Where There’s A Mess There’s A Market

 About 50% of the time I use Skype there’s an issue. It’s either a headphone situation, a bandwidth issue, a video issue or some other gremlin. Luckily, I’m not alone, it seems that many Skype users also tolerate these challenges. But why? Why do we tolerate a pretty lame experience repeatedly? There are other Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) options available, Skype doesn’t have a monopoly. In fact, other options are demonstrably better in terms of user experience – but many revert to tolerating Skype, just as we tolerate numerous other experiences in life. Tolerating our way to the grave.

John F. Kennedy said: ‘Tolerance implies no lack of commitment to one’s own beliefs. Rather it condemns the oppression or persecution of others.’

Meanwhile, Helen Keller said: ‘The highest result of education is tolerance.’

Whilst these two statements are wonderfully idealistic, I’ve struggled with the concept of tolerance for some time now.

To be honest, I felt some resonance with the thinking of Gilbert K. Chesterton who deplored impartiality. He said: ‘Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions.’ This was how I saw things until only a few years ago. It took me a long time to realise the difference between tolerance and acceptance. After all, tolerance is listening to a sales pitch, acceptance is getting your wallet out to pay.

This doesn’t solve our Skype issues but it does make me realise we have a choice over what we tolerate versus what we accept.  Everyone has an opinion about deciding where, when and how to position the most desirable product or service. I highly promote the activity of ‘Mess Finding’. The art of spotting what is sub-optimal and heavily addressing the mess with the slickest solutions - and the messes in digital interaction are far-reaching, deep-seated and hiding in plain sight.

If you’re in a consumer technology space, you could do a lot worse than addressing the sheer incompatibility between different makes of gear. If you’re in the finance world, you’ll be on good ground if you can reduce fraud, increase security and cut out the time delays and spurious charges. If you’re in the Internet communication space, please make it work.

There’s mess everywhere and we put up with stuff not working. We know it’s a pain to complain – it takes up more time and effort than it’s worth, so why bother?

There’s a mess in many companies called customer support. The more I look around the world at the volume of new market entrants with varying degrees of incremental innovation, I wonder how many of them are truly fixing messes, or whether the tendency is to create a version of what already exists?

For those fans of disruptive innovation however, the mindset is different. Disruption often creates mess when it breaks apart existing models. One could argue that this is mess-making rather than mess-finding and mess-fixing. Every version is valid, but the mess is the key and always has been throughout history.

If we look back to inventions such as the steam engine, automated vehicles and the vending machine, they were born of necessity to such an extent that it is now a cliché́ to say that ‘necessity is the mother of all invention.’ However, my version of this for the current age is that where there is a mess, there is a market. Early versions of the three inventions above were actually created by Heron of Alexandria, a mathematician and engineer who lived in Egypt in the first century AD, because engines and dispensers were what were most needed at the time. Heron’s purpose was to fix problems, and he was well ahead of his time in the solutions he devised.

So where does that leave the JFK and Keller quotes? It seems that tolerance is not only an admirable quality, the people that harness it probably have a less stressful existence. For me? I’ll strive to tolerate better, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to accept the messy experiences that are being churned out by companies that should do better.


Jonathan MacDonald is an international speaker on managing perpetual change and founder of the Thought Expansion Network