Aunt Edna’s Timely Reminder About Systems

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About four months BC (Before COVID), I was in Adelaide working with a client. The week was progressing well and the end was in sight. Dave, my client, invited me to join him in a visit to the theatre. He had two tickets to the Adelaide performance of Dame Edna’s farewell tour of Australia, and his wife was unable to attend.

So we popped into a tram, entered the Convention Centre and found our seats, ready to be entertained. Now, for those who haven’t come across Dame Edna – Dame Edna Everage – she is a grand old Dame of the stage, a veritable icon of Australian culture, sort of. In reality she is one of two alter egos of the actor Barry Humphries AO CBE. Barry is getting on, being 85 years old at the time of this performance. Dame Edna of course is ageless.

The show started off with the usual cringe-worthy jokes that are the hallmark of Dame Edna’s public life, and extended to inviting innocent members of the audience to join her on the stage to be ridiculed and belittled as Dame Edna rambled through her life story. Madge, Dame Edna’s long-suffering recipient of a thousand slurs and put-downs, served cask wine to the hapless guests, but not enough to blunt the barb of the Dame’s acid tongue.

The talk show format dated back to the 70’s, and I suspect the script was plucked straight from the archives as it was indistinguishable from the shows I remember from the black-and-white era. There were a couple of references to current events but no serious attempt to bring the show into the present day. To be honest, it was not an enjoyable show, and the audience response reflected this.

Dame Edna delivers her lessons on life (and systems)

Back home in Sydney a week later, I attended The Wharf Review (thanks Rachel). What a contrast! The audience was engaged, educated and entertained by a cast, script and choreography that was right up-to-the-minute. It was clever, well rehearsed and genuinely humorous. I believe most of the audience would have raced straight back to their seats for a second run had this been an option.

So what did Dame Edna contribute to the world of systems?

Essentially, her performance (her product) hasn’t been updated to keep up with society (her clients). What worked 50 years ago clearly doesn’t work now. Reputation drew in the audience but the performance didn’t hit the mark. And so it is with systems.

Systems that aren’t regularly reviewed and updated to meet the needs of the day will likewise impact badly on business reputation and sales.

Changes in tools, materials, design standards, codes, customer expectations, production methods, automation, handling and packaging, and a host of other factors – each change demands a change in the related systems.

Change is continuous for systems just as it is for everything else. Failure to change will simply lead to failure. Not convinced? Jump onto YouTube and enjoy some Dame Edna.

So how about your systems? Are they up-to-date? Noticing small failures or stress points? Time to act?

John Tonkin is the founder and Director of Brain in a Box Pty Ltd. Working with businesses to improve or formalise the systems that underpin their success is what Brain in a Box does.

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