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“dumb question” September 30, 2008

Posted by That Guy in Definition.
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dumb question
(DUM KWES-chun)

In third grade, we were all told that there’s no such thing as a stupid question. But in the corporate world, there can indeed be the “dumb question”. It is rarely dumb, though. It’s just a turn of phrase.

The problem with working in the corporate environment is that contradicting your boss or even your co-workers can lead to you not seeming to be a team player. So why do it? I mean, you’re already probably smarter than most of them, at least in some ways. When a project is put on the table, you’ve probably already thought of a way to get it started. You don’t need your boss to tell you what to do or how to do it.

Not that that stops your boss from doing so.

But you don’t want to do it that way. You want to do it your way — which, about 70% of the time, is a better (or at least more efficient) way. You just can’t say that. Not outright, at any rate.

So you ask a dumb question.

Your boss: “Here’s a project we’ve been working on for weeks and it hasn’t really gone as planned. We’re going to do it again this week.”
You: “Have the problems been fixed?”
Your boss: “No. Corporate is promising to, but we all know–”
You: “So, dumb question — why don’t we just do it This Way, which we know works?”
Your boss: *blink of confusion*
Your co-worker: *snarky remark about why that would never happen because it’s too good an idea*

Go ahead and ask a dumb question. It allows you to say things you might not be able to say otherwise. Just know that your co-workers are probably tired of you phrasing it that way. See, the problem with asking dumb questions is they lead to more discussion, longer meetings, and eventually more dumb questions. Really, the point of a meeting is to get it over with as quickly as possible so you can go back to your desk and check your e-mail and Facebook. Dumb questions are counterproductive in that way, no matter how useful they are.

This definition is dedicated to Howard, friend of CorporateSpeak.


“circle back” September 29, 2008

Posted by That Guy in Definition.
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circle back
(SIR-kull BAK)

The concept of using the phrase “circle back” to say “let’s get together later and see what’s been accomplished” is actually very accurate when it comes to the corporate mindset. The point of ending a meeting by saying “let’s circle back later” is to tell people that you want them to go do some work, then meet briefly again to see what still needs doing.

What actually happens is… well, nothing. The project team gets back together, determines just how much work could’ve been done if the meeting hadn’t been held, and everyone leaves the meeting disgruntled.

The whole concept of meeting again to discuss progress while using a circle as a metaphor is flawed. Going in a circle means ending where you started. Why would you want your team to finish exactly where they started? Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of having a meeting to determine what needs to be done and portion out tasks?

Most meetings end with people going to their desks, checking e-mail and Facebook, and then complaining about the meeting or going to get more coffee. Meetings aren’t ended with actionable requests — most of the time, anyway. They’re ended with pithy phrases like “let’s circle back later”. Of course people aren’t going to go work; they know there’s no accountability because there’ll be another meeting. And another. And another. Until finally that one guy (or girl) does everyone’s work and only receives 10% of the credit.

adobe September 26, 2008

Posted by That Guy in Pictures, Seen Elsewhere.
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song chart memes
more music charts

Pretty accurate.

the reality of the telecommute day September 25, 2008

Posted by That Guy in Adventures in Telecommuting.

Photo used under a Creative Commons license; by Richard Winchell.

Photo used under a Creative Commons license; by Richard Winchell.

For reasons that are unimportant to you, the readers of this humble blog, the inimitable That Guy took a telecommute day. Telecommuting really is the holy grail these days, what with gas prices being high and the ubiquitous meetings office workers face every day. Here’s what really happens:

First of all, remember that your actual commute consists of going to your computer and sitting down, so you’ve got time saved that you didn’t spend driving to work. You can avoid showering if you want, but it does help you wake up. You may find yourself wondering what to do, or coming in to work early (as it were), but remember… you’re at home. Why not take that extra time to do some work around the house? Run the dishwasher. Do a little laundry. Take out the trash. Go out for a leisurely breakfast. Whatever. Just be back home and logged in by ten minutes before your scheduled start time.

Oh, and get dressed. There’s plenty of appeal to working in your underpants (or less), but by putting on clothes that you actually don’t mind being seen in — a t-shirt and a pair of comfortable jeans or khakis — you will subconsciously force yourself to be a little more professional. Think of your telecommute days as casual Fridays when you get dressed.

Just because you’re working from home, it doesn’t mean you can surround yourself with whatever media you want. Unless your job requires it, leave the TV and radio off. If you listen to streaming music at work, you can put on music at home, but with all the other distractions of your house — pets, telemarketing phone calls, noise from outside, the pile of dishes in the sink that you didn’t bother to clean before you started work — you will want to minimize media distractions as much as possible.

Keep your house phone and cell phone handy. If you have hands-free, use it. If you have a wired internet connection, use it.

Once you get into the swing o fthings, you’ll probably find that you’re getting a lot of work done. Why, you ask? Simple.

No distractions.

No one’s coming up to your desk just to chat. Or to ask you to do something. Or to get your help (especially if you’re Mr. Fix-It). Or, best of all, to complain. By working from home, you avoid people complaining around you, and you don’t have to listen to inane conversations or deal with shouting matches because your office doesn’t have an adequate paging system.

Plus, you actually can remain more organized. All your tasks will come to you most likely via e-mail, with the occasional phone call if IMs and e-mails get too confusing. You can prioritize any way you want.

Remember, as a telecommuter, you still get a lunch break. Take it. You may find yourself working through it anyway, so you might want to just get up and take a walk around the block. Get out of the house for a few minutes. Stretch. Go out to eat if you want, but remember, you’re still in the middle of a working day. Be back within an hour.

Closing out for the day is pretty easy — just e-mail or IM everyone who needs to know that you’re leaving and tell them that you’re off for the day. Then put the computer away and start making dinner. You’ve saved 30-90 minutes of afternoon commute time; might as well put it to good use.

Now, telecommuting isn’t for everyone. If you can’t discipline yourself to work, you’re in trouble. Plus, if you tend to be the kind of person who gets lost in Google Reader, StumbleUpon, or WikiPedia, there’s no boss walking up behind you to see what you’re doing. You have to know when to stop. You also can’t work on your personal site or blog, or your freelance gig, and you certainly can’t spend the entire day looking at salacious pictures of your friends on Facebook or submitting your resume to every opening on Monster. Save that for your breaks.

It can get kind of boring if you never leave the house; you may find yourself spending the money you saved on gas going out to the nearest Bar and Grill for a sandwich and some fries (all right, all right, cottage cheese). But it also gives you the opportunity to kick back with some leftovers from the night before and watch an episode of “Californication” instead of having to sit in the break room talking to people you don’t really like.

One more thing: got pets? You’ll have to take the dog out or pet the cat, but keep in mind that this counts as your “get up and walk around and talk to people” break time. You can’t use your pets as an excuse, and if you need to lock yourself in your home office to get away from them, so be it.

If you can get your boss to let you have a telecommute day, and everything you need to do for your job can be done from a home computer, give it a shot. Just remember that it may not actually work out for you. But if it does — and if you can discipline yourself to do the work instead of goof off — it’s great.

“they didn’t really answer any of the questions” September 24, 2008

Posted by That Guy in Did I Hear That Right?.
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Dramatis Personae:

Boss: That Guy’s Boss

The Facts Are These:

A few months ago, the Corporate Office ordered all branches to standardize their websites. Good in theory, but not so much in practice. As has been noted in the past, there are two branches, PC and Mac. That Guy works for the Mac branch — 23 offices — but the Corporate Office sent down a corporate site redesign directive that did not incorporate any Mac applications whatsoever.

Anyway, the Mac branches pulled it off. Those 23 sites look nothing like the 100-plus PC sites, but that’s just the way it is.

Last week, the Corporate Office held a conference call to update all branches on the status of the Big Redesign Project (BiRP, for short). BiRP has had a lot of problems — massive dropoffs in page views and uniques; slow page loads; few options for true customization; no real sharing between PC and Mac, or even between branches; and epic fails of two major pieces of third-party software. But instead of truly addressing any of those problems, they simply gladhanded around how great things were with the new designs.

The BiRP team solicited questions that they promised to answer during the call. Due to scheduling conflicts, only the Boss could attend. He submitted questions from the entire team, and those questions were approved by our Big Boss to send in. Well, according to the boss, “they didn’t really answer any of the questions.” They tried to answer some from the in-call chat room, but even then, no true solutions were reached.

The Boss basically wasted about 70 minutes.

This really exemplifies the corporate conference call: don’t cover what you promise to cover, don’t answer what you promise to answer, say a lot of stuff that makes your group look good, and make sure to only address the needs of the largest groups, instead of the needs of everyone.

The department really felt for the Boss after this one. But right after the call, we had to sit through another 70-minute meeting — the weekly departmental gathering.

“reply to all” September 23, 2008

Posted by That Guy in Definition.
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reply to all
re-PLY too AHL

“Reply to all” is without a doubt the most overused key in your e-mail client. It tells your computer to open a new message and address it to everyone included in the “to” field of the message to which you’re replying, plus the person who sent the initial message.

Situations when it is proper to use “reply to all”:

* Multiple people need to know the information you’re providing.

Situations when it is improper to use “reply to all”:

* A colleague departs and you want to wish him or her congratulations.
* A client e-mails multiple people and you want to say something snarky about him or her to your co-workers.
* You see an e-mail with multiple recipients, and you assume they all need to know what you have to say.
* Any time other than when multiple people need to know the information you’re providing.

Most companies limit the amount of space in their employees’ e-mail boxes. On behalf of everyone who’s had to clear 15 messages of congratulation or appreciation, stop using “reply to all”.

Success Story #1: The New VP September 22, 2008

Posted by That Guy in Success Stories.
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Occasionally, something awesome happens at Corporatespeak Headquarters, and when it does, it is up to That Guy to chronicle it.

This, my friends, is a story of awesome management.

We had a product scheduled to launch at noon. I was not involved; I was merely in the room. Anyway, the project manager for that entire line — who reports to a VP, who then reports to a General Manager — noticed that the product was not running as quickly as it should be. That manager tends to be a bit excitable, and as per usual, he slammed his palm on the desk and shouted, “come on, guys!”

The VP happened to be walking through the room and looked at the product, then at a couple of competitors’ websites we happened to have open to see what they would be doing as we launched.

Then she said, “look at this! No one else is doing this! We’re the only ones!”

She completely and utterly spun the manager’s anger into something extremely positive, celebrating the company’s successes instead of getting upset about our failures.

This VP has only been here for a couple of weeks and already she’s working to change the way we think about things. I’m sure, when applicable, she gets angry and even occasionally yells, but in my time at Corporatespeak I have never — ever — seen a VP in this company celebrate a success in such a way that it completely shut down the protestations of a project manager.

She came to the company highly-touted. Apparently this is one of those intangibles that the corporate office was talking about. And everyone in the room — with the exception of the project manager* — took notice.

* Okay, that’s unfair. I’m sure he did notice. But he’ll probably talk to her in private about why he got upset. He’s actually a very good manager too.

“e-mail rabbit hole” September 19, 2008

Posted by That Guy in Definition.
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e-mail rabbit hole
EE-mail RAB-bit hol

Have you ever found yourself in a back-and-forth volley of e-mails with no discernible positive solution? If so, then you’re in the “e-mail rabbit hole”.

Here’s how it works: you’re tooling along, doing your thing, and your boss (or co-worker) sends you a very brief e-mail. For example, “why isn’t x this way?” You distinctly remember making x a certain way, so you say, “x is that way.” You receive an almost-immediate message to the effect of “no, it’s not.” So you check into it. You determine that x truly is the way it’s supposed to be. You take a screenshot and send it back.

Now it gets fun.

Your boss e-mails you back saying something like “okay, x is partially done, but really what you’ve done is y”.

Prepare to rip your hair out as you patiently explain that “according to the work order, the client told the sales team that they wanted x. Sales wrote out the order to contain both x and y. Because it was easier to build, fix, adjust, and change, I combined them to create z. You’re looking at z, which contains x.”

Inevitable boss response: “I’m confused. I’ll just circle back with sales and figure this out.”

Y’know what the best part is of any e-mail rabbit hole? Odds are good you’re e-mailing a person less than 50 feet away. You could have just gotten up and walked to your boss’s office, or vice versa. But you felt that was a waste of time. Unfortunately, your boss has just wasted even more of your time pulling you down the e-mail rabbit hole. And after that, you’re compelled to find a co-worker who has been through this just so you can commisserate, thereby wasting more time.

Healthwise, it’s better to get up from your desk every hour or so. Avoid e-mail rabbit holes by taking a brief walk.

be careful what you volunteer for September 18, 2008

Posted by That Guy in Lessons Learned.
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Everyone says “never volunteer.” But I disagree. Volunteering isn’t always bad. I had been working three part-time jobs when my boss at one of them called me and said “come in at 1:00 tomorrow; I have something I want you to do.” I did as he requested, and I ended up landing my first real full-time job with one of our contractors. At the time, I’d been with that company for two years, and was hoping to move into full-time employment. Everybody won.

But volunteering can backfire, as it did when I was five years old.

I was a nice kid. For a while, anyway. I raised my hand in class; I was eager to help out; I thought impressing the teachers was important. So when my P.E. teacher asked for a volunteer, I raised my hand. She picked me and remanded my custody to The Coach, who usually worked with the older kids’ sports teams.

Now, if this was 2008, you might fear for my safety, but this was the Reagan era, and though I was at a private school, it was a secular one. The Coach simply needed my assistance with something.

We went into the boys’ locker room and, against one of the blocks of lockers was a ladder. The Coach said, “some of the older kids throw stuff back behind here, and I don’t have anyone small enough to clean it out. Can you help me?”

Of course I could. With The Coach holding the ladder, I climbed up, and then he climbed up and lowered me into a four-by-four recess behind the lockers. He handed me a trash bag, but I barely noticed it.

Because I was smelling the vilest thing I’d ever smelled.

It was horrific. Scarring. I remember it to this day — the off-gray walls, the dark-green lockers, the old underpants, the socks, the trash, the sneakers, and above all else the stench of mold and what I now refer to as “the smell of ass”. I think my eyes were streaming as I cleaned up, throwing away as much trash as I could until finally The Coach said “okay, that’s enough.” I handed up the bag and then he lifted me out and helped me back down the ladder.

I was nauseated. Sickened. I made it back to the classroom and spent the entire half-hour lunch period with my sandwich pressed to my face, breathing in the scent of wheat bread and turkey. I barely ate. I must have been redolent with funk. But I eventually recovered, and went about my day.

My parents never said anything. My P.E. teacher never said anything. I didn’t even think to avoid The Coach — he was actually a pretty nice guy; I remember that.

But I will never, ever forget that dank, disgusting hole and that disused pair of briefs that I picked up between two fingertips and dropped into a gigantic black trash bag.

Lesson Learned: Volunteer at your own risk. Sometimes it’ll lead you to a great job, but other times it’ll drop you in a disgusting pile of trash.

drag your fingers along the bottom of the pool September 17, 2008

Posted by That Guy in Lessons Learned.
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This is the first post in a new category, “Lessons Learned”, based upon things That Guy learned/experienced as a child.

When I was a lad, I went to summer day camp at a local state park. The park included many interesting and diverting destinations, including a several-miles-long bike path, mini-golf, paddleboats, canoeing (one of my very favorite activities, because we could canoe to the General Store by the RV area and buy candy), sports, swimming, and waterslides. Not really amazing waterslides, but waterslides nonetheless. Two of them. It was a hell of a climb to the starting gates, and everyone who made the trip was plagued by huge, sinister bumblebees, but it was fun in the same way that a one-minute watercourse is to any child who’s not afraid of swimming.

My favorite part of the waterslide area — aside from the spiffy multicolored cloth-and-dangerous-metal-clip admission bracelets, which my friends and I collected obsessively — was the tube ride. For those who have never been on one, a tube ride is a waterslide you ride down while sitting in a large tube. Many go fairly fast.

This one, not so much.

The tube ride at that state park — and I think I may go visit it in November when I see my family for Thanksgiving, just for nostalgia’s sake — was a series of ten whirlpools of varying sizes and speeds, with the occasional eddy to catch you and hold you in place. The object of the ride was probably to go as fast as you can, fighting the whirling and getting to the bottom just so you could climb to the top and do it all again, but my friends and I found a better way: rather than waste our time waiting in line, we would push through the first six levels of the tube ride — the sixth was downright scary, extremely fast, and I think I nearly drowned when I capsized one time — and then, from the seventh to tenth, link up, hands on each other’s tubes, and just float and chat and bask in the sun.

And drag our fingers along the concrete bottom, dredging for treasure.

Most people, as noted, went down the tube ride quickly, and when water is flushing past your body, often at speed, what are the odds that you’ll notice when stuff flies out of your pockets? Oh, we gave everything to the lost-and-found that looked valuable — jewelry, glasses, goggles, etc. — but we kept all the admission bracelets.

And any money we found.

It wasn’t always a winning prospect. Sometimes we found nothing, sometimes only a few cents, but at least once a week, one of us would come up with a couple of dollars and we’d grab sodas or snacks. And once I actually found a $20. Which I shared. Some of, anyway.

We would spend an hour or two at the waterslide area each time we went as a group of campers. In an ideal situation, we only made one trip through the tube ride — two at the outside. A few dollars for literally no work? Can’t beat that.

Lesson Learned: While you can have a lot of productive ideas coming out of organized activities (sports), creative endeavors (arts & crafts), and small-group collaborations (canoe trips), you should never ignore the possibility that you can glean something by dragging your fingers along the bottom of the idea pool. Sometimes that $20 bill will find its way into your outstretched fingers, and at the very least, that’ll buy you a nice lunch.

Well, it looks like this category is nothing more than cheap nostalgia. But it was well-written cheap nostalgia, and really, isn’t that the point?