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The wrong screw

One of the four small rubber feet on the base of my work laptop is not the same size as the others. So as you might stuff a pile of napkins under the leg of a wobbly restaurant table, I have a piece of folded card always at hand, ready to balance the keyboard. Otherwise it moves every time I type a letter. Without that card, whilst not impossible to use, it’s a major irritant.

In the wider scheme of things this is not at all important but that such a small insert can make such a difference is quite amazing. When I was a child I was given a book entitled Hobson’s Choice that contained several short potted biographies of famous people who had either triumphed over adversity, made wise decisions or performed heroic acts. One told the story of an Arctic explorer who was sailing in a small boat and became lost at sea. After being rescued, in due course he found the root cause of his confusion was that a brass screw in the boat’s compass had been replaced by a steel one. Evidently, and I really don’t understand the physics of this, the steel screw played havoc with direction finding close to magnetic north. The point of the story was that cutting corners, using a closer to hand substandard alternative even in such seemingly insignificant circumstances, could have had a tragic outcome. The ‘it’ll do’ mentality on that occasion was shown to be inadequate.

I think this is different to ‘make do and mend’ where there is a focussed effort on trying to repair or make improvements with limited resources. A cursory risk assessment or missing a stage in the process of recruiting a new volunteer underpinned by an assumption that all will be OK, is not the right way to go about our business. Like the one wonky rubber foot on my laptop, it may not seem important but not following our processes correctly or in full can have potentially life-changing consequences.

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