampton:


These were the Benefits identified by the Group:wolves1

The outcome, a weekly meeting summarised in this video, packed full of personal anecdotes says it all.

I want to stay forever

The sandwiches are good too

If ever there was an example that we need more stories like this…

A Short History of Myth – Karen Armstrong

I remember buying this , quite short, book after glancing across a few of its pages and seeing a few references to ‘archetypes’.

Archetype extraction was an early additional part of many of our Cognitive Edge based narrative workshops at English Nature. Dave Snowden instilled in us an interest and an adherence to many anthopological approaches especially that of the importance of myth and ‘sense of belonging’ stories.

Here are three quotes from Karen Armstrong’s book which I feel are particularly relevant and interesting:

When an Australian goes hunting, for example, he models his behaviour so closely on that of the first hunter that he feels totally at one with him, caught up in that more powerful archetypal world.

The story of the Golden Age, a very early and almost universal myth, was never intended to be historical. It springs from a strong experience of the sacred that is natural to human beings and expresses their tantalising sense of reality that is almost tangible and only just out of reach.

The myth was not simply an exercise in nostalgia, however. Its primary purpose was to show people how they could return to this archetypal world, not only in moments of visionary rapture but in the regular duties of their daily lives.

The Guardian review of 2005 can be found here.


TWIRL – The Wolverhampton Integrated Respiratory Lifestyle


This is one (of seven) of the offspring that emerged from the successful Coventry RIPPLE Project. The Press release from 2016 can be found here.

I facilitated the ‘Launch’ workshop at the Wolverhampton Racecourse back in February 2016, which brought together as wide a range of interested groups as we could. Instead of directly copying the use of a church hall as hosting location we looked at the assets we had and, fairly obviously, but not at that time guaranteed, the Wolves Football Club, Molineux Stadium was suggested, and so it came to be.

This was one of the first ‘social based’ workshops where I successfully introduced the Oxford Creativity – TRIZ Nine Box Thinking method. The use of scale (Individual – Community – Society) and time (Before diagnosis – After Diagnosis – Later) worked particularly well in exploring and generating creative ideas.

wolves02This was one of six sheets produced. Note that at this stage, top left, we were still exploring delivering this initiative as a ‘Breathing Bus’.

I love the way each project is creating its own identity and acronym, TWIRL is great, whilst building on the assets that they have rather than forcing a structure and rules on each other.

Pictures above are taken from the Output Report produced after the workshop.

“The future of knowledge management: how will project management respond?”

I am looking forward to running a session at the forthcoming Association for Project Management (APM) – Knowledge Special Interest Group (SIG) event in London on 6th July 2017.

Full venue address: Grange Fitzrovia hotel, 20-28 Bolsover Street, London. W1W 5NB

The world of work, the nature of organisations and people’s expectations are all changing, and Knowledge Management is changing too. What does this mean for Project Management?

If you’re a project or knowledge management professional, join us to find out more about current and emerging knowledge management ideas and how you can improve the way you work.

Having had a chance to understand these ideas and possibilities, we will discuss what they mean to us and how PM could usefully adapt as a result.

Speakers line up (subject to change) and additional speakers’ information

  • Ron Young CEO, Knowledge Associates, will give us an introduction to his ‘Five Dimensions of Knowledge & Innovation’ and follow this with an interactive group discussion and activity.
    Here delegates will have an opportunity to review and discuss their own knowledge and innovation issues in the context of these dimensions and should gain new valuable insights into how to understand and make progress with them.
  • Ron Donaldson, freelance Knowledge Ecologist, will run an interactive session using narrative inquiry, storytelling and sense-making techniques, where all attendees will participate.
  • Judy Payne, Knowledge Management & Learning specialist, will explore the past present and mostly future of Knowledge Management.
  • Rob Leslie-Carter of ARUP will present on the findings of their new ‘open source’ publication about the future of Knowledge & learning in project management, created in partnership with the APM.

Benefits of attending
As ever, we will be encouraging and expecting engagement and participation from you as attendees and very much value your contributions. There will be the opportunity to meet a host of industry practitioners and thought-leaders; and exchange your experiences with other knowledge managers, project managers and network with like-minded people.

Booking information can be found here.

I was introduced to the work of Joanna Macy during a memorable exercise facilitated by Chris Seeley at one of the Narrative Leadership gatherings I attended in Stroud.

I bought the book, full title ‘Coming Back to Life – The updated guide to the work that reconnects’ and discovered an amazing parallel world of explaining complex systems, emergence, attractors but without any of the ‘difficult language’. It also includes dozens of practical exercise for workshops that can be used separately or as a longer sequence.

Given my recent interest and connections with Robin Lincoln Wood who has written an entire book called ‘Synergise’ (more on that in a later post) I was most interested in her definition of ‘synergy’ very early on in the book.

Synergy – The first property of living systems. As parts self organise into a larger whole, capacities emerge that could never have been predicted and that the individual parts did not possess. The weaving of new connections brings new responses and new possibilities into play. In the process, we can feel sustained – and are sustained – by currents of power arising from our solidarity.

In her 12 guidelines, on page 60, for a ‘good’ workshop I particularly empathise with the following four, and will reference these in later posts as I describe a few of my workshops.

1. Attune to common intention

2. Welcome diversity

7. Believe no-one who claims to have the final answer

11. You do not need to see the results of your work

My last quote from this amazing book is directly about a ‘good workshop’.

A good workshop is a highly participative venture. One of the greatest gifts that a guide (facilitator) can offer to participants is the opportunity to listen to themselves and others.

Always take the pulse of the group to find out what is happening. This act of checking in helps people feel more engaged and responsible.

Narrative Fragments


Having recently stepped over the threshold of three score years on the planet I am beginning to reflect upon the influences, stories and turning points that have inspired and changed me through the years.

I really don’t have the patience, attitude or necessary skills to write a book or make a series of videos. This blog has been allowed to dry up and become overgrown.

I will therefore initially, begin this journey in a form, suggested by Dave Snowden of Cognitive Edge, all those years ago, that of ’narrative fragments’. These will be in no particular order and may take the form of quotes, reflections, photographs etc. My intention is to provide a collection of sign posts, gateways or pathways for others to explore.

My intention is to reflect and revisit many of the stories, books and experiences that have had the greatest influence on me over the years and have shaped my approach to facilitation, sharing and indeed how I live my life.

Feedback, in the form of comments, additional resources etc, as always, is very welcome.