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The trouble with Thirteen Bumps

December 8, 2021

Local and / or general

There is a canoe launch / pullout spot on the Goulburn River, downstream of Thornton. The bridge over the river had 14 sections, and over time the tarmac deck sagged in between – each section join would make a “bump” as you drove over it.

The bridge was referred to – in every conversation – as 13 Bumps. “Can you take the trailer down to 13 Bumps and pick up the canoes, at 10:30?”

Since about 2010, the bridge deck has been fixed – no more bumps! The issue with calling something “13 Bumps” is that it’s not on any map. Nor can anyone who is not a local, tell you where it is. (The official name of the bridge, is what is marked on the map.)

It’s one of those things where, if you don’t know it, you don’t know that you don’t know it.

This happens all the time, in our daily lives. However, in our work information systems, how do we construct the information so it is discoverable? What do we do when these systems and structures experience “drift” over time, as they are adapted for change and new environments?

It’s super tempting – as builders of systems, of cultures, of workplaces – to leap in and decide to build more stuff, to support the building of stuff. I wonder whether we can shortcircuit that, with better agreement and language that is clear? This would require an ongoing effort – like in France, where they make a point of trying to maintain and direct the French language.

Language is complex. But language is also fundamental to understanding the direction we choose. Language is how we tell other people what we want, what we expect of them, and what we hope to accomplish together.

Abby Covert

Read Abby Covert’s excellent book “How to make sense of any mess”

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