Getting Things Done

Friday, June 23, 2006
Our small company, basically an all-Unix (mostly Linux) shop, was recently acquired by a much larger, famous company. The nature of the acquirer makes it politically imperative that we now switch all day-to-day operations as much as possible to Windows. Instead of using OpenOffice and Firefox, we now must use MS Office and IE. Already after only two weeks of usage, it is necessary for me to reinstall MS Office because something has gone wrong with my almost pristine installation. Because of this and a plethora of other minor annoyances, it is apparent to my officemate and me that our day-to-day computing environment has degraded.

It is remarkable, when you think of it, that entirely volunteer efforts in the form of the Linux kernel, the KDE desktop environment, OpenOffice, and Firefox, have managed to beat a multi-billion dollar company at its own game in terms of quality of product--fewer crashes, more features, easier to use. Now I don't want to get into the old Windows vs. Linux argument. Linux isn't right for everybody, and the Windows monopoly ties most users to the single vendor, but for our needs there is a clear superiority. How could this be?

The answer becomes clear when one observes the inner workings of the modern American corporation (and I doubt very much they're any better elsewhere). Managers who can't do are rampant. Because they can't do, they are extremely keen to be seen ordering other folks about—they need visible slaves in other words—because how else can they justify their exorbitant salaries? Competition, as preached in Econ 101, never really emerges because barriers to entry are simply too great to allow someone else to easily build up exactly this level of expertise. There is thus, quite contrary to economic theory, no corrective mechanism. Employees are treated poorly and they have no real recourse except to quit. They don't really want to quit—it's not quite bad enough for that—but they are disgruntled and disheartened. Micromanaged by people who don't know what they are doing but are never held accountable for the failure of the projects, the dejected employees produce the least possible. The projects are never on time and money is lost but it doesn't matter because the quasi-monopoly keeps the money rolling in no matter what. No one dare call the CEO on the carpet because they dare not lose their jobs. The feedback loop is destroyed and the CEO is making decisions using false information. The whole ship is steered in the wrong direction.

Though the above is a description of my little company, it applies equally well to any number of companies I have either worked at or observed. Though any discussion of modern corporations usually degenerates quickly into arguments pro- and anti-socialism—the assumption being that if you criticize anything at all you must desire total government control of every aspect of our lives— the truth is that they do deserve a lot of criticism. A lot of them are unbelievably bad, bad at motivating their employees, bad at serving their customers, bad at delivering on their promises. Managers don't manage for the good of the stockholders; they are almost always concerned solely with lining their own pockets, which they generally manage to do quite well. The vast majority of the employees end up leading lives of quiet desperation. There is absolutely no recourse allowed them in this system other than quitting, only to view the prospect of going somewhere else, probably an even worse place.

Practically everyone in the country has been able to see GM's demise since at least 30 years ago, but like a slow-motion train wreck GM has obstinately refused to change any of its failing policies. Having Hillary Clinton order all the companies about personally with her 5 year plan isn't going to solve the problem. But the libertarian approach of simply turning everyone loose to "negotiate" their proper positions isn't realistic either. It's depressing because it is such a colossal waste of talent and money. Is there no other way?

10 comments:

Syl said...

Funny, I just switched from IE to Firefox. Firefox is less secure. Go figure.

Anyway, I've worked at several companies from huge corporations to small operations with only a few employees. I've worked profit and non-profit.

It's the same everywhere. People are people. And in my experience the smaller companies are barely better than the huge corporations as far as frustration with management goes.

But, as I said, people are people. If you're lucky you work in a dept with people you can laugh with. And that's all that matters. If you're also lucky enough to work 9 to 5 instead of in a job that requires more, just put the time in, do your job as best you can, then leave it behind you.

That gung-ho rah-rah management style where you're a 'team' and your company is the best on the planet never really took off in America. LOL I wonder why.

I guess what I'm saying is that this is the way it is. Some places are 'better' than others, and getting the 'right' job is usually just a crap shoot. Even the 'right' job ends up being frustrating at times. They interview you, but you don't get to interview the people you'll be working with. :)

So, enjoy Windows since you haven't got a choice.

terrye said...

I have also worked for a corporation, not real big and i have worrked for myself on the farm and i have worked in a real estate office with an old barracuda who used to scan the obits to look for clients...and the cows were my favoriet coworkers.

I have often wondered if it the morons we work for who piss us off or if it is the fact that we know we have to take their crap that really sends us over the edge.

My company used to daily prayer meetings until they were sued. I was in the field so I was able to avoid the meetings, but the office folks had to endure.

Often times i have wondered, even marvelled at the fact that it all hangs together. In spite of obnoxious, incompetent and self serving management somehow someway things keep lumbering along.

But there are times when i remember being on the farm with those cows and no matter how tired, how broke and how hot and dirty I got the only boss I had was me and the USDA.

They say money ain't everything, and they are right. Now everyone is supposed to be selkling their grandchildren to prepare for their retirement. Well, maybe some of them should not be looking at retirement as another job they have to do.

terrye said...

sorry for the typos I am on my first cup of coffee.

David Thomson said...

Did somebody promise us a rose garden? Utopian perfection is not possible on this side of the grave. I remain steadfastly committed to my libertarian principles. Things normally only get worse by encouraging the government to get involved in our everyday affairs. The likely best answer is a growing economy resulting in many more jobs to choose from.

terrye said...

david:

Actually my ex did promies me a rose garden. The liar.

truepeers said...

Patience, patience, patience, and a sense of humor! If you want to set up a blog on your company and its managers, to insure some feedback, you could surely post through our ISPs!

who, me? said...

First, plant the *^$&% rose bush, and enjoy it on your off hours.

I have an idea that is probably utopian, but shouldn't have to be. The level of advice and information when people choose career paths in this country is abysmal. There are all kinds of temperamental measures that are not made available, or if available students do not use them.

Like "grief counseling," "career counseling" is full of dullards and platitudes. But the tools -- Kolbe, MBTI, and others -- are there. All the unnecessary mismatches in the work world are entropy-generators; and if those incompetent middle managers are incompetent because they hate their jobs, then there's no joy, ever, in Mudville Inc.

I think we could do much, much better in equipping people to choose their work and freeing up ingenuity and morale. And in the meantime, we could take as humanely cooperative attitude as possible with / toward those we report to and work with.

Syl said...

who, me

I was tested in college and told my interest and aptitude indicated I should be in medical research. (No, not as a subject.)

I never got close.

But I sure as heck enjoyed programming.

There are numerous career paths one can take and still be satisfied.

And I also think one shouldn't expect one life/one job to be a certainty--nor not necessarily even a goal.

(I should rewrite that last sentence, but I've been dodging t-storms all day so please forgive me.)

Buddy Larsen said...

Send some o that rain to Blanco County, Syl.

Yes, it's madness to have to choose a specialty at age 18-20. But, how else would it be done? Few of us at 40 are the same person testing at 18.

Syl said...

Buddy

Few of us at 40 are the same person testing at 18.

Not to mention neither are the career choices. When I was in college there was no such thing as computer programming. Well, there probably was, but it certainly wasn't an available career choice and very few had even heard of it, let alone know what it meant.