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I am no stranger to nordic countries. I taught in Estonia for a while and visited Finland a couple of times. And if Germans are known for their efficient ways, well, we can learn a thing or two from the people up north. In the course of my research on standards I came across the dissertation of Vladislav V. Fomin, who wrote on the Process of Standard Making using two case studies from the mobile phone industry. His dissertation is available from his alma mater, the University of Jyväskylä (more properly: Jyväskylän yliopiston kirjasto/Julkaisuyksikkö…). After some prodding and testing I found the link to order the book here. Filled out the form – off we go. But wait: No payment information was requested?!

A couple of days went by and I pretty much forgot the whole thing until an envelope arrived in my mailbox with the requested book inside, and a polite invoice for 10 Euros and 33 cents – the book cost 2 Euros, shipping 8 Euros and 33 cents. “Please instruct your bank to forward payment orders to …” Somewhat different from the usual Amazon.com experience.

Apparently, the default expectation of our Finnish friends is that people will pay, if you provide good service to them, as opposed to the typical US default, which is pay first, we’ll provide service later (maybe). This reminds me of a paper I read a while ago that talks about the impact of defaults on the behavior of people. Essentially, some choices we can and should make ourselves, but very often we just accept the default value we are presented with. If the default value is good for the individual, but bad for the society, changing this default may have a huge impact. For instance, Dan Goldstein and his colleagues found that the 28% drivers in the US are voluntary organ donors as opposed to 99.98% in Austria. The reason? The US uses an opt-in default, whereas in Austria you have to actively opt-out.

So how could this apply to BPM?

Well, consider the allocation of tasks to individual performers. If we let the performers choose freely, they might pick work that is easy, on top of the list, or simply fits into their current mindset. And the work that is on top of the list is typically the oldest work item. But in order to get the work done that is most beneficial for the organization it might be useful to restructure our worklists so that the topmost item (the default item) is actually the one the creates most value for the organization. We may want to reschedule our process instances based on their intrinsic value…

It may be a cultural thing, but this episode reminded me that if you provide good value, people are willing to pay for it. I certainly am. Jyväskylä, you’ve got an electronic money transfer coming your way…

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