Degrees of digital separation

Whenever we get a new tool we tend to over use it. We’re excited by the possibilities, enjoy the novelty, and want to explore its potential.

I think we’re at that point with our relationship with algorithms. The danger is that when we overstretch, the damage we cause to a relationship moves beyond the digital into the Human. Small issues get magnified.

I had occasion today to cancel a gym membership with a large international chain whose membership management is outsourced to another large international chain, so I already have two degrees of separation.

I had a query, so chose to call rather than engage with a cumbersome web site, and got through to the usual number roulette. Unusually, all their operators were very busy, but a I was assured I would have to wait no more than 2 mins 19 seconds. Not a few minutes – 2 mins 19 seconds. I was then subjected to a recording of other ways to contact them. I now had apparently 19 seconds to wait. Three degrees of separation.

I then got through to a human. Perfectly polite, but following a tightly defined protocol. A process, not a conversation. Four degrees of separation.

Problem resolved. Less than 10 minutes. No engagement.

UX is a huge area, but quite static. A digital (or script based) interaction is designed at a moment in time based on an average customer .

But time moves on, and none of us are average.

In the end, I got what I wanted from the transaction, but the opportunity to engage was entirely missed by protocols designed to maximise efficiency and minimise risk.

What could have been a conversation that would have yielded both key information (why was I cancelling) as well as sustaining a recoverable relationship was converted to an uninspiring exchange by a proxy of the people with whom a ten year relationship had just ended.

Quite a price to pay for efficiency I thought.

Provenance – again

There’s something going on here.

My regular copy of HBR came through the letterbox today, and it’s substantive focus is on the flaws we can make in making metrics the centre of our performance management.

In particular, I liked an article about Canada Goose, the Canada based maker of expensive, luxury cold weather gear. It’s an inspiring read.

There is much in commom with Hiut, who I wrote about yesterday, as well as companies like Patagonia and Fat Face. All have slightly different strategies, but pride in what they do and genuine connection with their customers, suppliers and workforce is part of it.

Provenance matters.

I’ll continue to pick up on this over the next few weeks. With the changes coming at us, we need clarity as to what we stand for, and what that means for the actions we take in the face of chronic uncertainty.

There are no solutions, only approaches that demonstrate who we really are and what matters to us. Some of it we may have to make up as we go along. That doesn’t matter if we’re grounded in what we do.

There are many organisations who can’t. or won’t make this leap.

That represents opportunities for us as individuals and businesses.


The beginning of something’s existence; something’s origin.

I’ve just bought a new pair of Jeans. Not everyday ones, Selvedge Denim from Hiut Denim. Several times the price of a perfectly functional pair of Jeans bought in the High St.


Because they’re the third pair I’ve bought in over six years, all of which are still wearable.

Because I know where they’re made.

Because they’re signed by the person who made them, and because I admire and support what Hiut Denim stand for.

And because over the lifetime of the Jeans, the premium I have paid is insignificant compared to the pleasure I get from owning them.

In addition to making Jeans, Hiut make a noise. They contribute. They provoke.

Algorithms don’t do that. They can help make the supply chain more efficient, but they can’t add personality. They can’t think, empathise or emote.

I think it’s about connection. Buying something from someone who cares about what they do. Algorithms are part of a machine, not the Principal.

The trouble arises when for sake of cost, we try and fool people that we are offering them personalised service via an algorithm. It’s when uncanny valley kicks in.

As we get tempted to replace people with algorithms, we need to be very conscious of what we are sacrificing.

In an age when you don’t have to, caring means turning up, connecting and taking responsibility. In person. For something that matters to you and your customer.

End note. High Five to . I booked a cheap, non refundable ticket yesterday, and made an error. Rang the help line, a real person answered third ring, corrected my error and refunded my non refundable ticket as it was clear the error I had made. Nice. Appreciated.