Toilets and out of date thinking


The photo above is of the beautiful concourse at Kings Cross Railway Station, opened in 2012 as an exquisite redevelopment and enhancement of a railway station originally opened in 1851. I visit this station relatively frequently to both journey to Scotland and to meet those coming to London to visit.

Now, despite the stunning and functional modernity of the building, up until this week it still showed a shining (probably not the right word!) example of six of the most dangerous words in business:

“we’ve always done it this way”

We are all sometimes guilty of this kind of thinking, but if we don’t challenge our assumptions, procedures, methods, decisions (and allow others to challenge us too!), we very much run the risk of our thinking become out of date.

In the case of Network Rail, operators of Kings Cross station, I’d say the example I am about to share was not just a little out of date, but even last century would have been out of date.

So, what was that out of date thinking by Network Rail at Kings Cross and other railway stations that they operated?

train station toilets

Yes, here we are in 2019 and in order to use the toilet at a Network Rail station such as Kings Cross you have to find coins and pay to go through a turnstile.

This was already an anachronism in the last century. Seriously, who in my lifetime would start a new business and charge customers to use the toilet?

Now, in the last ten years or so, even cash is becoming an anachronism in the UK, and particularly in London, where Transport for London (tFL) introduced the use of contactless debit cards on Tubes and Buses back in 2014. Once people started using contactless for travel, it rapidly became ubiquitous in London, to the extent that you can often go into a pub or cafe and see a sign that says “no cash, contactless only” as they collect so little cash it is not worth their while to keep their cash handling procedures.

So, while I always carry some cash in my wallet (though no coins),I really can’t remember the last time I used cash, I always use contactless debit cards.

So, to pay for the toilet and to need to find coins to do so.

Oh.My.Gosh. What outdated thinking!

So, it was with a wry smile that news stories came out on April 1st announcing that charging to use the toilet at all major railway stations had been stopped. No, it was not an April Fool’s Joke, it just felt like we had been taken back in a time machine. I mean, am sure many who don’t regularly use these stations would have thought “really, they were still charging for this?”.

So, with this story, what examples can you think of elsewhere of seriously dated thinking?

Could they (I hope) have you consider what dated thinking you still use in your own organisation? Where you may still be unconsciously blocking new ideas from your people by coming across with “we’ve always done it this way” fixed mindset?

A few more examples for you to close:

  • Pagers
    • The National Health Service in the UK still uses 130,000 pagers. Yes, pagers. In 2019. I last had a pager over twenty years ago, didn’t they die out with the age of mobile phones (even before smartphones we could still text).
  • Driving Licence status
    • Before renting a car in the UK, you have to go on a central website and print out a code to show you have a current and valid licence, then take taht printout to the car rental desk. Surely the DVLA could extend that system to charge car rental companies (who would happily pay) to integrate their systems and know your licence is valid when you arrive to rent your car?
  • BBC blocking their content overseas
    • The BBC produces amazing TV content, from dramas, comedies, nature series, as well as (still) major sporting events. In the UK they charge everyone a TV licence fee and always have. Yes, if you use a TV for their free over-the-air service you must separately pay an annual fee. They even have TV detector vans going around to see if you are skipping the fee. So, that is an ancient and anachronistic system, but at a time where the BBC budget is under pressure, and where their website is widely visited globally, they still put lots of effort into blocking their video content anywhere outside the UK. Umm, untold millions could be earned by simply selling subscriptions outside the UK, yet for well over a decade this has been readily possible but they are nowhere near doing it.
  • Print, complete, sign, scan, email
    • So, while I imagine there are still a few actual fax machines that remain in use, the current version of dated thinking around this is when people ask you to print out a form, complete and sign it and scan and email it back to them. Oh, and very few points for making a pdf you can complete rather than printing it out and doing manually. This week I completed my annual renewal of a professional membership and that is as far as they have got for their many members. There are so many easy options out there (Typeform, Docusign etc), really no excuse for this anymore.

I could go on (and on) 🙂


Also published on Medium.

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