‘Bye darling, I’m off to AntiWork

You’ve done your day’s grind – it’s gone brilliantly, you nailed your to-do list, explored a few new ideas with trusted colleagues, and set up your diary for the next week. Its also possible you may be kidding yourself.

It’s a paradox of the modern, large organisation that much of what we believe to be work is – unbeknown to the performer – a total waste of time. The roots of this are complex and particular , and no-one specific is to blame, but the efficiency and purpose that is being lost to nothing more than bluster is breathtaking.

While its nauseatingly hip to stick “anti” (or “un” for that matter) in front of of something to give it ice cold credibility, this is AntiWork, and its not a Kindergarten Press badge of honour, it’s a Bad Thing – as with Andrew Koenig’s 1995 “AntiPatterns”, from the field of agile software development, a term he coined to describe defective processes and implementations within an organisation. AntiPatterms have come to have commonly-used names derived from their recognisable characteristics. So in paying respect, under the banner of AntiWork the below have each been ascribed a name. I’m sure there are many more (and I’m sure there are some overlaps):

The Rottcodd: old habits, stuff that has always been done, the meaning of which has been lost over time – like the rituals of the Hall of the Bright Carvings in “Titus Groan”. Occasionally ridiculed or derided but never challenged, living under their own energy, laughing at their own improbable immortality.

The Rochdale: dead runners, projects that don’t get the “buy-in” (yeuch) or more importantly funding (buy-out?) required, yet by the time of the opening of the trapdoor have sucked in vats of feasibility, assessment, enquiry and planning under spurious instruction, misplaced optimism or an inability to read the corporate tealeaves, all in the mistaken belief that approval is a con-cal away.

The Cameron: u-turns, scope changes that nullify or reverse everything you’ve done to date, worse when they are a reversal of a previous reversal undermining any dwindling optimism that they may go in a direction other than that above.

The Boltzmann: projects and tasks that despite you having been recruited for your expertise, track record, insight, proven ability to get stuff done (at all, and well), consultants “with credibility” are required to do all over again with additional levels of misunderstanding given their removal from the nuances of the organisation. And they get the credit, too.

The Plato: invisible duplication, where after years of ploughing your furrow you realise that an identical furrow has been ploughed at another location, like a parallel universe with similar results.

The Aesop: the institutionalised avoidance of decision making, the ever-decreasing circles of certainty required by the designated approval chain or process. A little more analysis, a few more checks, a re-run of the numbers, another opinion, a peer review, another round of sticking needles in your temples just to be absolutely certain you’ve de-risked the risks to the risks, to be damn well sure. By which time the opportunity and the enthusiasm has gone.

The Doves: corporate archaeology, the painful piecing together of lost records, where no-one had the decency to write history for the benefit of their successors, or it was just wiped from old drives without even looking for it. At least in the days of paper records files were usually visible and retained – whoever looks at a leaver’s electronic files? They are just erased with the memory of the departee.

The Lindenstrauss: reports that don’t get read other than for the executive summary, because they are unnecessary, tedious, arcane, pointless, habitual, or are necessary but the recipient just doesn’t have the time to read or process them. For all of these circumstances, the asking of the “So what?” question usually decides the matter, but that takes a little courage.

The Bob: the evaluation of new technologies, suggested to you as possible benefits in efficiency and effectiveness that actually would never work without a team of implementers on excruciating day rates that will mean you do nothing else with your time but try and make sense of the anomalies.

The Lucan: senior management directives made on the basis of too little information or unconsidered judgment that are not challenged through fear of being perceived negatively, or simply due to fear of the consequences (real or not).

The Sarajevo: getting needlessly dragged into things through the liberal and unconsidered use of the”reply all/cc”. Of course you could always leave them alone but your operating system has been tampered with so you can’t. We often blame the tool, but e-mail doesn’t send you e-mails. E-mail is not the demon it is made out to be, the problem is how it is used. It is the practice of spreading responsibility and/or involvement (back to fear again) that generates the noise you can’t ignore.

We might evaluate our day and our contribution differently with an eye to what has been useful, and what has been bluster. It may also herald a more constructive conversation about “work” if we stop lumping in every bit of huff and puff conducted between sunrise and sunset, and start looking at what makes a difference set against that which merely evaporates.

And remember, AntiWork isn’t somewhere you don’t go, its something pointless you do without either being aware of, or challenging it.


3 thoughts on “‘Bye darling, I’m off to AntiWork

  1. Agree with you on the email point. Reply all, excessive use and so on, are a symptom not a cause. A symptom of something lurking in the dark side of your culture and leadership.

  2. I might add that even the self-employed and freelance get dragged into this world. But usually only at the behest of clients but also often because they get sucked into busy foolery.

  3. Great stuff, although – if I may be so bold – I’d suggest that the “Lucan” refers more to those managers that simply go missing when important decisions have to be made (You could use a new name for your existing paragraph – “The Frank Spencer” perhaps).

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