27 June 2011


I came across this old beat up sign on a street corner in DC and had to take a photo with my handy-dandy, fuzzy little camera phone. The sign informs pedestrians that they must ("MUST") push a button to call for the walk signal.

Only problem: no button.

The button isn't broken or non-responsive. It's completely non-present. As in, someone removed it. Probably someone with tools and permission. For some inexplicable reason, however, this tool-and-permission-equipped individual... left the sign (which has clearly seen better days).

Obviously this isn't a  huge deal. The walk signal did indeed show up, even though I didn't press the (non-existent) button, which means not only did someone remove the button, but they reprogrammed the lights. And then left the sign in place. The whole scenario struck me as a handy metaphor for corporate culture, rules and status quo thinking.

How often do we encounter a rusted out, irrelevant piece of guidance, insisting that we must (MUST!) perform some set of actions for which there is no longer a mechanism, a set of actions that once upon a time was relevant and productive but which now a) cannot be performed and b) wouldn't make a difference anyway?

When you encounter such a situation, how do you react? Pantomime the behavior, going through the motions out of obedience and compliance? Run to the nearest Radio Shack to buy a replacement button and install it near the sign? Ignore the sign?

Or do we have the guts to take the sign down?

(I'm thinking I want to go back there with a sticker or some paint or something, to change that sign)


Anonymous said...

How funny would it be if you got a ticket for defacing an irrelevant, obsolete sign?

The Dan Ward said...

I think I need to find an appropriately-sized sticker that just says "CAN'T" and put it over the "MUST."