Friday 2 May 2008

The triumph of mediocrity

Are we happy being mediocre? Are we happy being acceptable, generally OK and no better than “good enough”?

Mediocre doesn’t mean bad, just as it doesn’t mean good. It just means somewhere in between. Somewhere where the services and products we’re sold are satisfactory, adequate and generally acceptable. Just not fantastic. Not awesome. Not wonderful.

As a nation we obviously don’t want to perform badly. We don’t want to be seen as hostile, unfriendly and unwelcoming and I imagine we don’t want to be famous for delivering appalling service. But are we happy being regarded as a nation that is average, middling and ordinary?

Why aren’t we striving to be exceptional? Why are we accepting the ordinary and not demanding the extraordinary?

Take the Public Service. Go on, take it, please.

Why do we permit such staggering mediocrity from our Public Service?

I have to be fair. There are some bits of the Public Service that are getting it right. We often hear compliments about the service delivered by the Police, in fact they are probably one of the most often celebrated of all organisations in the country but then they are an emergency service so I suppose we should expect the occasional exceptional experience from them.

We also hear great things about the Department of Road Transport and Safety and, for some strange but delightful reason, the Bee Keeping Units in the Ministry of Agriculture. Something is clearly working in these units. On the other hand we keep on hearing about certain parts of the Public Service that still seem to think that the public are there to serve them, not them there to serve us. These are Public Servants who clearly have forgotten that they are called Public Servants for a reason so simple I’m not going to explain it.

But, like so many other areas, the majority of the customer-facing areas of the Public Service just seem to be just terribly, terribly ordinary. Neither good nor bad, just hugely forgettable.

Then there’s my current, major disappointment. I confess this is a personal thing but I know I’m not the only one moaning about the gradual disappearance of local radio that addresses the needs of people like me. I have a preference for a certain type of morning drive-time radio program. I like to hear intelligent people talking intelligently about intelligent things. Along with the coffee it starts my brain in the morning, gets me to the office or to a customer with ideas floating around in my head and perhaps, every so often, I learn something new. Even on the occasions when I disagree profoundly with what’s being said it’s like an early morning dose of adrenaline. Recently I, a rather grumpy, middle-aged man have ended up listening to, sit down before you read this, YaronaFM. Why? Because the level of intelligence-stimulating and interest-prompting conversation at GabzFM, my natural radio station is slowly evaporating. Where are the extended, intelligent and stimulating debates about the things that matter to us? Yes, they still have the Shombi and Mike slot but it’s getting smaller and smaller and before we know it will have disappeared completely.

Why do our commercial radio stations all seem to think that they can win against their competitors by being the same as them? Why isn’t one of them being different? Why don’t they understand that to be good and different is often as good as being better and similar? It’s also easier. So why can’t we have just one radio station that doesn’t try to please us by playing the music almost all the time rather than giving us something different? There’s nothing wrong about being clever and talking in a clever manner about clever things. Honest, there isn’t.

The trouble is that if they don’t realise this soon they’re all going to fail miserably. The threat to them comes from a variety of sources. We already have Motsweding that broadcasts to us from across the border and SAFM, the one station that understands that voice is as desirable on radio as music.

Late last year there was a heading in Mmegi that said “Motsweding teaches local media a lesson”. That’s just shameful and embarrassing. It also suggests to me that our local radio, despite going national, is speeding headlong into mediocrity and from there further in the wrong direction.

Enough moaning. Here’s something positive.

My original idea was to suggest that government, every time they grant a business a licence, or give a foreigner a work permit for a job that involves selling things, should give away a free summary of our Consumer Protection laws.

That way nobody could ever say that they didn’t realise that consumers have rights.

Anyway that was my original idea but it didn’t last long. I realised that even if someone in authority thought is was a great idea and agreed to do it, all that would happen for the next 2 years would be the formation of a Working Party, governed by a Steering Committee and above them a Project Board that would first start by drafting it’s Terms of Reference, immediate action plan, a formal project plan, the drafting of an Invitation to Tender to engage consultants to draft the initial text of the summary that would then go for consultation amongst the various stakeholders, stakepositioners, stakehammerers and stakestraighteners. Then of course it would need approval up, down and up again through the chain of command and perhaps, if we are very lucky we might get it some time in 2010.

So I did it myself. It’s on our web site.


This week’s stars!

  • Boys at the Total Filling Station at Game City for an example of how things CAN be excellent.

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