Cognative Dissident

Thursday, January 13

Do nothing, but do it well

The small company I work at just lost one of our best employees to another firm in a country he finds more appealing. He was our system administrator, and he was absolutely fantastic at his job. It was easy to tell that was the case, too, because he spent most of the day, every day, doing absolutely nothing.

If there was ever a problem, he, of course, would spring to activity and get it taken care of post-haste. But the fact is, there were rarely ever problems. And that was because he knew systems and networking backward and forward and was committed to setting up the best possible system. Essentially, he was so good at building the network that it took him almost no time at all to maintain it. And then, in a to-me-unprecedented display of self-assurance he did very little other than maintain the network.

In my experience, people who have very little to do end up making up work to justify their positions. And I suppose, from their stand-point, that makes sense. Most companies aren't going to keep someone who isn't contributing around for very long.

But it seems like an awful lot of people confuse activity with contribution. For example, it's hard for me to come to the conclusion that some of the "team building" activities that various Human Resources departments have forced me to attend have done anything but busy the trainers and justify a portion of the HR budget. I understand that sometimes these things can be useful--when there's a clear need and the workshop addresses that need--but mostly they're just wastes of time.

In an article which I'm pleased was written (it's nice to see some conservatives sticking to a principle other than party loyalty), George Will makes a similar point about government:
Eight decades ago, in a Washington not progressive enough to think that it could or should superintend primary and secondary education, the president set a tone that today's government -- a Leviathan with attention-deficit disorder -- could usefully emulate. "Mr. Coolidge's genius for inactivity," wrote columnist Walter Lippmann, "is developed to a very high point. It is far from being indolent inactivity. It is a grim, determined, alert inactivity." After the debacles of hired and faked journalists, we need a contagion of Coolidgeism

This idea that sometimes the best thing to do is nothing at all isn't the main thrust of the article, but I like it nonetheless. Sometimes the best thing a person can contribute to an organization is nothing but vigilance.


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