DEADLINE, chapters 3, 4 & 5. We actually want to keep them alive!

I just read these three chapters and the story has already gained some more depth. I think that’s cool.

Chapter 3 is practically a big setup for how Mr. T is going to be working. We are informed about Morovia’s future plans and its current situation, as well as how Tompkins ought to be operating. He’s told that the country has way more capable and competent employees than they could possibly need, even taking into account all of the six projects that have been put under Tompkins’ administration. Ms. Hoolihan suggests running a big management experiment that could take advantage of the number of people at their disposal: they could create various different groups with people with different characteristic, backgrounds, ages, experiences and relationships among themselves to work on the same tasks so they could find out what kind of group turns out to be the most efficient.

“Business team” flickr photo by shared into the public domain using (CC0)

In chapters 3 and 4 we are introduced to some key elements:

  • Silikon Valejit: the area where all of the projects and operations take place. The name doesn’t ring any bells.
  • Waldo Montifiore: Mr. T’s personal assistant, he does everything a personal assistant does. This character is useful to provide information and apparently, he looks like Tin Tin.
  • *The Personal Journal of Webster Tatterstall Tompkins ◉ Manager ◉ : basically, where Mr. T writes about what he learns while running the controlled experiment. It’s also the way the author explains different management concepts.

In chapter 4, Mr. T faces his first problem and has to make a decision. A pressing-plant for CD-ROMs has to be built in Silikon Valejit, but the project is far behind of what was planned. While talking to the construction manager, Mr. T finds out that a granite ledge is the main reason for the delay, it’s obstaculazing the construction and will probably take a long time to get rid off, so Tompkins suggests moving the location of the plant somewhere else, but the manager refuses.

Apparently, the Nation’s Noble Leader (NNL) told him directly that the construction was to be made in that very place or else he would be publicly hung from a meathook, and was (obviously) too scared to defy the leader’s plan. Mr. T eventually found a way around it and convinced the construction manager to slightly modify the original plan to meet the original deadline.

Mr. T’s first addition to his journal explains some key ideas about safety and change. In a few words, these ideas say something like: Change is essential to success, but people can’t embrace it if they feel unsafe, which can be caused directly or indirectly. Lack of safety makes people risk-averse, which also prevents them from gaining new benefits.

In this website we can find the definition for risk in the management context. We can see that risk is often avoided and that it’s considered important to be prepared for it. There are many strategies and approaches we can take to make use of risk management, but one that caught my interest is very similar to one of the points Mr. T made in his journal. Risk retaining involves keeping a risk and dealing with the fallouts because the anticipated profit is greater than the cost of the potential risks.

“for safety reasons” flickr photo by georgetan_chapter2 shared into the public domain using (PDM)

After hearing about the NNL’s threats to the construction manager, Tompkins decides to go meet the leader himself. Chapter 5 is all about their first encounter.

The NNL confesses that he DID threat the construction manager for the CD-ROM plant, but he did it only to prevent people from becoming, as he calls them, nay-sayers, so they couldn’t say no to him under any circumstances. He wasn’t planning on hanging the manager or anybody, but he was afraid he would have to do it to keep discipline going. This, clearly, backfired after the project got delayed and there was no intention of changing the original plans even if it meant a better outcome.

We find out that the NNL just recently became the tyrant of the country, and that he bought Morovia by using some stock. He thinks of Morovia as the ultimate software factory, and tells Mr. T that he’s particularly excited about one of the planned projects. They start talking about Quicken by Intuit, the “most successful software product of all time”. Honestly, I had never heard about Quicken, but after some research it turned out to be a pretty impactful product. Anyways, both the NNL and Mr. T discuss and make some key statements which I’d like to list below:

  • “Everybody who’s got a computer has a copy of it”
  • ”If everybody has already got a copy of it, how are we going to sell ours?”
  • ”That’s the same problem Intuit has. You might wonder where their future revenue will come from … it comes from new versions”
  • “Why would anyone buy from us?”
  • ”Price competition. We are going to give ours away!”

Mr. T writes about negative reinforcement in his journal and focuses on threats and their effect on people: They are an imperfect way to motivate. The work won’t get done on time if the time was never enough. You may have to make good on your threats if the target isn’t met.

Once again, I searched through some websites to find something that could have a connection with what Tompkins wrote in his journal. This time I got to this page, which contains some tips to increase employees’ productivity. I want to focus on the first common mistake: Make a lot of stupid rules. Just like with NNL’s, some of them turn out to have an opposite effect on employees and drive people crazy as they feel them as a burden.

The eighth point from the best ways to improve employee productivity also talks about a similar situation: you don’t want people to be paralyzed or distracted by any kind of fear, and you’ll obviously make them fear you if you tell them you’re going to hang them in a meathook if they don’t meet their goals on time.

“Threat” flickr photo by cogdogblog shared into the public domain using (CC0)

The way that Mr. T’s notes sum up everything is quite impressive. I have been able to see the correlation between the problems, the solutions Tompkins comes up with and what the journal shows us. The story still seems really interesting to me. I look forward to reading the next few chapters.

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