Magical thinking and maintenance

Row 65,536 — the last row in an XLS file

What gets mended matters

In 2014 I was working at a service-design agency, doing discovery interviews at a big utility company — talking to stakeholders and finding out what could be done to make their billing system compatible with the “smart” devices being rolled out by the marketing team.

  • On the left, a much-modified instance of some enterprise software that was installed c.1995, which couldn’t be updated because it would stop all the subsequent modifications working
  • On the right was a tool that someone who had now left the company had made that could (eventually) transform data from the left into information that could be understood by the billing system
  • And in between were the two women in the unbeloved office, and the incomprehensible series of procedures they needed to do to keep the information moving between the left and right

Compost and the Politics of Repair

As Donna Haraway writes in Staying with the Trouble, “It matters what compostables make compost” — which is perhaps another way of saying, “Garbage In, Garbage Out”. Enterprise systems are not often created to break down into good compost, but they are created to eventually break down, so that new licenses can be sold and versions upgraded.


In their book The Innovation Delusion, Lee Vinsel and Andrew L. Russell talk about how — although innovation is important for both improving economic growth and quality of life — what they call innovation-speak is actually:

Innovate at speed, repent at leisure

Inevitably, this kind of purchasing at speed is also bad news for governance.



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Rachel Coldicutt

Rachel Coldicutt

Exploring careful innovation, community tech and networked care. Day job: @carefultrouble .