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September 5, 2023
Large organizations don’t have a monopoly on molasses.
Most groups of human beings move exceptionally slowly.
Sure, the smothering bureaucracy and its mountains of red tape is frustrating and exhausting. But even people who work at small organizations struggle to move forward.
The natural human tendency toward underestimation. People are notoriously bad at accurately assessing the time it will take to complete tasks. Especially tasks that have substantial complexity. We eat like elephants and shit like birds, as my dad used to say. Our eyes are bigger than our stomachs.
Sydney’s opera house is my favorite example of underestimation. An innovative architectural venture for its time, the building was originally forecast in the late fifties to be completed by the early sixties. The cost estimate to build it was seven million.
Fifteen years later, the total expenditure surpassed a hundred million and it had to be largely paid for by the state lottery. Talk about molasses.
And this underestimation doesn’t only impact large scale projects. Each of us encounters this fallacy on a day to day basis.
Imagine you hire a sleazy carpenter to repair your hardwood floors. When you ask how long it’s going to take, he smirks and says, oh just two weeks.
Eleven months and your entire life savings later, there’s still a giant hole in your living room floor.
Same principle. It’s allegory for any endeavor.
The speed with which people seize opportunities, act against external threats, fail and learn quickly, it’s almost certainly going to be underestimated. Period.
Computer engineers call this gap latency, which is the time delay between the cause and the effect of a physical change in the system being observed.
Sadly, there’s no single cause. There are hundreds of factors that contribute to how long things take.
Managers can asphyxiate production velocity with over involvement and controlling personalities. Inexperienced workers will increase the average time needed to get things to an acceptable minimum. The internet can go out in the entire building for a day and cancel conference calls and presentations. What about the startup founder who spends his holiday break doing ayahuasca rituals, and then he bounds back into the office on the first of the year with completely new strategy of dominating the mobile social space?
There’s no shortage of distractions, delays and derailments. And while there are endless strategies and tactics for moving faster, everything from shot gunning projects to parallel processing to input embargos to keeping teams under the two pizza rule, the smartest practice we can do for our own sanities is:
Trade expectation for acceptance.
Because look, I understand that organizations have all their bullshit goals they need to meet each year, but let’s be realistic. When groups of human beings get together to work, they best they can hope for is trying things, building things, learning things, and maybe hopefully making progress for themselves and the organization.
But there are no guarantees. The sooner they accept that most people’s time will be spent on work they did not expect they’d need to do, the better.
Wow, just imagine the job application for a company like that. Here, I have taken the liberty of writing one.
As a marketing manager, you will work alongside our team of sluggish and exhausting idiots as they work to provide mediocre solutions to the manufactured problems our customers don’t actually face.
Requirements for this job include familiarity with wasting other people’s time, experience with pretending to look productive, and understanding the principles of the absurdity of human nature.
Skills required are emotional detachment, workload underestimation, strong cognitive reframing abilities, and the willingness to psychologically compartmentalize failure and rejection, so you don’t rage quit within the first month.
Your primary responsibilities are developing, coordinating, but never actually executing a marketing strategy; working cross functionally with other team members who will slow down your projects to a grinding halt; and clearly defining counterproductive business goals that have virtually zero impact on the speed, volume or quality of work.
Ultimately, we’re looking to hire a team player with exceptional written communication skills, or at least a subscription to an artificial intelligence bot that’s passable on leading search engines. If you’re someone who is willing to put in long hours on projects that are unlikely to see the light of day, we want to hear from you. Our organization prides itself on hiring creative, positive people who spend the majority of their waking hours emailing strangers and using business tools to check in on project updates. Send us your resume today!
Hey, it may sound like a joke, but at least applicants would know what they’re getting into. Advertising with a little honesty would be so refreshing amongst the tens of thousands of other openings that bait and switch job searchers.
Besides, this kind of posting would serve as useful filter to weed out the nonserious candidates and land top talent.
After all, isn’t that who you want on your team? Somebody who’s willing to write in their cover letter, look, no job is perfect, everything takes forever in this life, and working for any organization with other human beings will be exasperating and expensive. But I am willing to trade the expectation of perfection for the acceptance of reality.
I am happy to be part of a team that moves like molasses.
Have you accepted the natural human tendency towards underestimation?