WE ALL go through things that waste our time and drive us crazy. For me, it’s that my local train station only has one gate, right up the wrong end of the platform.
Every time I commute into town, I have to walk an extra 100 metres than necessary to get the train. And in the afternoon — an extra 100 metres to get home.
It’s only a little thing, I know. But it’s so stupid, so obvious, and so easy to fix — put in another gate.
It’s been like that for 100 years, and now, there’s a chance someone might do something about it.
The government is looking for examples of waste and inefficiency it can get rid of, and it wants the public to chip in new ideas.
It is called a “productivity review” and from now on they are going to do it every five years. They are trying to find ways we can get rid of old and wasteful ways of doing things and replace them with smarter, more efficient ways of doing things. (That’s what improving productivity is — using time, effort and resources better.)
The government has officially said that it is tired of hearing the same boring things from the same boring lobby groups (e.g. “cut company tax!”). “More of the same is not likely to be helpful,” it says. It is open to “new and novel” ideas from informed citizens. You can send in your ideas in here.
It could change anything — how the public transport system is laid out, or how government itself works (for example, by eliminating unnecessary rules and laws). Anything that will help us get more out of the same amount of time, effort and resources.
The review should make the whole country less wasteful and more efficient. That will help make us all richer. As the old saying goes: “Productivity isn’t everything, but in the long run it is almost everything.”
I don’t pretend that putting new entrances on my local train station will fix the nation’s productivity performance. But there are hundreds of stations in Melbourne and thousands across Australia.
Plus, the lesson we learn from thinking about station entrances could be important. For example, could the people who run the railways stop only thinking about making the trains run more quickly, and instead think about making the whole journey quicker for the passenger?
The government obviously wants big, systematic ideas — how to make the tax system work better, the right regulations for big industries, building an NBN, etc.
But those big ideas are costly and always controversial. They are actually hard to get done. Small ideas will be useful too.
FROM LITTLE THINGS BIG THINGS GROW
The good thing about small ideas is they’re easier and quicker to actually do. Oftentimes they’re pretty obvious changes that haven’t happened because some big bureaucracy can’t be bothered to help its clients.
Another great idea I heard the other day would change the way we deal with postal addresses: Instead of giving out your address to businesses who need to post you things, you give them a number. They write that on the envelope and when it gets to the post office, Australia Post scans the number and prints your address on it.
That way businesses don’t need to know where you live, and if you move house you only need to update your address with the post office!
There’s lots of annoying little tasks we have to do, like changing our address when we move house, that are ripe for reform. If something seems annoying, it can probably be done more efficiently. (Traffic is an obvious area for improvement! And so are those damn automated phone menus.)
Smart ways they do things overseas could be another area where we can find good ideas.
I like the way New Zealand just stocks alcohol in the supermarket for example, instead of fussing over putting it in a separate section or bottle shop.
I also like how the USA lets convenience stores sell beer. Meanwhile in Liverpool they just opened fast walking lanes, for example, so you don’t get stuck behind people meandering along. Brilliant!
We should be able to collect lots of small ideas like this that would make life easier. Once we collect a few of them, we might start to notice patterns that give us even more clues on how to make Australia a less wasteful and smoother place to live.
Seen a system or a process that’s a stupid waste of time? Got an idea to make a part of everyday life more efficient? Stick your ideas in the comments below and I’ll read them all, then scoop up the good ones and send them in to the review.
Jason Murphy is an economist. He publishes the blog Thomas The Thinkengine. Follow Jason on Twitter @Jasemurphy