With an increasingly digital world of services, it is becoming ever harder to identify the limitations of the activities. These new features of our work world have no dimensions, no surfaces, no weight, and no temperature – in short; they cannot be measured with the usual instruments. What remains are properties such as duration, speed, friendliness, availability of service – e.g. the preparation of one meal incl. drink 2-3 minutes; delivery of a pizza 30 minutes; friendliness of telephone advice (number of stars); 24/7 ordering service. And how to measure the performance of the employees? Do we count the keystrokes of an engineer when he develops a new product – when thinking is a major part of the work? Or the number of slides per hour created by an employee – when often only copied? Or the number of pizzas delivered – when some travel quite far? There is a lack of general key figures which support the distribution of the tasks. With this dissolution of the material features in the virtual world, we lose our reference points and our intuition for the limitedness of possibilities.
The virtual world is also limited. We don’t have unlimited time or budget or ideas. In order to make these boundaries more tangible, the features of a flagpole make an apt metaphor for the aspects of a service.
- The pole
The size of the leeway is symbolized by the length of the flagpole. Here you can already find special cases – for example when it is a telescopic rod that can be extended for different lengths. Or modular rods, which can be extended with screw-on extensions.
Similarly, services are able to set their capabilities through built-in buffers or artificial building blocks – the size of the budget or the extra time of a service.
- The outrigger
The purpose of the mast is to set a widely visible sign. If there is no wind, the flag could collapse. In this case, an outrigger is available to keep the flag continuously visible. A good example was placed on the moon – albeit if in the meantime the flags should be bleached white by the UV radiation.
The use of IT allows the offer of the services even at unusual times – when the use of employees is uneconomical, because of a small number of customers, websites provide a virtual counter.
- The cord
To set the flag to any flight height you use a cord. Normally the flag is pulled up to the top or otherwise retracted – except: in special cases half mast is flying.
An important advantage of the virtual world is scalability, which simply adjusts the service to the agreed SLAs – as soon as a certain response time is no longer available, the computer power is extended until the desired response times are reached.
- The clamp
The cord must be tied up for keeping the flag height. Rope systems have always used clamps for this purpose. These are special hooks, where the cord is knotted. The clamp often marks the lowest point of the flag.
In the virtual world there are no physical hooks to follow. For this reason, guidelines are assigned which are determined by a set of rules or a governance.
- The top
The end of the rope is reached at the tip of the flagpole. Without a suitable extension piece, it does not go on. The power of the facts determines that the flag cannot be raised higher.
If one is in the non-material world, these natural boundaries have disappeared. At the very least, the limitations are difficult to identify – when does the employees work at their limits or when can a service be done even better (whatever that means). This more-is-not-possible the employees themselves can not determine.
- The base
The foundation that holds the mast upright remains ignored. This is the lowest point where the clamp could be attached. The end of the flagpole has also been reached.
The “lower” end of the virtual world is difficult to determine due to the absence of spatial expansion – if expectations are not met, this can lead to bottomless loss of reputation, which is difficult to remedy. Therefore, the boundaries of a service must be described in a way that does not raise false hopes.
Bottom line: In contrast to the virtual world of services, the physical world provides clear limits with its materiality. The flagpole is an artifact that illustrates this – the pole as the possibility space, the outrigger as stabilizer, the cord as adjusting means, the clamp as an additional limitation, the tip as upper and the pedestal as lower limit. The services lack such reference points. They must be determined artificially and made measurable. Since the mast provides the relevant aspects, one can orient oneself by this example. This makes the flagpole an ideal metaphor for the limitedness of possibilities.