A story about the consequence of being too clever for our own good!
Last weekend I had my first on-the-ground, in-person, ear-splitting experience of Formula 1*
It’s funny but the term “over engineered ” wouldn’t occur to me to be out of place or negative in the world of elite motorsports.
It feels congruent, fitting, that people trying to push the boundaries, of product design and mechanics, would regularly overcomplicate in flights of fancy, to explore the extents of what may or may not be impossible. Then converge back to what is possible, beneficial and safe.
Over engineering , in this context, feels like a sound part of the creative process… think emergent solutions in the complex domain of the Cynefin sense-making framework.
However… you knew there was going to be a however, right?
The situation, me and my Sooner Safer Happier colleagues were greeted with last Sunday, in Monza at the Italian Grand Prix, felt like the perfect case study in not knowing which domain you are in…and getting a bit giddy about your “cutting edge technology”!
Here is a cash desk.
“Oh, is that where you can get your hands on some euro to buy a drink and a snack, Matt?” I hear you ask.
That’s plausible, but no. It’s where you can exchange your euro for these…
“ooOOoo, they look fun Matt! What are they? Is it a bitcoin? Are they NFTs? What are they?”
Well let me explain. They are tokens that are worth 1.5 euro.
“Oh okay, is that the only way to buy things at the event?”
No the only things you can buy with these tokens are food and drink, all the merch could be paid for with card or cash.
“Ah ok, so it must have made transactions easier at the refreshment stands then? No change needing to be given, everything cost multiples of 1.5 euro…. Must have been very slick, quick and satisfying? Am I right, am I right?”
Take a seat!
I can only say how sorry I felt for the young men and women finding themselves having to deal with the pubic in this awful situation that seemed to start about 20 minutes after the gates opened, and the first entrants bought almost all of the available currency!
Our party turned up early, about 8:30 am, as the first F3 race was starting.
We joined the back of the queue (which wasn’t very big) at the first cash desk we came across. After about 40 minutes of slow shuffling forward we began to understand what all the waiting was for.
The staff were disappearing for a few minutes out of the back of the tent, then reappearing carrying almost a handful of the tokens (that they probably begged the nearest burger or drinks stall for). We witnessed them being counted out into a waiting hand and then, if the person belonging to that hand was fortunate enough to have been paid in full, off they went. If not, they waited again, to receive some of the next batch, until complete.
Whilst in the queue we noticed a similar, but automated, stall a few feet away with an assistant and what looked like a cash machine/ATM set up. Curious and impatient to finish this transaction, and explore this exciting F1 world, I went to see if this alternative would speed things up.
The lovely young lady explained to me that this was only for people who had a digital wristband, which you could load any amount of money on.
I pointed to the bag of wristbands she had on her person and asked if I could have one to load digital tokens on to.
She explained, no, only people who bought wristbands online and received them through the post could use this method. Not speaking good enough Italian and seeing the pained look on her face I didn’t ask her what the bag of wristbands was for, instead I chose to quickly re-join the queue I had jumped from… and later that day it proved a lucky escape.
So back in the queue I went. All my waiting done, I arrived at the front and was asked how may tokens I would like.
Feeling this was a pretty painful process that I wouldn’t want to go through again, and having friends who were joining later, I looked at the “exchange rate menu” (see below)
…flipped it over and pointed at the largest amount.
Apologetically the chap made it clear this was impossible.
I then turned the tables and asked him the question back, “How may tokens can I have?”
After conferring with a colleague, they both agreed 40 tokens was the upper limit. Which I readily and greedily took him up on!
When my friends arrived, I shared them out 10 tokens each…
On a long (10 hour), blisteringly hot (37°C) day we at least had enough for a bite to eat and a couple of drinks. We were the lucky ones.
About 7 hours in my pal Janet and I had a wander to see if we could find a short queue at a token desk, hoping everything had calmed down.
What we found was an unmoving queue populated by all the wristband owners who had arrived to find all the wristband readers faulty and unable to read the amount of pre-paid funds they had loaded on to their wristbands (to either buy supplies or know how much to be refunded!). Having no other option in the pursuit of sustenance, these people were waiting to purchase the physical tokens – of which, it turned out, there were none! Janet and I gave the search up and went back to watch the race, just glad that we hadn’t been clever enough to do the wristband thing.
I’m sure the person who dreamed this solution up thought it was ingenious.
Not noticing that everyone there had access to cash to buy these goods and everyone knows how to use cash and its ubiquity means anything left unspent could be spent somewhere else so no problem caused by having too much, no surfeit; no problem sourcing it, everyone can bring their own, no chance of a deficit.
No but we want it to be cashless!
Well pretty much everyone has a card or a phone they could tap on the machine and hey presto!
You’ve got to wonder how many purchases were lost because of the lack of tokens in the system, and even if there had been enough tokens, making people queue to exchange money for money, still eats into time that could be spent purchasing and consuming.
Ingenious. So this is my (latest) screaming robot story.
Worse, worthless, later, dangerous, miserable!
If only they’d heard of Better Value Sooner Safer Happier!
*The only reason I used italics there is because, somehow the words Formula 1 only seem right if they look fast!
by Matt Turner, 11/10/22