Riblet#44: Simplicity is Divinity

One of the mantras of a 1990s retail turn-around was “simplicity is divinity” – processes and controls should be as simple as possible so that colleagues would find them easy to understand and to perform, and thus get the business performing effectively.

If you are checking a bill or adding up a list of numbers and you don’t get the same total, then dividing the difference by nine will tell you if a number has been transposed e.g 27 instead of 72 gives a difference of 45 (in the case of a transposition error, the difference is always divisible by nine) – it’s a useful check that can save time. 

In Spain, bar staff prefer to control the quantity of spirits in a measure by pouring up to the top of the ice cubes.  It is approximate, but it shows off the bar staff’s skill and customers like it.  It is simpler than optics and measuring cups which can both be fiddled easily.

There is a much reported story (including an episode of The West Wing) that the American space agency, NASA, spent millions of dollars developing a pen that could write in space; the Soviet solution was to give their cosmonauts pencils.  This may or may not be true, but it illustrates the point.

In early September this year, it was announced that the UK government is planning to spend £100 billion (equivalent to three-quarters of the annual budget for NHS England) on a coronavirus testing system.  Named Operation Moonshot, the programme aims to deliver same-day mass-testing in England to a level of ten million tests per day by 2021.  The programme appears to bring with it the risk of hundreds and thousands of false positives resulting in large numbers of people being told they are infected when they are not.

Elsewhere, trials are being held in a number of different countries (including the UK) using dogs to detect the virus.  The dogs can detect chemicals in human sweat that are released by the body when the virus infects cells and it appears to work whether or not a person has symptoms.  Also, unlike the current tests, the dogs will not pick up on dead virus.  Training a dog to do this takes between two and 10 weeks.   

The dog solution may need further verification, but a single dog per care home say, testing everyone every day seems more like the pencil than the multi-million dollar pen, and it might bring a little joy to the residents as a bonus.

Data Sources: The Guardian, Wikipedia

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