The experience gap
On weather forecasts, the Mayo Clinic, and why it's so frustrating to deal with stagnated products and services
A phenomenon to which we are already frequently subjected and which is bound to cause increasing frustration for the indefinite future to come is the disappointment that results from experiences that haven't meaningfully improved while others have.
■ Lots of products and services have improved -- often measurably -- in the last generation. It would have been completely unfathomable to most well-informed people a couple of decades ago that severe weather outbreaks could be forecasted with precision multiple days in advance. Yet today, forecasters are rarely taken by surprise by big storm outbreaks; they merely spend the days prior trying to assess the precise nature of the outbreak and alterting the public with increasing specificity about the risks. Meteorology has come a very, very long way: A highly accurate forecast that models the actual events is no longer a matter of luck. It's an expectation.
■ Yet other experiences remain astonishingly unimproved. The Mayo Clinic's one-stop, same-day team approach to diagnosis is basically unique; most other medical experiences are far less tightly bound. Likewise for airline ticket counters, cable and Internet tech support, and rental-car pickup. Exceptions apply, and some people pay for premium treatment, but the routine service experience often hasn't changed materially in decades.
■ This gap creates frustration -- particularly for those who have been subjected to market forces that have caused them to improve their own products or services who then have to deal with unimproved experiences as consumers. And it's bound to remain on the increase: Lots of jobs are compelled to do more with less, or to improve or be rendered obsolete.
■ If you're an educator who hasn't improved your content knowledge or teaching methods in 20 years, then you probably deserve to be shown the door. Yet it's possible for others to hide their stagnation behind institutional inertia: A religious leader, just for example, may well go those same 20 years without becoming a better preacher, but it's easier to say "Well, church attendance is in decline everywhere" rather than be held to account for engaging the congregation better than before.
■ As long as some experiences continue to improve, often dramatically (see: the performance of elite athletes), while other experiences fall short (see: the performance of inconsistent referees in some of the same sports), the experience gap is bound to cause chronic frustration in the years ahead. No advice in this regard is perfect -- but it's best to avoid being the agent of disappointment.
Minimum performance is bound to hurt