Thursday, August 27, 2009

What Can This Strange Device Be?

Farhad Manjoo has added some lyrics to a song I've been playing for years -- a song about overheated, downright panicky restrictions on workplace computers and the little theories of management that undergird them:

You ask your IT manager to let you use something that seems pretty safe and run-of-the-mill, and you're given an outlandish stock answer about administrative costs and unseen dangers lurking on the Web. Like TSA guards at the airport, workplace IT wardens are rarely amenable to rational argument. That's because, in theory, their mission seems reasonable. Computers, like airplanes, can be dangerous things—they can breed viruses and other malware, they can consume enormous resources meant for other tasks, and they're portals to great expanses of procrastination.
Sure, sure. The choruses of the Priests of the Temples of Syrinx hardly stop there: not only will unrestricted computer use suck valuable time and spread terrifying malware, it may introduce license violations, create support nightmares, and above all, open the door to new-fangled ways of doing things that may or may not correspond to this week's preferred buzzword-riddled Approved Process, nor to the Industry Best Practice that some vice president just half-read about in a business-oriented discount magazine.

I find it tends to be the latter at the root of the anxiety, with the others serving as flimsy props to it. The narrative persona of Rush's 2112 suite seemed to share the same suspicions about the Priests, as does Manjoo. But what if ... oh nevermind. Manjoo summarizes an approach to management that's too bold for today's chicken-shit bureaucracies and high priests:
There is a jargony HR phrase that describes these forward-looking firms: They're called "results-only workplace environments," where people are judged on what they produce, not how. As Netflix CEO Reed Hastings once told a reporter, "I want managers to come to me and say, 'Let's give a really big raise to Sally because she's getting a lot done'—not because she's chained to her desk." This jibes with Pink's argument that it's a sense of autonomy—rather than money—that drive employees to work hard. People work best, he argues, when they feel they're being left alone to do their jobs. But it's hard to feel that way if your computer is constantly throwing up roadblocks in your path.
Results, eh? Are those currently considered an Industry Best Practice?

It could be that the time of day I finally got this posted has something to do with the subject matter, but everything was just a fast-moving blur after the cryptic intercom announcement, 'WE HAVE ASSUMED CONTROL. WE HAVE ASSUMED CONTROL.'

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