Struggling with Meaninglessness

searching meaning in meaninglessness

Archive for the ‘Designing Organization’ Category

The Odd Reaction – Karma and Pretending to be Busy

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Many years ago, I remember reading a comic about workplace (presumably Dilbert?). It says something like this – If you want to gain promotion fast at your workplace, pretend to be busy and make your table to be as a messy as possible. Workers who are perceived to be hardworking tend to get promoted easier.

I did not really take it seriously that time and just treated it as mere comic.However, I realized the comic actually has some truth in it.

What I noticed recently in many organizations is managers tend to have a maximizing-mindset. It doesn’t matter how many hours you’ve spent working or how many tasks you have completed on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday but if you’re seen to be doing nothing on Friday, managers will have the tendency to chuck something for you to do even if it is just an insignificant task. They want employees to be busy. They want to maximize every single drop of employee’s sweat.

By the law of Karma every positive/negative action will attract a similar reaction or energy. Therefore, if the manager always have the intention to fully maximize the employee’s time, then the employee, in return, will want to take back their time from the manager – by being lazy, not motivated to complete their work or … pretending to be busy.

Before we go further, let’s imagine two scenarios where the culture of pretending to be busy DO NOT exist :

Scenario A : Mr. X have done all his two days of task on Thursday and so he is free on Friday. The manager see Mr. X lazing around his working table doing nothing. The manager chucks in more task for him to do. Mr. X feels unfair because his effort of completing all the tasks by Thursday is rewarded with more task.

Scenario B : Mr.X have not completed his two days task yet but he is already given more tasks to do by the manager. Mr.X feels exploited since the manager is not giving him any room to breathe.

At the end of the day, this will bring a lose-lose situation. The employee is not happy because the manager keep maximizing them. The manager is not happy because the employee is not busy enough.

And that’s when pretending to be busy is a solution – A perfect solution. The employee is happy because they are given less work when perceived to be “busy”  and the manager is happy to see his subordinates are “busy” doing work.

HOW DELUSIONAL! Delusion makes people happy! And I know it is nothing new.

Adding to the point above, to a typical mind, pretending to be busy is so much more desirable and motivating especially when the paycheck is by duration (monthly). In other words, it doesn’t matter how much work you do because the monthly paycheck is already static. There’s no extra incentives or motivation for doing more work.

I have never deliberately act busy before but I can guarantee this pretending to be busy tactic will work in many organizations because most typical managers have this maximizing mindset. So how can organization prevent this culture of pretending to be busy from spreading? The solution is to balance the Karma. To balance the Yin Yang. To balance the seesaw. Balance.

  • Managers must throw away their maximizing-mindset and become more task-oriented or result-oriented. Eg. If the employees finish their weekly task by Wednesday, and if there’s nothing important left for them to do for the entire week, then let them off by Thursday and Friday.
  • Provide alternative incentives/motivations apart from the monthly paycheck. Eg. Give tasks to employees based on their strength and let them enjoy the task process. Give them some recognition, etc.
  • Managers must sincerely appreciate the work and contribution of their subordinates. Appreciation and positive feelings are contagious. Positive action/energy attracts positive reactions.

I believe there are still many more other ways that we could do to balance things out.

PS: Well, actually I’m just exaggerating to use the word Karma. But I think it is cool to use the concept along.


Written by elan85

February 13, 2009 at 1:05 pm

Knowledge Worker’s Motivation Hierarchy (partially complete)

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 The Theory

Let’s get the fact straight – most people dislike working. Unless driven by high passion and ambition, most of us will never want to waste our energy working for someone else. But, working is also the only means of making a living and to survive, hence people do not have a choice. It’s a form of societal pressure, where each of us are expected to work hard for money, contribute to the society and work harder again … a vicious cycle.

Since working is inevitable for most people, the only thing left to choose from is the mindset of perceiving the role of work in our life – people either treat work as an Obligation (to earn money) or to be Passionate about it and take it as a lifelong Learning Experience.

Based on the analysis above, I’ve designed a framework of how worker’s motivation will scale according to the level of self-driven and passion in each of us.


Obligation/Learning Experience.

As mentioned, there are two kind of workers in the industry.

1. Work for the sake of obligation, which makes up the majority and ..

2. A learner who are motivated to succeed far.

When a worker work for the sake of working, he/she basically responding only to tasks. The worker view tasks as an obligation and his/her goal is to complete the tasks given each time. The main motivational driver for this category of people is always money … and perhaps some artificial recognition. (Yes, lavish more praises to boost their morale!)

Everyone can learn and gain knowledge from experience of doing tasks but not everyone will incorporate what they have learned into their thinking.  And this is basically what separates typical worker and highly-driven worker.

Case in point:

Some people see the glass as half-empty while some people see it as half-full. Similarly, when you give interesting insights to a worker, the worker will either choose to put a full stop to the insight or to carry the insight further.  

For instance, if you tell the worker “Marketing is actually very psychological!”. A typical worker will go “Oh, OK, that’s interesting’”. Full stop. That’s it. Perhaps the next time he has a conversation with someone else, he will just parrot out the statement and repeat it again to another person. And that doesn’t show any deep understanding at all. This category of worker will always remain at the bottom or middle of the pyramid.

However, a learner will always take the new things he just learned few steps further. “Wow, I never thought psychology has such important role in Marketing. What if I apply Freud’s Ego Theory inside marketing? What if I apply Jung’s Personality Types searching for talented people? What if … What about …”.

To activate this inquisitive mode of a Learner-worker, organization need to put him in the right place and the right position. Inquisitive needs Passion and Passion needs Interest. If the organization places a worker who love Marketing in the Information Technology department, his potential will never be realized.

Learner-workers are the ones who have the most talent and potential to do well in the organization in the future and could also bring the organization to the next level. A raw talent. And that brings us to the next level, Discernment.


The duration of the worker’s learning curve is heavily depending on individual talent and ability. The really talented people may take only a month while a good worker may take up to a year to learn. Once a worker reaches the optimum level of Learning, naturally the worker will want to ascend beyond his current level. We could easily see this in science where there are two distinctive disciplines – The Discovery and The Art of Mastery. Human nature have the inherent tendency to control things around once we’ve done discovering it. For instance, the discovery of Electromagnetism forces, which eventually manipulated by human being to create electricity.

As we often hear in Julius Caesar’s famous mantra – Veni Vedi Vinci, this discover-and-control mechanism is firmly implanted in our mind. Thus, Discernment is the worker’s initial stage towards Control/Mastery.

In the Discernment stage, workers will shift their priority and emphasize more on Thinking rather than Learning. The worker’s framework of thinking is well developed and could see the bigger picture, better than most typical workers in the organization. Worker could manipulate their knowledge skillfully in order to create solutions and spot opportunities.

Workers at this stage are basically people who would bring innovation to the organization. These are the workers who have the vision and passion to drive the organization forward. Again, depending on individual, some are more driven to improve organization processes and achieving goals and some are still driven by the fat paycheck.


The highest level of order in every organization are the leaders who Command – The people who make the crucial decisions based on their great understanding of business.

Leaders who do not have strong foundation of Learning and Discernment, will never be good enough to take the organization to a high level.


Learning and The Diminishing Factor

The truth is nobody can ever finish learning everything around them. Even if you get to learn everything about the business world, chances are you will most probably forget 90% about it. That’s the weakness of human. Hence, it’s not about ‘How Much You Know’,  rather, it’s about ‘How Effective You Can Think”. It’s not the Knowledge that matter most, but rather your mindset – The framework in your head which analyze the knowledge.

So, how do worker know when they have already learned enough and should move on to discernment stage? There’s no surefire method to teach people about this. We have to feel the optimum level inside our head – the point of curve which begin to even out. I will give you an analogy:

dimiImagine adding a road or two in the busy New York city – what differences will it make to the metropolitan area? Perhaps easing up some traffic and that’s it. But if we are to build two roads for a rural village and connect them to urban areas, then it will create a whole new commerce opportunities for both sides and revolutionize the village along the way. 2 roads in two different scenarios but such contrast of outcomes.

Same goes for learning and mastering certain skills, the element of diminishing factor will always play a role in our life. In another words, we need to know where the line is drawn between Resources Spent (time, money) VS. Benefits from Learning.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it is useless that we keep learning even after we passed the optimum level, just that in the long run, the Resources Spent vs  Benefit of Learning is not justifiable as we spend huge amount of resources just to create a tiny improvisation. Hence, organization need to allocate an amount of time and know when worker have reached the optimum level and move to the next step to maximize resources utility.

Due to time constraint, I will continue writing this essay in a few days time … Any updated content will be written in blue font.

Irrelevant Rhetoric Thoughts

While I was writing this essay, a thought crossed my mind – if everyone in this world aspire to become  entrepreneur, then who will be the janitor and washes the toilets?

I say, maybe we can invent robots to wash the toilet. But who will do the dirty work and assemble these robots? Do we then invent robots to create robots? Somebody has to do the dirty work in the first place. In other words, there are always roles within the society.

It looks to me some people are destined to be toilet cleaners.

Written by elan85

December 1, 2008 at 11:51 pm