Saturday, March 24, 2012

Saturday Morning Meander - films, fugitives and customers lost

File:The-best-exotic-marigold-hotel.jpg One of the difficulties of the travel that I am doing at the moment is simply time to write. I take notes, but struggle to find the time to write them up! So this morning a simple meander. 

Last night three of us went to see The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and then to a nearby Indian restaurant to maintain the Indian theme. I thoroughly enjoyed it, although perhaps one shouldn't dig too deeply into the plot!

Like the film on Maggie Thatcher, The Iron Lady, it attracted an older audience. It's not a film that our daughter would rush to see. Their preference lies more with The Hunger Games. They did see The Iron Lady as part of a family group, but some parts of it escaped them.

The aging of the Australian population is increasingly reflected in parts of Australian popular culture. The cult of the young is still there, but increasingly magazines and films have older themes.

Growing up, I would have regarded an older theme as a film about someone in their thirties! Now the thirties are the new young.

One of the advantages that the British film industry has over, say, the Australian industry lies in the presence of so many character actors who have become such familiar figures in their own right that we feel that we know them. Relative to the size of the Australian population, this country arguably has more, but they just don't get the same type of unified exposure.

I said that I was struggling to find the time to write because of the travel.

Earlier in March it was Parkes (Musings on a visit to inland NSW), last week Broken Hill (A writer's desk), next week is Moruya.

I still need to properly write up my Broken Hill notes, but will try to do so over the weekend. In the meantime, another shot.

This one is of the Broken Hill Living Desert Sculpture Garden. I really enjoyed my visit there. 

  I covered the story of fugitive Malcolm Naden in Malcolm Naden & New England's fugitive country. Well, he has been captured! In the end, he was beaten by technology, the installation of movement sensors in some of the bush houses that he used as a refuge.

A number of recent posts have been concerned in one way or another technology, management and the problems created by the mindless application of the concept of efficiency expressed through cost cutting. There was a fascinating example during the week in the new strategy announced by Australian department store David Jones.

Founded in 1838, David Jones claims to be the world's oldest continuously operating department store still trading under its original name. The rise and to a degree fall of the department store is a fascinating story, for these stores became social palaces to the rising middle and upper middle classes created as a consequence of the agrarian and industrial revolutions.

DJ's recent problems are due in part to the combination of technology and social change. That said, the company has also been a victim of the cost cutting mania that swept the world from the 1980s.

DJ's reputation rested on service. Everything ultimately came back to that. It takes a long time to build a brand, not so long to destroy it. You see, in service businesses reputation depends upon the last customer experience. Talking to a group at dinner the other night, all once loyal DJ's customers, they said that DJ's had got to the point that to buy something there you had to find and then persuade a sales assistant to help you!

One of the elements in the new DJ's strategy is an attempt to recapture the old service mystique, including the recruitment of new staff. I miss the old DJ's and wish them luck now, but am not convinced.

One word that I have come to dislike, a word that is an integral element of current measurement mania, is metrics. I noticed in the DJ coverage that that word was still mentioned. They were going to do all these things, but they had to fit within certain metrics. Given that the application of metrics helped create the damage in the first place, the continued use of the word raised warning bells.


Winton Bates said...

I have been thinking about this off and on for the last couple of days. I share your dislike of the term 'metrics'. In the context I suppose it is code for profit - the authors probably thought that metics was a better euphemism than 'bottom line'.
However, why do they need a euphemism? Is there something wrong with the idea that providing old fashioned customer service could sometimes be consistent with the profit motive?

Jim Belshaw said...

Metrics means a little more than profit. They are things that are meant to have some meaning to the broader goal. Student/teacher ratios is a metric, as is sales per square meter or salaries or some other cost item expressed as a percentage of something else.

Because the relationship between metrics and broader objectives is uncertain, the focus on metrics can distort.

Winton Bates said...

I agree with you that a focus on measurable goals can distort - particularly in the public sector where the goals are less likely to be related to individual preferences and scarcity of resources that are reflected in markets.

However, I think it is often worth trying to measure things that are difficult to measure. The metrics of happiness is a difficult concept but I think it is worth pursuing. You might not agree. It is interesting that doubts about measurement were expressed in the 19th century in relation to the felicitous calculus (Bentham's utilitarianism) which was parodied by Dickens (eg Mr Gradgrind).

Jim Belshaw said...

I absolutely agree with you on the importance of measuring things, even things that are hard.

I am less sure, in fact the opposite, of private vs public sector. In this context, I would argue that the market issue is a furphy!