Bystander Apathy – The Psychology of Responsibility

October 16, 2015 8:13 am
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A few simple steps to improve the effectiveness of your meetings

In psychology, the term ‘bystander apathy’ states that in an emergency situation the likelihood of receiving help is inversely proportional to the number of people nearby. When I first heard the term, something didn’t quite seem right, surely with more people around you are more likely to receive help, right?

Wrong. When faced with an emergency situation, a series of questions flash through your head; is this really an emergency? Is it my responsibility to help out? How can I help? When facing this alone you are likely to see the situation as more severe than if you are surrounded by others. Part of the reason behind this is pluralistic ignorance, a form of social proof, which is where a group of people go along with an idea, despite individually not agreeing with it. This occurs because in a situation of uncertainty each person within a group looks around in search of what others are doing prior to acting. Upon seeing that nobody has reacted, it is assumed that this is the correct thing to do, despite the fact that each individual thought they should have done something. The problem is that everyone is doing the same thing so often nothing gets done. Another contributor is something called dilution of responsibility, whereby the more people present, the less individual responsibility each person has and therefore action is less likely to occur. So much for safety in numbers…

This line of study was sparked in 1964 when the murder of Catherine Genovese in the City of New York was witnessed by 38 people over the course of 30 minutes, with not one of them intervening or alerting the police. At the time it was merely a possible explanation, however Bibb Latane and John M. Darley studied the phenomenon by conducting a number of experiments in 1969. One of these experiments placed students in a room alone under the impression they were part of a group discussion on stress via telecom; consisting of 2, 3 and 6 people. At a point during the conversation, one of the participants staged a seizure, explaining over the phone that they were in need of urgent help. Interestingly, 85% of the people who thought they were having a one-on-one conversation reported the incident, compared to only 31% of those who thought they were in a group of 6.

Upon reading into these kinds of behaviours it made me think about how this can apply to the workplace, specifically meetings. From experience, one of the most common reasons for meetings underachieving is the lack of responsibility and accountability surrounding actions. Could some of the traits seen in poor meetings be related to this phenomenon and how can they be overcome? Take a look at the infographic above for guidance.


Written by Ashley Darley, Coriolis Ltd

Just in time for the Sushi Train

October 8, 2015 8:25 am
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In operations management terms, ‘Planned’ production systems involve aggregating market demand data, forecasting inventory needs and effectively planning labour, materials and production to meet demand. Also known as the ‘Push’ system, the system is supply driven where inventory is produced to meet anticipated demand, rather than actual demand.

Some key advantages that the push system provides is the ability to meet changes in demand more easily, higher process efficiency due to lower variability in production, and advanced customer satisfaction as inventory is readily available for customers. However, these advantages are complemented by some key disadvantages, primarily increased waste due to supply exceeding demand, high storage costs for inventory, and the requirement of costly, sophisticated planning/forecast data.

In contrast to the “Planned” production system, the Just in Time (JIT) production system is a system where raw materials, parts, sub-assemblies and other goods are received or produced in the correct quantity and quality, and only when they are required in the supply chain or production process.  Often described as the demand driven “Pull” system, at its heart the JIT operating system aims to minimise product inventories from the supply chain and reduce process waste (as defined by the 7 forms of waste) and increase business process agility.

Whilst the temptation may exist to immediately visualise these production systems in the industries or factories that we currently work in, simple yet no less sophisticated forms of both systems may be found in your local shopping centre food court.

A good example of the planned production system is the Sushi Counter restaurant. Store data is aggregated to determine what items customers are likely to purchase during the lunch rush and in what quantity. The chefs then produce the food items and package them in a “Sushi Kit” with soy sauce and wasabi, and stock the fridges with the sushi, allowing the counter service attendants to promptly serve when the customers arrive. During the lunch rush, the customers arrive and order the food items which are displayed to them from the inventory levels in the fridge. A highly efficient system.

However, if a much larger number of customers arrive for the lunch rush than expected (or forecast), or the customers order far more of one type of sushi than the restaurant has prepared for, there may not be enough supply available to meet the customers demand or enough attendants to serve them at a reasonable pace. As a result, the restaurant will incur an opportunity cost due to the lost sales they could have made if the restaurant had the supply available when required.  In contrast, if there are fewer customers than expected (forecast) or the customers order far less food items than has been prepared, the restaurant will incur costs due to wasted inventory and excess wages.

In contrast, the JIT production system can be observed in the modern Sushi Train restaurants.  The restaurant is designed with a conveyor belt weaving past the tables/bars where the customers are seated. The belt is supplied with a number of set dishes by chefs located in the centralised kitchen.  When a customer wants to eat one of the dishes, they simply take the dish from the conveyor belt.  This creates a gap in the train of dishes, which signals to the chef that a dish needs to be replaced. Different coloured plates or tags are used to price dishes and identify which dishes need to be replaced by the chefs (Kanban).  This system ensures that the customer gets what they want (as they can see the item they are choosing before they choose it) exactly when they want it, whilst minimising kitchen waste as the chefs will only prepare the dishes that are being demanded by their customers.

Written by Sam Byrnes, Coriolis Ltd