25 July 2013

Rule of dumb

Outside my house, there is a bus stop. This is not in itself unusual, except this bus stop is a little out of the ordinary. It was erected by my local council at considerable expense, but has never been used as a bus stop. It sits there with a plastic bag over the offending sign, like a gallows prisoner awaiting the drop, to prevent people from making the quite reasonable assumption that where there is a bus stop, there will also be a bus. Like a piece of surrealist art, ceci n'est pas une bus stop, and no public transport will stop there. Because, having planned a route and erected the stops, the council made the unfortunate discovery that our road is too bendy for buses to navigate without the real possibility of striking a pedestrian on the pavement, as they lurch, Italian job-style, around the curves of Gavin Way (the buses, not the pedestrians).

To continue the dual themes of buses and official incompetence, if you drive along Colchester High Street, you may anxiously look for traffic wardens, because it appears you are, unavoidably, driving in a bus lane - the only through route available. Happily you won't get a ticket, despite the road markings, because this is another example of the council putting on its trousers before its underpants, as they decided to ban private vehicles from driving through town, in a half-baked notion this would transform the place into Las Ramblas. Sadly the street cafe lifestyle failed to materialise when it was pointed out the ban would also extend to lorries delivering to the very shops the scheme was supposed to promote. So instead, the landscape has been enhanced with temporary road signs urging drivers to ignore the road markings. Ceci n'est pas un Bus Lane.

Two local examples that, I am sure, could easily be topped by other authorities all over the world. The sort of thing that makes good copy for local journalists, and conversation starters in pubs across the town. But I prefer see these things as positives. For where there are unnecessary bus stops and road markings that need making, so there are jobs for people making unnecessary signs, and mixing vats of unnecessary paint. Incompetence (or maybe, more kindly, jumping the gun), when applied across strategic sectors of the economy, might be just the catalyst we need to kick on the sluggish recovery. I have a feeling that, in 2029, when HS2 is finally completed, late and over budget, and obsolete after the successful launch of the personal jet pack in 2023, a similarly self-serving excuse about economic stimulus is the sort of thing a government minister will grasp at, when pressed as to why his predecessor thought getting to Birmingham quicker for £32bn was a good idea.

And it seems that others have also picked up on the idea of incompetence as a business strategy: Chipotle, an American Mexican food restaurant chain - the thinking man's Taco Bell - this week garnered a heap of publicity, after its twitter account was apparently hacked:



The apparent inability of Chipotle to use twitter went viral, and these tweets earned over 12,000 retweets (against a usual weekly RT number of about 75). Many people who had never heard of Chipotle were caught up in the apparent hamfisted attempts to grasp social media, and spread the story. Today, the restaurant admitted this was actually a deliberate strategy to spread awareness of the brand ahead of more formal publicity promoting its 20th anniversary celebrations (story here). Chipotle had managed to cut through the competing media noise not by being slicker than everyone else, but by being deliberately rubbish.

They may have been inspired by MP and Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls, who achieved similar, perhaps less wanted, attention after he accidentally tweeted his own name, on 29 April 2011 (he was trying to search for what twitter was saying about him). This inspired an Internet meme of people tweeting the hashtag #EdBalls, culminating in "Ed Balls day", two years after the event, a mass retweeting of the original posting (story here). Once again, idiocy and incompetence had gain traction with the wandering attentions of the world wide web.

From economic recovery through to business and media strategies, random acts of stupidity might be the way forward. Forget planning, forecasting, careful analysis and competence, it seems what the world actually needs is a greater number of idiots in charge of everything. To that end, when I look at the current crop of pinheads with their hands upon the levers, maybe things will turn out okay after all.

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