Are You Too Clever for Your Own Good?

I travel a lot with work.

It is not glamorous.  I’d love tell you that when I said I was in K.L. I meant Kuala Lumpur, but unfortunately it is far more likely to be Kings Lynn (for those of you who are not from the UK, Kings Lynn is sometimes, albeit unkindly, referred to as the arm pit of England).

I am far more train set than jet set.

I spend a lot of time on the train

And because I spend time on the train I also spend a large amount of time in train toilets.  (Relax, this isn’t going where you think).  The other day I had the misfortune to not lock the door properly and have somebody burst in on me.  Fortunately I wasn’t, shall we say, busy, but it could have been more than embarrassing.

It was my fault, I admit it

But I have a defence.  It was an electronically operated door with the worlds most complicated dashboard of buttons and lights.  No doubt I had punched the lock button (which was sitting there blinking at me) rather more times than was absolutely necessary in an attempt to get it to work.

It wouldn’t have happened in the old days

The whole sorry incident wouldn’t have happened with an old-fashioned train door.

Locked or Not

Manual, low tech and with a pointer. No electronic wizardry.

Why do we love our whiz-bang gadgets?

Even though they are far more expensive and complicated than is strictly necessary.  (Why exactly do I need an electric door anyway?)

So next time you are investing in an all singing all dancing whiz-bang solution just ask yourself… Is this really making the world a better place. Or am I just being too clever for my own good?

If you enjoyed this post click here for updates delivered straight to your inbox

Japanesse Toilet Control

Image by randomwire

Read another opinion



  1. O my! I don’t quite understand why a good old-fashioned locking “system” would not suffice here. This is a great example of why simple is best. And why designing with the customer in mind is a good idea (um, mandatory).

    Annette :-)

  2. There seems to be a problem across the world with this kind of thing. Where I live in Holland, it’s road signs.

    This is an expression of the way they think – you get a road sign telling you there’s a diversion and you travel on into the deep countryside and find yourself having to turn around because of a dead-end. The people setting up the signs knew where they were going, which means that they imagine everyone else does too.

    Which does lead to problems …

    • James Lawther says:

      Thanks for your comment Gemma, and there I was thinking the Dutch had organisation nailed. Another stereo type bites the dust.


  3. So well stated – especially with the pictures. I really enjoyed this – i always wonder why we have a tendency to over engineer. Simple always wins.

    Thanks, John

  4. Hi James,
    I’ve almost had the same situation happen to me but have seen it happen to someone else. In this case, old definitely trumps new. Also makes me think what happens when the electronics fail in the new one?


    • James Lawther says:

      I suppose you could be there a very long time. How long before you start knocking on the door? I am sure there is a lovely psychological experiment in there somewhere

      Thanks for your comment

  5. Hello James,

    A great way to illustrate the needless complexity being introduced into our lives. And the impact that it has. I ask myself, did the engineers-designers actually test this out with real human beings?

    It occurs to me that the we are taken with shiny objects. And so it makes the job of selling easier. Then when we actually live with-experience the shiny technology then the flaws in it become visible – not before.


    • James Lawther says:

      I think you are right Maz, which begs the question, how often do we buy things that we don’t really need?


Speak Your Mind