Tag Archives: bipsam

If not duffers, won’t drown

Better drowned than duffers 
if not duffers won’t drown

The young teenagers in Swallows and Amazons spend their entire summer camping and sailing around Lake Coniston.  When their father gives them permission by telegram, he explicitly states that he trusts their common sense and sense of self-preservation to keep them out of danger, and he puts in a  rider about the Darwinian consequences of stupidity.  

This may seem a long way from good Business Analysis, but it’s too easy to let caution drive out common sense and pragmatism when you are in the world of risk avoidance and business rules.  I’d forgotten what it was like to live in a world where I’m trusted not to be stupid.  Shetland is a delight because it is just such a world.  Let me give you three examples:

The Broch at Mousa is an archaeological site of international importance.  Brochs were large cooling-tower shaped buildings built by the Picts in the last few centuries BC.  They were only ever built in Shetland, Orkney and Northern Scotland and little is known about them because the Picts seem to have been wiped out by the Norse in the first millenium AD.  The Broch at Mousa stands 13 meters tall (about 4 storeys) and is the most complete.  

The Broch at Mousa

The Broch at Mousa

Compare it in your mind with Stonehenge, the Pyramids at Giza or the Taj Mahal in terms of unique cultural importance.  The building isn’t particularly fragile but it’s a dry-stone building so it is vulnerable to souvenir hunters.  

Get this: there is a cupboard containing torches to help you climb the staircase spiraling around the broch inside its double-skinned walls.  

Inside the broch at Mousa

Inside the broch at Mousa

The underlying assumption here is that they can’t stop you, so they might as well make it safer.  They assume that you’re bright enough to realise that it’s risky particularly so in the wet or the winter, and that you have enough imagination to work out the consequences of breaking a leg on an uninhabited island. If not duffers, won’t fall.

Sign on the door of the Broch at Mousa

Sign on the door of the Broch at Mousa

Second example:  we had a long chat about shipwrecks with the chap who was manning the Croft House Museum.  He had a practical interest in the subject because he’d been the last man to sound the foghorn at the light-house where we were staying.   We talked about the ferry that ran aground at Blackpool.  

The Blackpool Ferry - originally came to rest tilted at an angle but has now settled on to its side

The Blackpool Ferry - originally came to rest tilted at an angle but has now sunk on to its side

He simply could not understand why there were security guards around it.  If not duffers, won’t be crushed.  

Final example: the coolest level crossing in the world is where the road crosses the runway at Sumburgh airport.  There are lights, there is a bloke and a barrier but there’s nothing to stop you hanging a left and drag-racing.  If not duffers won’t burn up and down the runway as fast as your souped up Purgeot 206 will take you.

It would be easy to distract myself with a Daily Mail style rant about ‘elf an’ safety gorn mad, and it would be equally easy to speculate romantically that life on Shetland was so hard for so long that common sense is ingrained (the duffers presumably having been darwined out of the population) but that’s not really the point I’m making.

I am just going to note that if part of the role of the Business Analyst is to design lean systems that do just enough and no more, systems that are as simple as possible but no simpler, then Shetland is a living case study in how to do it.

Besides being a superb place for a holiday.