Thursday, October 29, 2015

Rank That Reeks

I am all for being visionary or idealistic and imagining your version of Utopia. I am all for working towards it. But:

(1) My version is very different from other people's versions
(2) My version isn't going to happen, and 
(3) Being in Utopia is less Utopian that getting there.

I have always had a bit of a chip on my shoulder when it comes to authority. I don't like being told what to do. I don't like feeling like I am doing something that anybody else could do. That whole wiring of 'wanting to be special'. I also get very uncomfortable telling people what to do. Particularly if you know the person doesn't want to do it, and you are having to 'pull rank'. I don't like rank. My favourite successful people are the ones who don't reek of rank. Most times when you are particularly competent at something, you have cultivated another area of incompetence in exchange because of the focus required.

I am also a sceptic when it comes to delegation and outsourcing. I know people who will laugh at me for this. I used to be very keen on getting rid of tasks I wasn't better than other people at. The theory of competitive advantage is that if everyone focuses purely on what they do best, and trades, we all do better. I think that is theoretically true, up to a point, but that it comes at a cost. The cost is empathy and communication challenges. If you don't try a task, or see it as beneath you, your rank is likely to reek. At some point, you can get to enough. Beyond that point, I think the cost of outsourcing outweighs the benefits.

If a task is purely repetitive with zero creativity, we are probably going to be able to get a machine to do it. I am not a work for works sake person. I get that repetitive tasks can be meditative. They can become an artform. Sweeping can be Kung Fu and all that Jazz. Most people who are sweeping aren't doing Kung Fu and would rather be doing something else. If what they are doing is creative, it hasn't been done before. The person delegating the task doesn't know what it involves. They are just setting a challenge.

Yes Yes, Sweeping can be Kung Fu

The problem comes in when work becomes a continual evaluation. The subordinate is constantly trying to impress their boss, and so is unlikely to be able to be completely honest about the difficulty of the task. One of the best measures of happiness is apparently how far away from you your boss is. An easy task may be hard. A hard task may be easy. The structure of a Boss-Employee relationship is that the aim of the employee is to prove themselves, and improve themselves. It isn't a partnership. The only way to understand a task is to roll your sleeves up and get involved. Again, the successful people that have impressed me are never the ones in the Ivory Towers. They are the ones with dirt under their fingers.

So my Utopia involves a world where we don't work for work's sake. Machines do that. In my Utopia we work on creative problems. We work for flow. Or we sweep for Kung Fu's sake. But we do it together. The issue we have to figure out is that in a lot of people's Utopias, rank features quite strongly. In a lot of people's Utopias, climbing the ladder is Utopia. Utopia is relative.
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