Government Stupidity Sits Better On A Ritz

      52 Comments on Government Stupidity Sits Better On A Ritz

Before I was a programmer, I was a software trainer for Manpower in Chicago.  In fact, I started teaching myself programming to pass the time during long stretches when the trainees were busy working away on their tutorials.  I was stuck at a desk with a PC, reading books or magazines in front of the paying customers was a no-no, so why not make use of the time?

The training consisted of step-by-step instructions that walked the trainee through the basics of working with, say, Microsoft Word or Excel.  I soon noticed that the trainees fell into one of two categories:  those who viewed the instructions as gospel that must be followed to the letter, and those who viewed the instructions as a means for learning the software.  I thought of them as process-oriented vs. goal-oriented.

The process-oriented people would drive me a little nuts sometimes.  We’d have conversations something like this:

“Excuse me, I did something wrong here.  The next step shows that I should have a table with six columns, but mine only has five.  Should I start over?”

“No, you’ve already typed all that data into the table and I’m sure you don’t want to type it again.  Do you understand how to create a table?”

“Yes, I think so.”

“Then just move on.”

“But the picture in the sample shows a table with six columns.”

“That’s okay.  You probably just typed the wrong number of columns in the dialog box when you created it.  If you understand how to make a table, you can move on.”

“But mine doesn’t look like the instructions say it should.  Can I do this exercise again?”

“If you really want to, sure, go ahead.”

These people had learned what they needed to learn.  But they hadn’t followed the process to the letter and seemed to think they’d get a black mark on their permanent records if they didn’t go back and successfully complete every instruction.

By contrast, the goal-oriented trainees usually skipped past some of the instructions once they knew they’d grasped the concept.  They understood that the point of the training was to learn the software, not to be a slave to training process.

I witnessed a laughable example of the follow-the-instructions mentality when I was working as a contract programmer at Disney.  This was 1999, and most of us were busy rewriting database systems to make sure they were Y2K compliant.  We had regular meetings to ensure that we met conversion deadlines set by upper management, and some dim-bulb administrative assistant was put in charge of running the meetings and writing progress reports.

At one of those meetings, she announced that we were supposed to certify seven systems that day.   I had created one of those systems using Access 2000, which was Y2K compliant.  I demonstrated the system’s functions, showed that it would handle four-year dates, and figured that was that.  My boss (who unfortunately wasn’t also the dim bulb’s boss) nodded his approval.

Then the dim bulb explained that her Y2K process manual said we should have a document from Microsoft stating that Access 2000 is Y2K compliant.  I told her I’d already gone online and checked Microsoft’s technical specs, which stated specifically that Access 2000 is Y2K compliant.

“But we’re supposed to have a document.”

At that point, my boss jumped in.

“Tom just demonstrated that it’s Y2K compliant, and Microsoft has stated that it’s Y2K compliant.  It’s Access 2000.  They wouldn’t release software called Access 2000 that can’t handle dates starting in the year 2000.  Let’s move on.”

“But we don’t have a compliance document from Microsoft.  The manual says we should have a compliance document for the files.”

My boss sighed.

“Okay then, Tom will find out how to get a compliance document.  Let’s move on and certify the other systems.”

“We can’t do that.  We’ll have to reschedule.”

“Reschedule?  Why would we reschedule?  Everyone’s here and we have the meeting room for another hour.”

The dim bulb referred to her printed meeting agenda.

“It says here we’re going to certify the following seven systems at this meeting.  But we can’t, because we don’t have the document for Tom’s system.”

“Yes,” my boss said slowly, as if speaking to a toddler.  “So let’s certify the other six and we’ll come back to Tom’s system next time.”

The dim bulb checked her agenda again.

“But it says here we’re going to certify these seven systems.  We can’t certify one of them today, so we’ll have to cancel this meeting and reschedule when we’re ready to certify all seven of them.”

For a minute, I’d thought I’d actually see my boss (a very affable man) blow a gasket.  Instead, he pointed to her printed agenda and spoke through gritted teeth.

“Well, you see, what you have in front of you there is just some ink on a piece of paper. The goal here is to get systems certified.  There’s no reason we can’t certify the other six systems on the list and then come back to Tom’s system next time.”

“But it says here we’re supposed to certify seven systems today.”

“There are seven systems on the list because that’s how many we thought we could demonstrate in the time allotted for this meeting.  These systems have nothing to do with each other.  They just happen to be on today’s list.  So let’s certify the other six.”

The dim bulb looked confused for a moment, then sought clarification in her printed agenda.

“No, it says here we’re supposed to certify seven systems.  We can’t do that today.  We’ll have to reschedule.”

So the meeting ended with eight of us rolling our eyes and the dim-bulb satisfied she hadn’t violated the dictates of some ink on a piece of paper.

It took me about 10 minutes to find and download the document the dim bulb needed.  I forwarded it to my boss and told him I would have found it sooner, but Chareva had called me from the grocery store.  She’d gone there with a list of 12 items to purchase but discovered the store was out of one of them.  So she had no choice but to put the other 11 items back on the shelves and reschedule the shopping trip.  My boss liked that one.

So what does all this have to do with health and nutrition?

Well, I thought about the slave-to-instructions mentality when several readers sent me a link to an article about a mom in Canada who (eek!) violated government nutrition guidelines:

A Manitoba mom was slapped with a $10 fine because the lunches she packed for her kids’ lunches didn’t have any Ritz crackers.

Kristen Bartkiw sent her children Natalie and Logan to daycare with lunches of leftover roast beef, potatoes, carrots, milk, and oranges.

That sounds like a pretty decent lunch for a kid.  What could possibly be the problem?

The daycare providers evidently didn’t think the wholesome lunch fit the nutritional bill because Bartkiw was subsequently charged for the Ritz crackers that the lunches had to be ‘supplemented’ with.

According to Metro News, Manitoba laws require that daycares provide children with a nutritious meal as prescribed by the Canadian Food Guide.  That means one milk, one meat, one grain, two fruits.

Oh, dear.  Mrs. Bartkiw didn’t include a grain product in those lunches.  The Canadian Food Guide says each lunch must include a grain product, so by gosh, the rule-followers had to jump and give those kids a Ritz — because we must always obey the process, and because everything (including stupidity) sits better on a Ritz.

Let’s look at the ingredients for Ritz crackers:

Oh, yes, definitely … those are the ingredients that turn a nutritionally deficient meal into a nutrition powerhouse.

This is what I mean by confusing the goal with the process.  The goal is for kids to be healthy.  Anyone with a brain should recognize that there’s nothing about the meal Mrs. Bartkiw packed – beef, vegetables, fruit and a potato – that’s going to harm her children’s health.  And anyone with a brain should recognize that adding Ritz crackers to that meal isn’t going to make her kids any healthier.

That’s why I want governments to get out of the nutrition-advice business.  The “advice” becomes a set of rules, and then the rules must be followed.  Everyone involved becomes a slave to the process.  The original goal that the process was intended to support – helping people become healthier – ends up having nothing to do with any of it.


52 thoughts on “Government Stupidity Sits Better On A Ritz

  1. Jan's Sushi Bar

    I LOVED this post. Probably because I spend so much of my time teaching software to people.

    The Ritz cracker thing happened a year ago, but yeah – it’s been making the rounds. If I remember correctly, the nutritional guidelines the mother had “violated” were those of the preschool, not the Canadian government’s. The truly hysterical thing about it, though, is that the woman who received the fine was part of the panel that approved the nutritional guidelines for the preschool in the first place. She said she didn’t include a grain because she thought the potato would be enough.

    If nothing else, she certainly needs to learn the difference between starches and grains.

    Wow. If it’s true that she helped write those guidelines but thought they didn’t apply to her, she needs to emigrate to the U.S. immediately and join the Obama administration.

  2. Andre

    If that school had forced their guidelines onto my (hypothetical) kids, I would in turn have sued them for interfering with my parenting. Who the hell do they think they are to decide what my kids should be eating…

    They think they’re the government and you exist to obey them.

  3. Mark.

    They’re still putting trans-fat in Ritz? I thought they’d already stopped, but assuming that that’s a recent Canadian box, there’s partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil, also known as the original version of Crisco.

    I just grabbed an image online, so I can’t say for sure it’s recent. But I sincerely doubt Ritz crackers have become health food.

    1. Toni

      That’s a recent ingredient list. They still put trans fat and HFCS in Ritz. Not exactly a “health food”.

      I was at the grocery store last night and checked a Ritz box. Yup, still there.

  4. Laura

    And to cap it off on the Ritz Cracker debacle – they are the item in the lunch that is truly unhealthy. What a bunch of idiots.


  5. Shebeeste

    I already read about the Manitoba Ritz Debacle elsewhere, but thanks very much for the story about process-oriented vs. goal-oriented people–it’s a concept I hadn’t thought much about before. I happen to be a goal-oriented genius administrative assistant working for process-oriented (dim-bulb?) management. I’m going to do some research on how to get along in what seems to me to be a process-oriented world. And yes, I do work for The Government, why do you ask?

    I feel ya. I once had a boss who was so process-oriented, he drove us all nuts. He wanted us to account for our days in 15-minute increments so he could precisely analyze our efforts. We just made stuff up to fulfill his process. He didn’t work for government, but he would have thrived in that environment.

    The boss I really liked at Disney was exactly the opposite. As long as you got your systems built and they worked correctly, he didn’t care how you did it.

    1. Audra James

      LOL. At my job we have to do the same thing!!! We technology folks are now being required to account for our time. So that reporting and budgeting can be done. Note that nobody really does it and then makes it up when it’s time to fill in time sheets. Ugh.

      On another note, it is possible to be both goal and process oriented. That’s me. The trick is not be be hung up on the current process but to change the process so that the goal is simply and easily met.

      Can you guess whether that’s appreciated? LOL

      Timesheets, food questionnaires, census forms … a lot of careful analysis has been performed on made-up data.

  6. Scott

    I really don’t want to believe what I keep seeing more and more evidence of. The deeper I dive down this rabbit hole, the more I see that all those conspiracy theorist I shrugged off in my youth, might have had a point.

    The government pushes forward a diet that causes diseases. Public schools do their damndest to train our children to be the procedure following sheeple you’ve described above.

    Now that everyone is getting sicker, thanks to the diet the government pushes, the doctors prescribe those mind altering statins, which the sheeple then take according to procedure.

    Now, the government is attempting to take total control of the doctors too.

    And, anyone who tries to point out the truth …

    I don’t see it as a grand conspiracy. I see it as the natural consequence of letting government bureaucrats make too many decisions for us.

    1. Galina L.

      If something works like a perfect clock, it is not the sure sign of an existing conspiracy, just the opposite – the sign of the absence of a micro-management by humans – the lows of a complex system are at work.

    2. Babs

      If you think the conspiracy on the food and big pharma is bad, you should look into the conspiracies on the social movements like womens lib. The CIA and Rockefellers bankrolled the womens movement. I found a vid on youtube a couple of 3 months back of a young Gloria Steinem explaining her CIA connection. Thats why I say, if wasnt for women voters, we wouldnt have Big Govt.

      I have followed lots of other conspiracies…low carb eating is about the 20th one Ive found out about.

  7. Lori

    The reason some people like processes instead of goals is that it gives them something to micromanage.

    Yup. I can’t stand micromanagers and refuse to work for them. Tell me what you need done, and I’ll get it done correctly and on time … but don’t tell me how to get it done.

  8. Marcie Tandy

    It’s called micro managing and most micro managers are dim bulbs because they don’t know how to be flexible and think outside the box. I try to avoid people like that but it’s not always easy.

  9. desmond

    Reminds me of a conversation I had at the office over a decade ago. A much older coworker (luckily not a supervisor) said I was not following proper procedure. I told her it was because it did not make any sense. Her reply: “If you have procedure, you don’t need common sense.”

    A true golden moment of wisdom.

    LOL … she captured the mindset perfectly.

  10. Josh

    It sounds like you once worked in a Dilbert comic strip.

    Heh-heh-heh … most of the people I worked with or worked for at Disney were pretty sharp. But man, put one dim bulb in a position of authority and watch the fun begin.

  11. Tanny O'Haley

    I’ve been in meetings like that. I was actually reprimanded the second time I pointed out in a meeting that two systems weren’t working. I was told that the two systems had been certified and it was none of my business wether they worked or not. They had checked off all the right boxes, so everything was okay. When we went live the two systems did not work and files had to be manually manipulated involving millions of dollars worth of daily transactions for six months.

    The safest thing for a government worker is to follow the exact letter of the law, not the spirit of the law. That’s why in California when they passed a law saying that cars must hav all original equipment in the engine compartment I ended up selling my suped up car out of state. Even though the car followed the spirit of the law, which was to reduce exhaust emissions (half as much as the stock engine), they wanted me to return the engine to its stock more poluting form.

    The fewer laws the government has to administer, the better because government workers are not allowed to use common sense.


    1. Elenor

      I thought the safety helmets were mandated by the govt… It’s in a footnote to section 14.27.32(a)(ii)(42b) of obamacare…

  12. Linda

    Sadly, this article about process oriented vs. goal oriented people, reminds me of my cousin in the UK. He has been sorely obese (about 300 pounds on a 5′ 9″ frame, and all kinds of messed up lab work.) About ten months ago, knowing that I have lost about 100 pounds in two years and hearing descriptions of what I eat from time to time, he asked me exactly what I had done. I told him I had gone from seriously high carb with a fat phobia to very low carb and high fat in my diet- almost paleo, but I can’t and won’t ditch my love for good sharp cheddar. Remember, HE asked and I didn’t preach. I sent him all sorts of references, he read Dr. Kendrick’s book “The Great Cholesterol Con” and was convinced.

    He also asked about how many carbs he should eat. Well, knowing this is an individual thing and he should eventually work it out for himself, I suggested he start at under 100 per day, and gradually go down and try to stay under 50. (He had already investigated Atkins and decided he could never do that.)

    So he did that, having gotten time frames for increments of carbs, ie. one month for under 100 carbs, one month for under 80 carbs, etc.

    I tell you, good deeds are always punished! I cannot begin to tell you the number of panicky calls I’ve gotten from the UK, with my cousin wailing about the fact that he had 5 too many carbs on a certain day, and now he had to start all over. It does become wearing.

    Oh well, at least my poor cousin’s process is going in the right direction. He has now lost 45 pounds and found he enjoys roast lamb, butter and cream a lot more than bread, margarine and low fat milk, which obviously made him fat.

    So, I guess I’ll just grin and bear this particular process.


    Well, whatever gets him there.

  13. Bernardo

    Call them by their real names: bureaucrats! I think low interest rates lead to the proliferation of bureaucrats through a long chain of consequences. Not enough space to explain in details, but incentivizing spending and waste leads to inefficiency being tolerated (even in the private sector). It’s very easy to create new jobs, just decrease efficiency, but the goal should be to make people richer not to make them work more. How do you work more and still get poorer? Build a society of process-oriented bureaucrats and let them get away with it.

    Yup, firing up the printing press (figuratively of course) to flood the country with cheap money produces a whole host of bad economic incentives — the most obvious being encouraging taking on debt and discouraging savings.

  14. Jan

    Hey Kitty I just couldn’t believe these imitation biscuits and definitely NOT a good buy for £15-95.

    I totally agree with your comment though “So good, it looks just like the real thing! Will fool the teachers everytime, yet they are totally inedible. Just like the real thing, really…….”

    All the best Jan

  15. Chuck

    The place I work for confuses the goal with the process all the time. Actually they complicate the goal by making the process confusing. The management team where I work could probably work for the government. They base most of their decisions on the numbers generated on computer reports and seem to have no knowledge of how things even work at floor level.

    My department makes tapered roller bearings for cars and trucks.

    The last machine in the assembly process checks the part for vibration, stand height, I.D. plug, and roll checker. Not as high tech as it may sound, they are probably from the 70’s with an upgrade of 80’s computer technology. On the back of the machine are three kick out boxes for the nonconforming parts (some were lock boxes others weren’t). There’s also an instruction sheet that tells how to process the kick outs. Basically put them back through because the machine will accept a good portion of the parts the second time around, and if they kick out a second time, cut the retainers off and run the cones back through the honer and try with new rolls. If they kick out again, scrap them. Fairly simple and easy process, right? That was the process they put into effect last summer to reduce a higher than normal scrap count.

    Here is where our brilliant management comes in. About a month ago we were all pulled into our department managers office for a meeting. Supposedly a bearing had fallen apart on the customer when they tried to install it. He was basically accusing the machine operators of pulling parts from the kick out boxes and passing them anyway. He kept saying that he has seen people pulling parts out of the boxes (and so has higher management above him) whether they were locked or not and he didn’t know what the operators were doing with them. That told me that even though he has been department manager for over 6 months now, he has no clue what the daily procedures even are. He also stated that bad parts couldn’t have made it through without intervention. That also says he has no clue what kind of garbage these machines pass on a daily basis. Sometimes the machines will pass parts with bent retainers, have had them make it to the packing table with three rolls in a row missing, I.D.’s too small, and as I stated before, will pass parts previously kicked out just by running them back through. They are old worn out junk.

    The solution was to build lock boxes for the remaining ones that didn’t already have them and keep them locked. At the end of the shift the supervisor is suppose to come around and unlock them for the operators, then lock them back up as soon as the parts are removed. They didn’t tell us about it, the lock boxes just showed up and were kept locked. My question is — Unless the supervisor is standing there and watching the operator process the kick outs, how do they know that the operator is not doing what they accused them of anyway? (Our supervisor is way too busy to do that.) They didn’t change the way kick outs are processed, so what did all this even correct? Now instead of being able to process them throughout the shift, they get dumped on them at the end of the shift when they are trying to finish up paperwork, scrap and get messes cleaned up.

    Just like the government, they implemented a plan that solved nothing, wasted money (building useless lock boxes), and just made things more difficult. We do have an awesome supervisor though, he unlocks the boxes at the beginning of the shift and lets the operators lock them back up at the end of the shift when they are done. LOL

    Ugh. Sounds like a case of being managed to death.

  16. JasonG

    This reminds me of a VA home-care nurse who visited me because I’m a paraplegic. When she would visit, she would read off procedures, such as dressing a wound. She would helpfully say, “This is how you unroll tape.” Or “This is the correct method to open a bottle of saline solution. When doing a procedure, she would recite the manual. She was irritating. The worst was yet to come.

    Warning, this next part is graphic!!! Do not read if ingesting carbs.
    She once inserted an indwelling catheter, which has a tiny balloon that needs to be pumped to hold it in place. I usually did this myself, but since she was here and it was her paid job, I let her do it. She carefully did the procedure, step-by-step. When the catheter was barely inside the bladder, she inflated the balloon. Dark blood started gushing through the catheter. She tells me that a little blood is normal, (but that wasn’t just a few drops mixed with urine). It appeared like I peed straight blood for the rest of the evening. She must have inflated the balloon at the sphincter instead of pushing it deeper into the bladder. Thank God I don’t feel pain. I had to spend over a week in the hospital, and probably did permanent damage.

    I requested a different nurse after that.

  17. JasonG

    I have another story and this one is cleaner. The Palo Alto VA hospital was infested with process-oriented people in the spinal cord unit. I have painful and frustrating stories from there. Here’s a simple one.

    Our Spinal Cord Injury unit’s day room upgraded a snowy, big-box TV to a sleek plasma wall-mounted TV. But there was one problem: they misplaced the remote controls. Several weeks go by and it is Sunday afternoon. I was hanging out in the day room when this kind lady stopped to chat. She asked if we needed anything, and I told her no. Then she remarked on the brand new TV and happened to ask how we change the channel. I rolled my chair over to the TV, raised my arms way above my head and cycled through the channels one at a time. Note that only a few other patients in that SCI unit could use their arms and hands to do it. Many SCI patients can’t use their hands.

    The lady looked concerned and promised she would be back later. When she came back, she personally handed me five different universal remotes. She told me that she didn’t know which one to get at Walmart, so she got every type. She insisted that I take them personally. I thanked her and she left.

    The next day, I gave my recreation therapist all five remotes and told him what the lady had done. He scowled. “She needs to go through the system and become a finger-printed registered volunteer. Besides we have those remotes somewhere.” I tried arguing, but it was pointless. He made me feel bad. By the next day, our TV had a working remote. Additionally, all the new TV’s in other areas of the hospital, also received one of those universal remotes. The lady’s was a terrific help.

    How can a recreation therapist be that stupid?

    And that’s what makes the follow-the-rules types so frustrating: even if not following the rules leads to the actual goal, they still insist on following the rules.

  18. Bret

    I believe the technical term for these process-oriented folks you are talking about is NERDS. I can relate, actually, because I used to be one. When I first got into the military, I was too intimidated by what seemed to be a complex, intelligent system of authority to use any common sense or discretion when conducting my daily duties.

    Then I woke up, grew a brain, and realized this monstrosity was merely a system of bureaucracy to which I was giving way too much credit. Having hundreds of pages of rules might look good to ignorant dufuses and lawyers, but they only slow down actual productivity. In fact, my supervisors didn’t want a bunch of brainless automatons who followed all 16,000 rules to the very dot on the i, because then we would never get anything done. They wanted smart, shrewd people who could take a task and make it happen, and they didn’t ask how. Of course, they could never SAY so explicitly, or they would risk losing their jobs, not being promoted, etc.

    This is one reason among many that I respect the operations of small business infinitely more than those of bureaucracy, be it governmental or corporate. Bureaucracy seems to wallow in and obsess over processes. People in such an organization have to figure out how to skillfully dodge and weave all the bureaucratic nonsense in order to succeed. Small businesses, however, have to accomplish the J-O-B or else fail to turn a profit, which forces them to be 100% goal-oriented.

    Good points, but I’ll have to disagree with applying the NERD label to process-oriented people. That’s an insult to people who proudly call themselves nerds … often technical wizzes and other high-IQ types who tend to think outside the box.

    1. Bret

      Perhaps “geek” is more appropriate. Or “socially awkward.”

      Whatever term is used, I am confident there is a correlation between process-oriented dorks and social awkwardness.

  19. PHK

    so funny.

    goal-oriented vs. process oriented is very interesting.
    but i always think it’s like cat vs dog. (my boss is a “dog trainer”; he develops lots’ of standard procedures & tools. but i’m more like a cat)

    although i sometimes go to grocery & have to “reschedule”.
    i’d rahther put back all other items back on shelf because of one missing (essential) item.

    cause i just hate having go to 2 stores for mundane stuff. i prefer to go to the another store which has all 12 items.


  20. Ulfric Douglas

    “Guns don’t kill people, rappers do” : is a line from a famous song by Goldie-Looking Chain, the famous Welsh rap ensemble. Famous I tell ye!

    “The daycare providers evidently didn’t think…” : all it takes if for decent people to ignore indecent ‘guidelines’. She needs to get her kids out of that moron-swamp.

    It’s not the Ritz, it’s the crackpots.

  21. Lori

    A word in defense of processes. Yes, people can be ridiculous about rule following, but if you’re going to break rules, you should know the principle behind them. I do admin work and I continually have to go behind people and fix their work because they didn’t follow basic, longstanding procedures. I’m sure they think that if the reason for a procedure isn’t immediately obvious, it doesn’t exist. Not true: CPA firms, by law, are required to meet certain documentation standards. Not using track changes can turn a short job into one that takes me hours. Putting random dates on files can lead to frustrated partners who, billing over $300 an hour, are spending their time hunting for documents, and a frustrated admin (me) spending my time cleaning up a mess when I have other work to do.

    I’m not against processes. I’m against processes that end up getting in the way of the actual goal.

    1. Kevin

      The commentary here has me in a pickle. I work for a school district in Pennsylvania, which has the most antiquated, ludicrous operational laws known to man. I won’t bore all you non-Pennsylvanians with the details, but basically, it’s extremely process-oriented. I have a boss who is extremely goal-oriented, and frequently disregards or breaks the rules. It’s usually my job to come in and clean things up somehow, or make sure they are prevented in the future.
      I don’t agree with the rules, but as a governmental entity, we get audited on these things. So, my completely goal-oriented boss doesn’t care as long as the job gets done, but I sometimes sit back and whine about following the rules because if I don’t do it, some bigger, meaner, more process-oriented guys will come to town and REALLY make things painful. So, my profession requires me to be process-oriented to protect the goal-oriented.
      Welcome to government.

      That doesn’t sound like a happy situation.

  22. Jana

    Strange as this sounds but your work experience in this area is exactly like the character Lurky on Rainbow Brite (I’m on an early 80s cartoon kick right now). He always had to follow the original instructions even when they were countermanded by the instruction giver. If you take a listen you’ll find some great G rated name-calling by Murky to Lurky.

    Never heard of the show, even though I’m pretty sure I was around during the ’80s.

  23. Cary L

    Unfortunately the same occurs in standardized testing. A student may completely understand the concept of patterns in math (for example) but because of one missed minor step in the beginning they lose credit for the entire standard. But then again I’m sure the same exists in every career.

  24. Jennifer Snow

    I once had to train a very process-oriented coworker to use an Access database I designed. I tried to start out with an overview of how databases in general work and go from there. I got about two sentences in when she interrupted me: “Don’t bother with that stuff. Just tell me what buttons to push.”

    I have a lengthy history of completely busting any software I work with the first time, because, as I have discovered, most companies are using broken or messed up software and the employees are used to using some sort of arcane specific button-pushing process to work around the bugs and deficiencies in the software. Me, I read the menus and I expect that if the menu says “hit Y to go to next record” or similar, that is what will happen. So I find every. single. bug. Heck, I even managed to delete a bunch of critical records in one case because just LOOKING at a record would ERASE it if you didn’t “save the changes” due to the idiot software implementation.

    I suspect I may have become this way as a result of the fact that I’m completely crap at learning things from people showing me how to do them. I can’t learn things from other people. If I’m going to learn a route in my car, I have to drive it myself (or plan it out on a map myself). Sitting in a car with someone else driving won’t do it. I *had* to learn how to teach myself things because other people just can’t teach me anything.

    This also seems to be an uncommon trait. I read a study done not long ago that involved an adult showing alternatively a chimpanzee and a human kid how to get a treat out of a box. The method shown involved an unnecessary step. The chimp almost immediately eliminated the unnecessary step from the process, but the human kid went on repeating it even when they were shown that it was unnecessary. So I wonder if this process-oriented thing isn’t actually fairly common and being goal-oriented is rarer. It’s not necessarily BAD to be process-oriented . . . lots of processes contain steps that are apparently unnecessary but important in some other way, and when you’re young you don’t necessarily have the judgment to determine which is which. At some point, though, it’s necessary to learn how to break free of that mold and not see yourself as the servant of some words on a page.

    You’ve touched on one of my pet peeves as a programmer — or rather, a pet peeve involving other programmers. When redesigning systems, I’ve heard from countless end-users who were frustrated because some programmer designed software to do the work the way he thought it should be done, not how the end-users actually wanted to do their work. So they end up having to adjust their workflow to fit the system. My mantra when designing software is “The system is supposed to work for you. You’re not supposed to work for the system.”

    1. JasonG

      Jennifer, I’m similar to you. I have trouble learning when someone teaches me, but I’m very good at figuring it out on my own. Perhaps it’s because I like to think inductively? I always simplify the subject in my head, so I make mental rules to understand processes. Other people seem content at just reading and memorizing those processes. Jennifer, you and I might share a personality type.

  25. j

    I’m wondering…what would be the repercussion to not paying that ridiculous fine..

    Good question. I guess it never got that far.

  26. Michael Cohen

    Two of the greatest philosophical minds in modern western culture have working in tandem, commented at length upon this topic. Their discourse is loaded with allegory and symbolism, which only adds to depth of the discourse

  27. Zachary

    This scenario reminds me of a post you made a while back in which the school forced you to pack bread along with your daughter’s school lunch in order for you to follow the guidelines. It’s about as absurd as that “nutrition” label, which has a combination of ingredients I wouldn’t eat at gun point. Just goes to show that this kind of thing happens uncomfortably often.

    Speaking of your daughters, are there any more episodes of Fat Head Kid’s Club coming out? It’s such a great series for children and my niece and nephew loved it (it finally got them to care about their eating habits).

    We will produce more episodes, probably after the holidays. They’ve been busy with school, school plays, etc., and I’ve been pedal-to-the-metal preparing a speech I’ll give in 10 days.

  28. Jill

    Hey Tom, was the main point that the kid had to BRING the Ritz crackers to school so the teachers could tick them off or would he have had to eat them as well??;)

    Good question. I don’t know.

  29. scott

    As someone who suffers from Asperger’s syndrome, I hate following procedures, I do things my way and get it done most of the time, procedures are too hard for me to understand. A little off subject but about starch, I was watching the Munsters last night and the family didn’t want to lose Herman to a life of fame and fortune as a pop singer, so Grandpa gave Lily a recipe for a magic muffin that would wreck his chances, but she said on no he’s trying to lose weight so he is avoiding starches, nowadays she would say as long as we tell him it’s fat free.

    Yup, that was what people understood back in the day.

    1. Cindy C

      Hi Scott,

      As someone who has manifested Asperger’s syndrome most of my life, I changed after being in ketosis, now being able to look people in the eye, much more sociable, and less social anxiety. I still tend to do things my way, but now I can listen. focus, and take in instructions better.

  30. Ines

    I am process and goal oriented. Process steps need to fulfill a purpose. It is not about mindlessly following steps.
    Sadly, this gets often confused.
    The comparison process vs goal is flawed, because they are not mutually exclusive and need to go hand in hand.
    If not either methodology will not lead to any desirable outcome.

    They’re not mutually exclusive. The difference is that goal-oriented people don’t let a process that’s intended to help them reach a goal get in the way of the goal itself. That’s why my goal-oriented trainees didn’t mind skipping steps once they’d grasped the concept. I did the same thing when teaching myself programming. Since my goal wasn’t to practice my typing, I’d sometimes read through long blocks of code to make sure I understood them but not bother typing them.

  31. Rama

    I think my idea of process-oriented vs goal-oriented is different than yours. To me process-oriented is focused on improving skills where as goal-oriented is based on simply getting the task done. The process-oriented person will show more growth on the long term since the focus is on how to improve. For example, let’s compare the person who focuses on the goal of losing ten pound vs the person who focuses on the process of increasing the healthy food that you eat every day and reducing the unhealthy food you eat. The person who focuses on the goal may reach the goal of losing ten pounds and then stop being healthy because he achieved his goal. The process oriented person, however, will have made a lifelong habit of better health. Maybe process-oriented is the wrong word. Maybe it should be growth-oriented or learning-oriented.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      The process-oriented types I’m talking about are those who become so caught up in following the process, they do so even when it slows or stops progress towards the goal.

  32. Jim Frake

    Thanks Tom for this post. I wanted to bring it back during this time of giving thanks to remember those that have half a brain to shed light. Thank you for dissecting studies and reports to reveal the truth if the matter and for exposing conflicts of interest. You are a real blessing!

  33. 3Duranium

    This reminds me of what I’ve read concerning Louis XIV and his descendants. XIV preferred a tight, inflexible schedule with many daily rituals involving waking up, eating, going to bed, etc. whilst his descendants diverted from it as much as possible though the court was used to XIV’s schedule long after his death. To me, it is little wonder how France was superseded by Britain as an empire when France was ruled by an absolute monarchy along with a court which disdained changes from routine.


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