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June 13, 2007 Volume 7, Issue 24
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Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True


Maxims and rules make life simpler by eliminating decisions. And they have a price: they sometimes foreclose options that would have worked better than anything else. Here are some things we believe in maybe a little too much.
An old-fashioned punch clock, still in wide use

An old-fashioned punch clock, still in wide use. The distinction between personal time and work time is still debated. In a recent case before the US Supreme Court, IBP v. Alvarez, workers won the right to be paid for "donning and doffing" time — the time spent putting on and removing special garments required by the employer. IBP had claimed that they needn't pay workers for this time, nor for time spent walking from the locker room to their workstations. Photo courtesy US Department of Labor.

General rules are usually helpful, because they simplify life. But when we accept them uncritically, and apply them unquestioningly, we risk eliminating valuable choices that, if exercised, could transform our lives for the better. Here's a small collection of workplace maxims that too many of us are a little too willing to accept as true.

  • If it worked there, it will work here.
  • If it didn't work here, we did something wrong when we tried it.
  • If you read it in a book, it must be true.
  • The value of a consultant's advice is proportional to the consultant's fee.
  • If it's logical, and internally consistent, it will work.
  • People always pad their estimates. Never give them what they ask for.
  • Working smarter is easy. That's why we tell people to work smarter not harder.
  • Managers are people who couldn't hack it doing real work.
  • Executives are people who couldn't hack it as managers.
  • The cure for our financial problems isn't better products, or more revenue, or new investment, or training people, or listening to customers — it's reducing expenses.
  • Making people compete for bonuses, raises, perks, honors, or promotions won't hurt our efforts to create high-performance teams.
  • How we dress is at least as important as what we do.
  • Anyone's total output is proportional to the hours they work.
  • To increase productivity, don't let people use company facilities for private purposes.
  • Much of what we accept
    uncritically as true,
    just isn't
    I have a right to appropriate company resources for my own ends.
  • With the right technology, we can go paperless.
  • We don't need people to deliver training — computer based training works just fine.
  • The cause of our problems is (pick your favorite): incompetent managers, overpaid consultants, government regulation, foreign competition, unions, lazy workforce, …
  • Eliminating theft is so important that the cost of controlling it doesn't matter.
  • The typical female executive and the typical male executive manage altogether differently.
  • Male (female) executives are more ruthless than female (male) executives.
  • Workplace violence will never happen here.
  • People who play politics don't really have anything of value to offer.
  • The best person to hire for this job is someone who has done it before.
  • People can get so angry that they "snap," like twigs bent too far.
  • Meetings are almost always a waste.
  • The only way to keep us all up to date is a weekly meeting.
  • Organized people are more effective.
  • Messy desk, messy mind.
  • Share price is a valid measure of the company's health.
  • Significant innovation always requires a visionary champion.

If you have some more like these, write them down on a piece of paper and tear it up. Go to top Top  Next issue: More Stuff and Nonsense  Next Issue
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See also Workplace Politics, Critical Thinking at Work and Managing Your Boss for more related articles.

Forthcoming Issues of Point Lookout

Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.Coming November 25: Suppressing Dissent: Part I
In some groups, disagreeing with the majority, or disagreeing with the Leader, can be a personally expensive act. Here is Part I of a set of tactics used by Leaders who choose not to tolerate dissent. Available here and by RSS on November 25.
Harry S. Truman (front, second from left) and Joseph Stalin (front, left) meeting at the Potsdam Conference on July 18, 1945And on December 2: Suppressing Dissent: Part II
Disagreeing with the majority in a meeting, or in some cases, merely disagreeing with the Leader, can lead to isolation and other personal difficulties. Here is Part II of a set of tactics used by Leaders who choose not to tolerate differences of opinion, emphasizing the meeting context. Available here and by RSS on December 2.

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