i only want a pencil

My pencil is blunt. And I know there are no pencil-sharpeners in this office. But I do know there’s a stationery store upstairs where I can get a new pencil. (I already have 7 blunt pencils in my bag, all provided by this stationery store. For some reason I always forget to sharpen them when I get home. So I have to treat pencils as a use-once resource.) The stationery store has gone. I ask, and it turns out that the stationery department were ‘let go’ last month.

I’m told the project office may have a secret stash of stationery, if I ask nicely. I have a contact there, so I ask her. “Ah – no, we have none; try Julia.” So I call Julia’s mobile. From wherever she is in the world, she tells me I need to see Pat. I look Pat up in the site directory and go to her end of the building. Yes, she has pencils. If you’re gasping at this rigmarole wait, it’s not over yet.

“Are you authorised to take our stationery?” I use the secret handshake and she’s happy. “Can’t be too careful these days. Not everyone is allowed access to stationery.” She walks over to a wall safe and keys in the numeric combination. From the safe she takes a set of keys. We walk over to an anonymous door, which she unlocks. We go in, and I get a pencil. “Devils!” she exclaims, “someone’s taken 8 lab-books since Thursday!” She locks everything again on the way out.

Total elapsed time from running out of lead: 30 minutes. Number of staff involved: 5. Total staff time: 60 minutes. Total cost of the exercise: around £80, plus the phonecall, plus disruption to 5 people’s flow. How much do pencils cost?

Here’s an evaporating cloud showing the conflict within the organisation:


One thought on “i only want a pencil

  1. Pingback: using the TOC thinking tools « silk and spinach

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