4/10/2007

When I am King: Fired Up Again

When I am King...

All jobs will last only for one year. At the end of that year, the employee in that job will be fired.

(This is a much-anticipated, startling conclusion to my recent All Fired Up posting.)

Productivity

I have observed a subtle nuance of jobs that is related to seniority. The longer you've been at a place, the less you actually accomplish.

The Peter Principle is similar, with its lofty ideals of promoting people to levels of incompetence. But promotion and incompetence are not really the issue. Instead, I'm talking about people getting so busy in a company that they cannot get anything accomplished in any single task.

Any parent of multiple children has seen this effect. At some point during the day, like every 5 minutes or so, all children will need attention at roughly the same time. For example:
  • Kid #1 says, “I want juice!”. So you go to the fridge and open it up.
  • Kid #2 promptly tips their cereal bowl over on the counter and it starts dripping onto the floor. You close the fridge door and walk toward the sink to get a rag.
  • Kid #1 says, “Juice!”. You reply politely that can't they see that you're $#*!& busy right now and you continue to retrieve the rag from the sink.
  • Kid #2 starts crying as the bemilked cereal spills onto their lap. You consider saying something to calm them down, but decide against it as wasted effort. You continue getting the rag.
  • Kid #1 tries a different tack: “Can I now have some juice please?” You ignore this and walk over to start wiping up the spill.
  • Kid #2 is now spreading the spill out on the counter with both hands, dumping more onto the floor. You try to stop this activity, tipping over a glass of milk in the process, which now spills onto Kid #2's lap and the floor. Kid #2 cries louder.
  • Kid #1 walks over to the fridge and opens it up. You start to clean up the newer spill of milk.
  • Kid #1 grabs the glass juice container, hefts it out of the fridge and promptly drops it on the floor, smashing it into a million pieces and spraying the fridge, the walls, and you with juice.
  • Kid #1 starts to cry. You don't even consider trying to comfort them. You probably, instead, say things that I won't write here. You pick up both kids and, wincing at the pain of glass shards penetrating your slippers, walk them out the the kitchen and set them in the hall. You run to the garage to get the major cleanup items, tracking juice, milk, blood, and broken glass in your wake.

(Personally, I find it easier to start each day by pulling open the fridge and tipping out random contents onto the floor, just to get that part of the meal over with. It just avoids all of the uncertainty about who's going to spill what in the next few minutes. Of course, more usually gets spilled anyway, but at least I set a baseline of spillage that we can all depend upon.)

Notice how, beyond the frustration of dealing with multiple tasks, you actually accomplished nothing. Even worse, every minute of this process only sees more tasks added, and no visible progress on the existing tasks.

Our brains simply weren't meant to deal with multiple tasks like this. Each task that we begin takes time to spin up on, time to accomplish, and time to wind down. If we get enough tasks that we're trying to work on simultaneously, all we do is spin up on them without getting a darn thing done on any of them.

In my experience, the longer you're at a company, the more tasks you attract, like lint on refrigerator coils, or hair on soap. And the more tasks you have, the less you get done on any of them. Finally, at some seniority level, you reach a steady state of productivity where all you can do is simply participate in meetings and process email, and even then you're missing various meetings and email along the way.

You're not actually accomplishing anything at either one of these tasks. You go to the meetings, but have no time to get anything done on the items discussed. And you barely have time to read your emails, much less actually reply to them or consider what they're about.

Much better to avoid seniority altogether. If you're not around long enough at a company, then nobody will know you, and they won't know to give you tasks. You won't get added to all of those long email lists with zillions of other people, so you won't get as many emails. You won't be invited to meetings, since nobody knows to invite you.

Of course, everyone at any company will be in the same boat. There will be no meetings or email, since everyone will be relatively new and nobody will know anyone else in the organization.

Maybe, just maybe, everyone can concentrate on getting things done during the day. Like looking for the next job, since they're going to be fired within the year and will need one.

The one exception to this policy will be, of course, the King. Monarchy, like stupidity, is for life.

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