Let’s Fit a Round Peg Into a Square Hole

“We are the Borg. You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.”

(The Borg from Star Trek)

The Dollarama button batteries didn’t fit. I didn’t even try.

One look and I could tell. The diameter and voltage matched but wrong thickness. I was hoping for a cheap replacement battery for my dual powered calculator but alas, I’ll need to rely solely on solar power for a little longer.

The number and variety of ‘standard’ button battery types is about as overwhelming and dizzying as the mushrooming number and variety of Agile certifications!

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Standardization can be a good thing or a bad thing. Standards related to physical safety and security like the electrical code that regulates the electrical wiring in a building or the testing and approval of consumer goods such as protective sports equipment are inherently good. The other good thing about standards is that everything will just fit if you comply with the standard. I, for one, would welcome a world where everything fits harmoniously with everything else.

That world may have existed at one point in time. But, the world doesn’t stand still.

So, the bad thing about standards is they’re standards until they’re not. Standards that were perfectly fit for purpose at that point in time are now woefully inadequate. Kinda like me trying to figure out how to plug a 3-prong electrical cord into a 2-prong outlet in my circa 1940’s house. As the pace of change in the world accelerates, the half-life of standards gets shorter and shorter.

If that isn’t bad enough, It gets uglier. Standards and standardization make increasingly less sense as we climb Maslow’s hierarchy of needs or navigate the Cynefin complexity framework beyond the clear and complicated domains.

Standardization makes sense when it comes to physical safety and/or when the world we live in is stable and predictable. As tempted as I was to break off the grounding prong on my 3-prong plug to make it fit into the 2-prong outlet, I thought better of it.

It makes far less sense to standardize how people interact with each other, how each of us realize our potential or when a pandemic or cybercrime throws our world into a constant state of flux filled with chaos or disorder.

What then?

Here are some ways I can imagine fitting the round peg of change into the square hole of the standard status quo.

A Better Way

Standards are an enemy of change.

Standards lull us into a false sense of comfort and complacency. Standards give us the illusion of order in an unruly world.

Change is hard. It rips us out of our comfort zone. It removes our rose-coloured glasses so we can see the world as-is, warts and all. Change is also inconvenient and indiscriminate. Although some would like to think otherwise,

“Change? Absolutely, but can we wait until ‘x’ happens and ensure we don’t impact ‘y’?”

What if I told you a world could exist where everything does fit harmoniously with everything else? Where everything just works?

What if our standards could change and adapt on the fly like a chameleon or a shapeshifter from Star Trek?

A couple of examples come to mind that illustrate the possibility of such a world.

  1. Apple. When I bought my first Apple product, an iPod, I was surprised to find no user manual. When I powered it up, I understood why. It was so simple and intuitive to use that the user manual included as a standard part of every other technology product at the time was unnecessary. It was as if it adapted to how I was using it rather than forcing me to follow a strict set of standard instructions. Ever since then, my experience with Apple products has continued to be a joy and intuitively simple.
  2. Unity Health Toronto. As part of rolling out Covid-19 vaccinations for senior citizens, a network of Toronto hospitals launched a registration website well ahead of the government registration website. I registered my father without any issues. The website was simple, clear and very responsive. I received confirmation of the appointment almost immediately! When I had to reschedule the appointment, the cancellation and re-booking processes were similarly easy and responsive. A far cry from what I and others have experienced from pharmacies and government registration sites. My great experience didn’t just end there. I received multi-channel reminders leading up to the appointment day. When we arrived at the hospital for the vaccine, everything ran smoothly from the friendly greeting at check-in, to the vaccine shot, to the post shot 15 minute waiting area, the check-out and the followup email with second dose appointment details. They even had an area for people to take selfies for posting on social media. We were in before the appointment time and out ahead of schedule. When was the last time you experienced that at a hospital or doctor’s office? From start to finish, it turned a stressful event for my father into a fantastic and holistic user experience.

When I think about these two examples, what comes to mind is not standards that change, adapt or shape-shift on the fly. What comes to mind is good design. Design that’s centred around users, clients and ultimately humans.

I think of Apple’s “Designed by Apple in California” slogan and the legacy of Steve Jobs’ fanatical attention to the user experience.

I think of Unity Health Toronto’s vaccination experience as being designed with empathy by health professionals for health professionals and their patients.

Good Design Patterns

Which brings me to some recent encounters with a couple of great design patterns.

  1. Design Sprints. A design sprint is a customer-centric problem-solving approach developed at Google Ventures for products and services. It’s a 5-phase process executed in 5 days to design, prototype and validate ideas before implementing them. After 5 days your idea is either a flawed success or an efficient failure. Either way you win. A refreshing change from the standard ‘build it and they will come’ approach.
  2. Designed Coaching Alliance. A Co-Active coaching concept developed at the Coaches Training Institute (CTI). The concept portrays the coach-coachee relationship as a relationship of design. The coachee is given the opportunity to design how the coach can best work with them and vice versa. Once designed, the coaching alliance will continue to evolve and be redesigned over time as the coach-coachee needs change. A great way to reflect the uniqueness of every coaching relationship.

By the way, here’s visual proof that you can fit a round peg into a square hole.

Perhaps not.

(Seven of Nine’s response to the Borg’s ultimatum in Star Trek)

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