The Dog Days Ain't Over
Any film aficionado will know the old trope of the hostage crisis. For those who don't it goes something like this: a quiet bank/office/department store is suddenly overrun by a swarm of clown/president/hockey masked assailants carrying military grade hardware and demanding all the cash/gold/Kenwood smoothie makers. Some forward thinking person presses the silent alarm and before you can say 'Yippee Ki A' the building is surrounded by police/SWAT/sentient robotic ninjas. After a tense stand-off, a hostage negotiator is sent in to calm the situation carrying a hidden gun/taser/pizza. What follows is either a heroic death at the hands of the hostage takers, a heroic tasering by the hostage takers or a heroic pizza eating contest followed by all the above. Since I don't reside in the realms of Hollywood make believe, I have managed to avoid such calamities. That was until recently, when I happened to accidentally wander haplessly into my own personal hostage negotiation.
While most movie crises end after a few hours, mine has been dragging its heels for two weeks. Oddly, given the situation, we caved into the hostage takers demands fairly early on and paid a hefty ransom. It occurs to me now that this was our first mistake. I should have remembered to electronically tag the money or at least have the FBI follow the package. As I'm clean out of electronic tags and the FBI haven't been returning my calls, I had very little room to manoeuvre. Then again, I didn't really think about it too much at the time. We had been negotiating with the hostage takers representative for over an hour. I was tired, slightly bored and desiring a cheese sandwich. Anyway, how was I to know buying a mattress would turn into A Dog Day Afternoon.
Yes gentle reader, the hostage in question is a mattress, well actually two mattresses. Not just any old mattresses either, these bad boys (or possibly girls, I can never tell) have some space age technology that makes them flatter...or softer...or...OK I don't really know, but damn they were comfy. My German might not be great, but I'm fairly certain the salesman promised a six week delivery period. That deadline quietly passed us by two weeks ago. Now my wife and I are in the midst of negotiating some kind of resolution. It turns out that buying the damn thing was easy, actually finding anyone to deliver it to us is the hard part. Everyone at the mattress company has the same stock answer “this is not my responsibility”. I find this answer rather surprising, especially when you consider we didn't even ask them for a run-down of their day to day work functions.
The question I find myself asking is one worthy of Confucius himself: if a mattress is bought in a shop, and there is no one responsible for it, does it get delivered? Unlike most other ancient Chinese proverbs, this one has an answer. No.
The problem we have been confronted with is the German process mentality. Germany is in love with process. Spend any time in a German company, especially in the manufacturing sector, and you will find people who live for process. The only nation that loves process more are the Japanese, especially at Toyota, which is why you will often find Japanese concepts such as Lean being implemented or SCRUM software development. Recently, in discussion with colleagues, I discovered the term “gemba walk”, a Toyota concept that requires employees take time to walk around the factory observing areas of wasteful production. In the wider world, Germans have a process for doing fairly simple tasks, to skip a part of even the most mundane process marks you out as a dangerous maverick.
This is obviously a problem for me being as I'm British. We are inclined to “make it up as you go a long”. If you think that's an overstatement, I would point you to our current plans for Brexit, which seem to consist of insulting everyone and sticking our fingers in our ears and singing “lalalalalala”. I suppose that's some kind of process, not one that the Japanese would approve of though.
The process we have become entangled in is the companies' delivery guidelines, that state that should a customer order a number of items, they should be delivered all at once. The problem is that out of all the items, the mattresses should have arrived first with everything else arriving four or five weeks later. Someone might have noticed that waiting for 11 weeks for a mattress might seem excessive, but here we are faced by another part of process mentality; who will take responsibility? If someone was to circumvent the process, they would have to take responsibility for it. This is often more hassle than it's worth. With so many rules governing everyday German life, many of which are unknown, you never know when you may fall afoul of some unheard of law. The only way you can guarantee safety is to avoid doing things that you are unsure are your responsibility. If in doubt, simply say “I can't it is against the law”, which in German functions in the same way as “I don't know”. Alternatively, “it is not my responsibility” translates as, “I am unsure how to proceed, but just in case, I intend on doing nothing”.
The real victim of this process mentality is not actually me, or my wife, but the forlorn looking bed that sits abandoned in our flat. It is literally not fit for use. Sure it looks nice, but every time I go in to the bedroom get something, it looks at me with its gaping maw where a mattress should sit. How long must this horror continue? How many more phone calls must we endure? If this was a movie, the SWAT team would have sniped someone by now or at least infiltrated the bank/office/department store with one of those funny bendable cameras. Obviously there is only one option. Tonight I shave my head, don a string vest and wade into the fray via the air ducts.