This is just a bit of nonsense really. Call it my curious mind if you like.
At about 6pm last night, Alison, a member of the Creative Development team (they’re the folk who do community art/dance/performance projects, and MUCH more) couldn’t remember how to log out of her work phone. We all have the same phones now so I looked at mine and said “press, the button on the left; the one with a cog on it”. There was a brief silence and then she said “oh, you mean the one with the flower on it”. At this point, my boss hooted with laughter and, turning away from his computer, held out his arms and said “behold… the engineer and the artist”.
It was funny and we all laughed, but it did pique my interest. To me, you see, it was blindingly obvious that it was a cog and, because it was blindingly obvious to me surely it should be blindingly obvious to everyone else? So, in odd bits of time today I did a bit of empirical research to satisfy my curiosity. Surely identifying the object couldn’t be down to profession?
The first two people I saw at work today were Deb and Sharon, also from the Creative Development team (CDT). On asking them what the object on the button was, they sang out in unison “a flower”. Hmm. Then I asked Donna, my boss’ PA, who declared it to be a daisy wheel. Interesting, if you’re old enough to know what that is. And yes, she would have been learning to type circa 1983. Over to Ally, who has worked for a long time with the leisure and creative types; she had no hesitation in declaring it to be a flower.
At this point, someone piped up that it could be a male/female thing. Oooh interesting. This guy doesn’t use social media though, so he hadn’t reckoned on the geeks, who added a new dimension. The Belbin Team Inventory, if I’d been ticking boxes, would really have been shaping up by now.
So over the course of the day, whilst waiting to talk to people on the phone, plans to load on-screen etc, I did a trawl around ‘the engineers’. I use the term loosely because some aren’t engineers, but local gov being what it is, find themselves shoehorned into a department. And yes, the majority were male. I asked them to write their answer down so the person at the next desk wouldn’t hear. Whilst around 90% went for cog, or an approximation thereof (I’ll come back to this), I was bemused when one wrote ‘flower’. I won’t name and shame him (tempting as it is) since he then said ‘”I’d have written cog but my mind went blank and I couldn’t remember how to spell it”. This caused considerable mirth and leg pulling. The consensus was that his mate would find this hilarious when he came back in from site. However on asking said colleague at lunchtime, he immediately wrote down ‘cog’, then turned to me with the face of an innocent choirboy, and said “but it does look like a flower”. The CDT folk were thrilled that we apparently have some creative engineers.
I couldn’t help but note that, whilst up for humouring me and having a go, many seemed disbelieving that there wasn’t a right or wrong answer. These guys clearly like problem-solving, or maybe they’re just fiercely competitive.
Then I threw it out to Twitter. Straight away, I had two responses saying ‘settings’. I could perhaps have been clearer in my tweet and said “what object does the image on the button look like?” rather than “what does the button on the left look like to you?”. Interesting though that these folk homed in on the meaning of the symbol rather than what the symbol looked like. When I re-phrased the question, they both quickly came back with ‘cog’. And then there was the deliciously quirky Cat, who tweeted ‘a fudge wheel’. When I asked what that was, the disarming response was “a shoemaking tool. Doesn’t everyone have one?!”
Later in the day, I was over by the structural engineers trying to find out some info to answer an enquiry that had come in, so they were fair game too. One tried to insist he couldn’t write, but I was having none of it. To his credit, he wasn’t one whit abashed that he’d written ‘star’; he wasn’t the first. Not that it was a competition of course, but if it were, then I could report that his two colleagues went for ‘cog’.
Back home this evening, I put another call out on Twitter. Again, there were a few first calls of ‘settings’ until I specified I was after what object the image looked like. And again, these people immediately came back with ‘cog’. There was also mention of sphincter, a cat’s bum and what an 18th century ploughman had to look at all day. Gentlemen, I’ve known some proper arses in my life, and I can assure you none looked like that.
Looking now at some of the more detailed responses, there were people who couldn’t content themselves with just using ‘cog’, which I’m assuming (sue me, I’m not a mechanical engineer) is a pretty generic term; these people had to be more specific and chucked in sprockets and maybe a bit of torque. It’s no coincidence that I call one of these guys ‘mad scientist’. Shush, he likes it. I understand that need to be precise though; it is, after all, why I’m forever telling people that the thing you walk on next to the road is the footway and not the pavement or the footpath. Some of us are just buggers for detail and can’t bear that other people may not be entirely clear what we mean. Yeah and if you’re familiar with the Belbin thing, I’m apparently a monitor-evaluator.
And then there are the people who answered ‘cog’ and further qualified this by explaining that its the universal symbol for ‘settings’. I can understand this too I think; sometimes we think the person asking a question hasn’t been sufficiently clear what it is they want to know or why and so we try to cover all the bases.
I don’t know whether to be ashamed or not that I know full well what the symbol means on my phone or my PC browser but just saw it as a cog on the work landline. I’m clearly not destined for geekery.
It was a fun experiment and probably useful too if I look at it in terms of communications, which, after all, is pretty important to what I do for money. So what did I learn?
- Be very, very clear what you want to know when you pose a question
- Some people will give you more information than you asked for if you let them. This is why we should ask people who know what they’re doing to help us when we consult.
- Some people will do exactly what you ask and not question why you’re asking (lovely people)
- Some people will be suspicious and want to know why and what for; they won’t be honest unless they’re happy with why they’re being asked the question and, importantly, what will be done with the responses. Can’t argue with this; I’m one of them.
- If I can’t get colleagues I’ve known for 20 years to answer a simple bloody question with no agenda, why would anyone think public consultation is easily done?
- Some people are just ‘out there’ and should be celebrated for being delightfully weird
ps The answer from @hapdaniel was “http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WEhS9Y9HYjU (or a cog)”. Bless him. Always the unexpected late entry.