Hope in unlikely places. What is there to learn from a cobbler?
A few weeks ago, my holy pair of every-single-day boots nearly died. These were reliable boots, which I wore everywhere, all the time, from fancy parties to mountains walks. I guess it shouldn’t come to a surprise that they almost died.
I hate shoe shopping - which probably led to the predicament above described - and I have one of the finest DIY mums who did her formative years during the seventies. So I decided to get them fixed.
First I tried the cobbler at my local tube station. I should have known the minute I entered the shop that my shoes… He took a look, shook his head and muttered a chilling: “No way!”
Not defeated, I tried another cobbler in Brixton, because he had done wonders on another hopeless pair a few years back. He was not as categorical as Mr. Tube Station, and took longer to examine the damage, and with a sorry smile gave me the verdict: “They are too far gone.” I lingered in the shop for a few seconds, trying to think of buts to encourage him to give it a go. A mind-reader, he said: “But if you really want them fixed, there is an old man in the arcade who will probably do it for you.”
And so I entered the aptly named Reliance Arcade full of hope. I found the old man behind a bric-à-brac of leather cuts, dusty tools, and a mount of other hopeless shoes… A mess. His mess. I said that I had been sent to him as a last resort. He smiled and proudly said: “I never say no to a job. Whatever you bring, I’ll fix it.” His marketing slogan - my kind of guy.
He had a look, and sighed. It was a hopeful sigh though. And what follows is a great example of how, in I think public services should operate. I I had my own Service Design Awards, this man would win gold.
First, he took his time to understand the problem. He took the time to explain to me why it was going to be a difficult job. Then he looked at the pair in more depth. Gave it the time needed.
Second, he tested a few solutions with me (the user!). He gave me two or three options for how he was going to fix them. He then showed me in details what he was going to do, explained the risks - that they might not end up looking as pretty. He also suggested I come and see him before they were ready to see the work in progress.
What more? He sensed my hopefulness and responded to it with more hope. “It won’t be easy, but if you like them and care about them, I will do it.” This man must have been a student of Yoda. Not “I will try it” but “I will do it.”
Now, imagine if we approached every problem, or rather every human with with the same positivity? Over the last 5 years, working as a service designer in the public sector, I have heard too many stories of people who, because they were “too complex” were passed around from service to service because nobody had the guts to say: “it’s going to be hard, but I believe we can do it.” I know humans are not shoes. But the point is not the shoes. It’s the hope.
I have now left my job, because I no longer want to be a service designer. I want to be a hope-maker. What form that takes, I have a few months to figure it out.