If a template is all you can offer…

I tweeted sometime ago that “if a template is all you offer, you really don’t have much to offer

Let me explain.

For the purpose of this post, the term “customer” can mean anybody you interact with – not just money-paying person seeking products/services.

Too many times, we get locked into this mode of supplying a template somebody comes to us for an answer. This could be in a business transaction or employee motivation or anything for that matter. No emotions, no empathy, no niche, no expression of desire to help. “Here, please fill up this template and send it back!” And by the way, templates don’t always come in spreadsheets. They take many forms, but usually have a rigid set of solutions around the “if-then-else” logic. But life and business hardly present us problems that can be resolved with templates or templatized mindsets.

Why is this gesture bad?

Whether it is a person-to-person transaction or a multi-million dollar deal, all of us have the need to be heard and understood. By giving somebody a template, we are basically telling them we’ve empowered ourselves to not spend any time thinking about your problem, instead try to fit it into a set of rules.

Are templates evil?

Templates are not bad. In fact, they are great. Templates are a checklist for the person providing the answers. A solution provider is supposed to be an intelligent and human, with the checklist serving the purpose of making sure s/he has covered everything, to which there is a hitherto chance of erring. Templates help standardize, maintain consistency and completeness. But standardization also means repeatable, industrialized and most importantly, emotion-less. Especially when template is not accompanied by a human emotion.

Besides, what is your role anyways?

Just think about this. If all you do is provide templates, exactly why are you required? The job of providing templates is rather mechanical and could potentially be done by another person (in the flat world, I must say – another cheaper person)

What can you do?

Take this from me. People don’t really need an expert, when all the expert does is supply templates. And even if they don’t tell on face, here is the truth: they do not value him. What can you do? You can be remarkable; you can be human by remembering a simple rule. The template is for you, try not sending the template (email is another evil, but that’s off-topic). Instead pick up the phone and ask them the same questions as if you genuinely meant to ask them. Call it value add or niche. I tend to call this emotional labor. Of course, emotional labor is not everything, rather a humble start.

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  1. Quote
    Ajay (subscribed) said April 25, 2010, 7:39 pm:

    This post is something me and my teammate discuss often.. Being an L3, i can quite relate to it. But what can you do when you are supposed to follow protocols most of the time? We all know why any millitary is a success, discipline being the keyword.

    I know emotional labor doesnt apply only to work, rather, it applies everywhere. Basic requirement is 2 people.

    Scarier is what if people start ‘following’ emotional labor and manage to turn it to another template? You can not rule that out.. After all, this is an organizational concept. A regulation even, at some workplaces….

  2. Quote

    Thanks Ajay for your comments.

    I once called customer service of some company and landed in the wrong department. She could have easily given me the right number to call and hung up. Instead, she transfered to the right person, brought the other person up to speed on what we’ve discussed and stayed on line the whole time to make sure I was helped.

    She didn’t break any protocols, she didn’t create any new templates (and I am sure it wasn’t part of her script) yet came across as remarkable. I made sure I waited another 10 mins to talk to the supervisor and provided feedback about her.

    We live in an industrialized era where even jobs requiring soft skills are scripted. But it is not impossible to be remarkable. I could even argue that the more scripted the job description is, it is easier to over-deliver.

  3. Quote

    Excellent post RK. Templates are invented to fit a problem or issues into a pattern to categorize it. In other words, giving set of inputs, step by step to measure output precisely. But over time we obsessed with it, mainly with rigid set of rules to complete a template, i mean we can achieve productive by not complete a template pattern. For example, if we want to measure a developer’s productive, either we can ask him/her to fill up a fancy status report or just looking source control(now they are very sophisticated) reports like per week code by a particular developer or bug fix report from bug tracking tool. Most of the time i think time spending to fill up status report is utter waste and we can even fix couple of bugs by the same amount of time. But the problem is, some one might want to see everything in paper hence the template might live longer.


  4. Quote

    Thanks Subba for your comments.

    No doubt templates are necessary, but I am advocating against people trying to replace the process of thinking with templates.

  5. Quote
    Kumaran said April 26, 2010, 7:42 am:

    Great post.

    Unfortunately, the most of services company are treading down this path. Cookie-cutting delivery teams. In fact an interesting statement is that we need to redeliver projects, read “re-use”. This means that once I did a project , I can get any idiot to delvier the same project. They want to make factories to deliver projects.

    The funny fact is if you read PMBOK ( the reference book for project management) , a project is defined as a “unique” activity. So how I repeat a unique activity and call it a project. Yes sometimes part of a project can be repeated.

    The fact is applying context to the template or canned process needs to be done. This is a must to win in services world.

  6. Quote

    Thanks Kumaran for your comments.

    You bring up a very valid point. If I can do it cheaper than somebody else, then there is yet somebody else who can do it cheaper than me. Following this ripple will commoditize the product/service; and at some point it will bear little or no value. On the other hand, people who don’t give into this pressure and create value, can not only demand high price for their products/services, but will also have ample room to fund their innovation and research.

    IBM used to make PCs. DELL started making them at rock-bottom prices. Then Apple (which had nearly no market share) did not compete with the IBMs and DELLs of the world, instead innovated personal computers and are now selling at several times the price of a regular PC. And guess what – they have a 15% market share now. How did this happen?

    There are several examples of products and services companies that did not kill themselves in the price-war tornado, instead created value (often at a high price-point) and improved their market position.

    Lastly, component re-use is not bad. Factory model is not bad. Innovation is possible within confines.

  7. Quote
    Kumaran said April 26, 2010, 8:46 am:

    Yes you are correct, templates can be used but some kind of value needs to be added everytime the product based on a template is produced. This value addition can by done by people depending on that context.

    I did not mean to say re-use/factory model as bad, but rather not to fall into the trap that these approaches will solve the problem of scaling up. This is significant especially when we try to go up the value chain. As you say you cannot go up the value chain by commodotizing results that is delivered. The factory/components needs tot used as tools rather than self-fulling models.

  8. Quote

    I agree with you Kumaran.

    Over time I have developed frustration for people who seem to (i) be willing to supply templates even without listening to the problem (ii) when they do listen, they want to fit the problem to the 2 or 3 solutions they have.

  9. Quote
    Ajay (subscribed) said April 26, 2010, 9:02 am:

    @RK : HA, this happened to me just yesterday….. When my HD2 keys were not functioning properly (mechanical problem, possibly due to water seeping in), the rep asked me to “hard reset” my mobile 🙁

  10. Quote

    Wonderful post. An ounce of innovation goes far. Even my personal experience, when I did some task as a charade, it goes OK. When I do it with some emotion/ passion or with heart – it stands out. But as you said, it is tough to be like that (not impossible).


  11. Quote

    Ajay: To lighten up this discussion, I will tell you a story I read.

    A person goes to McD and orders a burger and a milkshake. He then puts the burger in the milkshake and complains to McD of a “bad burger”. The McD rep gives another burger and a milkshake.

    Did you notice how McD just lost a few bucks, even though there was no “defect” with the product?

    But McD thinks they did not lose anything. Because it takes more to hire a person with skills/judgment required to shoo away the idiotic customer. They’d rather hire cheap people with little or no judgement. A burger or two along the way will not put a dent in their operations.

    Your example of the support person is not a problem with the person – it is a bad script 🙂

  12. Quote

    Thanks Vamsi for your comments (and nice words).

    Yes, it takes effort but the payback for emotional labor is exponential.

  13. Quote
    Ajay (subscribed) said April 26, 2010, 9:32 am:

    RK, u are right, as ever.. bad script exists everywhere.. heard the joke abt the same McD reps?

    i think it was a Jay Leno quote – I went into a McDonald’s yesterday and said, “I’d like some fries.” The girl at the counter said, “Would you like some fries with that?”

  14. Quote


    An excellent post…and the timing could not have been better. (I was just getting into a template mode)!!! 🙂

    I’m reminded of the saying “The Map is not the Territory”. The template is something to give structure to thought process…when it becomes The Thought…we have surrendered our mind to a machine.


  15. Quote

    Thanks Raghu for your comments.

    “Map is not the territory” – how true!

  16. Quote

    RK, really nice post. From my observations, templates make everyone else dumb except the template creator! iPod may be a great invention, but it made my children dumb users of technology. Maybe they don’t need to know, but they cannot understand the difference between MP3 files, CD Audio Formats, JPG vs GIF etc. which we were exposed to before it was all cosnumed by Apple! I feel iTunes and iPod itself is a template that makes its user use just one finger!!! Hey, but it works great and it is cool!

  17. Quote

    Thanks MD for your comments.

    I enjoyed your analogy, but I think that is perhaps not the best comparison. My point is mindless substitution of {creativity, innovation, emotional labor} with templatized solutions. For ex, what if every vendor starts creating their version of MP3 players with click wheel and a 30 pin connector, because thats what Apple did?

    Specific to your example, I like Apple’s vision of “technology should be invisible – letting the user and the experience interact directly – undisturbed”. I think they took innovation to a whole new level.

  18. Quote

    Excellent post RK. I think you have made an important distinction – using a template is good, but sending it directly to your client is bad. Templates are a great way to capture knowledge. At the same time, every client opportunity should be use to refine the template for the next time around.

  19. Quote

    Thanks Sukumar for your comments.

    “Every client opportunity should be used to refine the template” – well said. Lot of times, I see that templates are outdated, inapplicable or too generic. Clients get frustrated when they see this and I think this situation gets exacerbated when there is no emotional bridge between them and the life-less template.

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