Government Stupidity Sits Better On A Ritz

      104 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.

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104 thoughts on “Government Stupidity Sits Better On A Ritz

  1. 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.”

    Reply
    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.

      Reply
  2. 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.

    Reply
  3. 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.

    Reply
    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.

      Reply
  4. 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.

    Reply
  5. 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.

    Reply
  6. 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.”

    Reply
    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.

      Reply
  7. j

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

    Good question. I guess it never got that far.

    Reply
  8. j

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

    Good question. I guess it never got that far.

    Reply
  9. 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

    Reply
  10. 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

    Reply
  11. 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.

    Reply
  12. 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.

    Reply
  13. 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.

    Reply
  14. 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.

    Reply
  15. 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.

    Reply
    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.

      Reply
  16. 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.

    Reply
  17. 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.

    Reply
    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.

      Reply
  18. 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.

    Reply
  19. 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.

    Reply
    1. Tom Naughton

      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.

      Reply
  20. 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.

    Reply
    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.

      Reply
  21. 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!

    Reply
  22. 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!

    Reply
  23. 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. http://en.chateauversailles.fr/discover/history/day-life-louis-xiv 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.

    Reply
  24. 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. http://en.chateauversailles.fr/discover/history/day-life-louis-xiv 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.

    Reply

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