end-of-project satisfaction amnesia
Monday, August 11 2003
Imagine, if you will, hiring somebody to perform a wide variety of tasks in your company. Just to flesh out this story, let's also assume your new worker is a gentleman name Winston, and that he's supporting a pregnant wife and two kids at a heavily-mortgaged house in a cookie-cutter development out in the suburbs. Winston shows up for work on time, carries out his assignments with amazing speed and accuracy, and rarely calls in sick. Even when he does, he usually manages to struggle in later that same day. He proves such a capable worker that one day you give him The Big Assignment. The Big Assignment requires Winston to call a list of fifty people and negotiate contracts with each of them. It will probably take him two weeks of phone calls, but you know you can rely on your fabulous new employee to get the job done. In fact, you're so confident in his reliability that you take the rest of the office to Hawaii for a vacation - no cell phones allowed - for two leisurely weeks of relaxing on black sand beaches as well as the odd Tony Robbins motivational tape.
Two weeks later, you return to your office suntanned and well-rested. You're still wearing the ugly Hawaiian shirt you'd bought in the Honolulu airport. You ask Winston how well The Big Assignment is going. He says "fine," nervously twiddling his thumbs and not doing much else. Occasionally he glances over at the phone, but it's doing nothing out of the ordinary. But it's not ringing either. For no particular reason, you decide to scrutinize the situation a little further and ask, "So how many contracts did we close?" "Three," he says matter-of-factly, adding, "And I'm still waiting to hear from the fourth. That guy hasn't gotten back to me in thirteen days." In dismay you protest, "But the assignment was to negotiate contracts with a list of fifty potential clients!" At this point you realize your Winston's critical flaw as an employee. Evidently he lacks the ability to continue working while waiting to complete a given task. He'd wasted thirteen days of his salary doing nothing except waiting for a single phone call to be returned.
Obviously, no employable person could possibly be this stupid, but every day we employ things exhibiting such idiocy. I refer here to computers, or more to the point, computer operating systems. The other day I received a new 120 Gigabyte hard drive in the mail (a necessary expansion given my growing collection of large media files) and I immediately began copying 60 Gigabytes of content from what had been my largest hard drive to this newer, larger space. Knowing the job would take time, I started Windows 2000 copying and then went off to do whatever it was I was doing that day - cowboy electrician work, probably. When I returned hours later, the computer was sitting there with an unapologetic alert box on the screen, doing nothing at all except waiting for me to answer a question, should Windows 2000 continue copying despite the fact that one of the folders I'd selected, System Volume Information, can't be copied. Who in God's name writes this code? And more importantly, how come this fundamental bug isn't fixed yet? Windows has been in development for more than 20 years!
I completed the first stage of my first major cowboy wiring assignment today with the installation of large can-like recessed lighting fixtures. With their short curved segments of armored electrical cable and shiny metal surfaces, they resembled parts of a space ship. The fully-wired ceiling of the teevee room would have looked like a retro-rocket assembly if only I'd spraypainted the ceiling joists silver.
Standing back and looking at my completed work gave me a feeling of satisfaction that I hadn't anticipated earlier in the project. I think, however, that there is a sort of amnesia that wipes away my ability to predict end-of-project satisfaction whenever I begin a project. If it weren't for that amnesia, who knows how productive my life would be?
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