John's Jottings

128. The Mutual Exclusion Principle - Feb 2017

Posted on February 1, 2017 at 6:15 AM

While we were at the Highsteads shown the other weekend, we overheard a conversation between the show managers of Plonkton and Nether Hamblins. They were discussing the different ways they went about selecting layouts for their respective shows.


Mr. Plonkton was insistent that all show managers should use a grid when selecting layouts for exhibition. This grid had the gauges along one axis and historical periods along the other. There was even a third axis allowing for operational style, thereby converting the two-dimensional grid into a three-dimensional array: a concept that some folk find difficult to deal with.


In Plonkton’s system, each candidate layout is assessed according to the three variables and assigned to the appropriate cell of the array. According to Plonkton, there should be a good spread of layouts across the array, seldom two layouts in any one column or row or file, and definitely never more than one in a single cell. So he would never have two blue diesel layouts in 00, though he might have one in 0 and one in N, but one would be a shunting layout and the other main line. This way a wide range of gauges, periods and styles would be covered. ‘Something for everyone’ he explained.


Mr. Nether Hamblins’ method of choosing layouts for his own show was very different. When visiting exhibitions, he would first assess the size of crowds round layouts. Did they linger or move on quickly? Then he’d move forward to see if the layout looked attractive. Was it colourful in a natural way, rather than drab, or garish? Was it well lit? The third factor was how the operators interacted with their audience. Was there a good rapport between exhibitors and visitors? Were questions asked and answered? Was there banter?


Then came the details. How many cameos were there? Were visitors encouraged to search them out? Were any humorous? Were there intentional anachronisms? It didn’t worry Nether Hamblins if he had several 00 layouts with blue diesels in his line-up as long as they were well-presented and their operators actively involved the audience.


The Plonkton man dismissed the Nether Hamblins approach as unbalanced and populist. It could not ensure that all major gauges, eras and operational styles were represented. Nether Hamblins considered Plonkton’s approach to be prescriptive, formulaic and restrictive, and did not ensure a good visitor experience.


“The thing is,” Fred observed, “both run successful shows. Over the years, their evolutionary paths have diverged, so now they have different aims and seek to satisfy audiences in contrasting ways. This is what gives each event its own distinctive atmosphere.”


“It’s what biologists call the Mutual Exclusion Principle,” Felicity explained. “If two identical species live in the same area, then they are in competition for identical resources. Over time, either one of them looses out and becomes extinct, or they will evolve so that they have slightly different features or requirements, and no longer compete on all fronts. I don’t see that model railway exhibitions are any different.”


“Does it not illustrate that there is no single formula for a successful exhibition?” our chairman asked. “Our exhibitions do not have to be clones: not in the way that if you go to see a Lloyd Webber musical in New York or Moscow, it will be indistinguishable from the London production. Each exhibition should have its own character. As long as organisers make things clear in their advertising so that the visiting public realise this, then everybody should be happy.” And with this we all agreed.


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