Enabling Operational Excellence
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Enabling Operational Excellence


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Now the Shoe’s on the Other Foot … But the Foot’s Not Mine

Many years ago I was flying home after giving a talk at a conference in Boston. It was Friday and I was really tired. Fortunately, I got upgraded to first class, so I slipped off my tie and my shoes (brown), pushed the seat back, and went into a plane stupor (a zombie-like, non-sleep state).  About halfway home my feet started getting cold. Absent-mindedly, I felt around on the floor with my feet for my loafers. I quickly found one and slipped it on. But the other one eluded me. If you travel much on planes, you soon learn that shoes and other personal items get annoyed when unattended and purposely hide in the most inaccessible places possible. All you can do is tolerate the behavior.  I redoubled my efforts to find the missing shoe. I looked everywhere. No brown shoe. Oddly though, I did come up with a black shoe. I immediately did what any sensible person would do, I panicked. Had I been wearing different colored shoes all day long?! All week long!? What must the people at the conference and in my talk have thought?!   I calmed myself. Wait a minute, I was sure I had taken only one pair of shoes with me on this trip. Couldn’t be my shoe. A simple test would tell the tale, I could just try it on and see if it fit. So I did. And it fit perfectly.  Panic returns, decibels higher. My wife had helped me pack the bag. She would never have let me go off with unmatched shoes. Imagine the scene in my house if I walked in wearing shoes that didn’t match. (I’ll let you do the math on that.)  The plane began its initial descent and the man seated next to me stirred to go to the lavatory. Guess what?! Sure enough, one brown shoe and one black shoe. Now this was a situation I had never faced before. I certainly had no process laid out to follow or any experience to guide me. Exactly what are the best tactics for communicating to a perfect stranger he’s probably wearing your shoe?! Some options: 
  1. Make a joke of it. (Since he was wearing a wedding band, he probably didn’t want to go home wearing unmatched shoes either. Would he think it was funny?)
  2. Angrily demand my shoe back.
  3. Exaggerate my search until he asks what’s wrong or figures it out on his own.
  4. Tell him politely, but directly.
  5. Get up and ask a flight attendant to intervene
What kind of problem was this? It’s not about process; it’s about strategy. Don’t confuse the two; they’re very different. The key questions were (a) what were my goals (the ends I wanted to achieve), and (b) what course of action (the means) would best achieve those ends.  Clearly my basic goal was to possess my things. But there was certainly more to it; otherwise I could have just picked an option arbitrarily. So I must have had other goals (e.g., respect others), or perceived risks (e.g., escalation of a confrontation), or more likely, both. Perceiving risk(s), by the way, implies yet other goals (e.g., avoid entanglement with airline security).  Life (and business) is so complicated! Would a process model have helped? No! How likely was this scenario ever to happen again? In 35+ years of frequent travel, the scenario has happened exactly once. And I’ve never had anyone else tell me it’s happened to them. Instead, I needed to devise a strategy, one that best balanced trade-offs among conflicting goals.  Look for more from BRS on strategy in the near future. It’s one of the things we do – and we do it extremely well. A good place to start is with the standard: www.businessrulesgroup.org/bmm.shtml.  It’s an easy read and explains how business rules fit in. Business analysts need order-of-magnitude improvements in the techniques they use. Strategy is one.  How did my shoe saga turn out? Suffice it to say I got home with two brown shoes … and had a good laugh with John Zachman over dinner a couple of months later.

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Ronald G. Ross

Ron Ross, Principal and Co-Founder of Business Rules Solutions, LLC, is internationally acknowledged as the “father of business rules.” Recognizing early on the importance of independently managed business rules for business operations and architecture, he has pioneered innovative techniques and standards since the mid-1980s. He wrote the industry’s first book on business rules in 1994.

Comments (4)

  • Avatar

    Michael Brackett



    Great story, and good message.

    I had a similar experience on one trip to London on British Airways for a conference. I left Seattle for a 9 hour flight to Longon. I settled into my business class seat preparing to catch up on my reading. The man in the adjoinging (facing) seat was also going to the same conference. We started a nice discussion about data management, disparate data, data architectures, and so on. I was asking about his business and he was asking about my consulting. The trip promised to be interesting.

    The flight attendant poured each of us a glass of wine and we continued our discussion. Like many other prominent presenters, I’m somewhat (well, maybe more than somewhat) animated when I talk. I’m gesturing about architectures and making my point. He’s talking about his problems. The discussion is quite productive.

    In one of my arm movements I hit my wine glass, not touch it, but really hit it square on, knock wine over both of us and our material. The flight attendant is there to wipe up the mess and pour more wine. We laugh and continue our discussion, none the worse for wear.

    At the conference, and to this day, we laugh about those little incidents that happen making the experience memorable. Call them process, strategy, incidents, or whatever, they are all interesting and memorable for building a professional relationship.

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    Jerry Rosenbaum


    Somewhere in my treasure trove of cartoonsI have one inwhich there is a mom and young son. The so says “my sox do match-my black sock matches my shoes and my brown sock matches my pants.”

  • Avatar

    Kathy Long


    That was great! 🙂 Thanks so much!

    As fate would have it, I was reading it on a plane!!!! I think my fellow passengers thought I was nuts, I was laughing so hard.

  • Avatar

    Graham Witt


    Oh yes, airline travel is a rich source of rules! And of course human behaviour is a rich and complex phenomenon. A great story well told.
    Sorry I missed you in Australia, Ron. I was in Melbourne the day of your DAMA presentation in Sydney and in Sydney the day of your DAMA presentation in Melbourne! Yes, more air travel: I’m glad I kept my shoes on!

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