Serious Business

I travel to London on the train more regularly than is pleasant

At the end of each journey a steward passes through the carriages with a big plastic bag, collecting the rubbish.  They never look too enamored with their job.

This morning the steward entered the carriage and announced with a flourish:

Any rubbish



Mobile Phones

£50 notes

If you are not taking it with you, put it in the bag

He smiled, I smiled, everybody in the carriage smiled but I bet you one of those £50 notes that if his manager had been there, or better still his compliance or PR executives they would not have been so amused.

They would have been mortified

  • He was off brand
  • He was irresponsible
  • His behaviour was totally inappropriate for a 21st century railway

Why do we take ourselves so seriously?

Why do we enforce rules that are so serious, that don’t allow our employees a little fun?

Or are we just rearranging the deck chairs?  There is enough misery in the world without adding to it. How bad would it be if we lightened up?

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Serious Business

Image by akabilk

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  1. Thanks, James. This post made me think of Southwest – and how the flight attendants on SW could very easily say what your steward said without fear of recourse. Did he go off script on his own, or is it possible that there is a culture change afoot? Wouldn’t it be nice if it was the latter!


  2. James Lawther says:

    Unfortunately I have no doubt what so ever that he went off script on his own.

    He didn’t include a single legal disclaimer

    Nice idea though


  3. Mark Welch says:

    By coincidence, a few days before this post I changed my LinkedIn profile summary to read, “Radical Lean fundamentalist with zero tolerance for MBO infidels.” Kind of gives you an idea how I feel about this post, doesn’t it? At this point in my life I figure that if anyone has a problem with it they can, how do you put it in the U.K.? “Sod off?”

    • James Lawther says:

      Very funny Mark.

      Glad you are getting the hang of the cross Atlantic nuances

      I have been heard to mutter, “What are they going to do? Sack me?” myself

  4. Hello James

    What can I say? What a delightful post! As you so rightly say There is enough misery in the world without adding to it. How bad would it be if we lightened up?”

    In my work I don’t talk much about ‘value’ nor ‘creating value for customers’. Instead I talk about ‘simplifying-enriching lives’. I am clear that this steward enriched your life by connecting with you at two levels. First by looking at/towards you and smiling. And then using humour, to inject empathic humour, into your lives. Thus breaking you out of your existing state and for a moment or two energising/enriching you.

    Once again, thank you for sharing this experience. It occurs to me that you are now more qualified to be a customer experience consultant-guru than many others. At the very minimum, you are my kind of customer experience guru.

    All the best

  5. Great article. After many years and gold card points shuttling between London and Edinburgh I loved it when there was a pilot with character. There is a fine line between personality and intrusion but sounds like this guy got it right. Being happy at work made his customers happy! Brilliant!

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