I sit next to the photocopier at work.
About 3 times a day somebody printing some papers off will ask me if I have a stapler they can borrow, to staple their papers together.
This is a question I am asked predictably. It is my single most common type of demand. Is this a value demand though? Well, it is caused by a failure to do something, the failure of the photocopier to staple things automatically as people want, so it is probably a failure demand. But at least it is a predictable demand.
However I do not own a stapler.
So my capability at meeting demand, whether it is value or failure, is zero.
Regardless, I think that my purpose, if derived from my surroundings, would be to offer paper stapling services. I could do this! This isn’t beyond my ability to change and move with the times.
However what is beyond my ability is to change work and make it go all systemsy. Which is entirely fine, cos the people who are in charge of the design and management of work are actually the managers here, that’s their job, and if everybody else was also changing the design and management of the work then it would be total chaos.
So I just stick to carrying out my duties in as avuncular and self deprecating manner as seems fit. I describe myself as a copy-and-paster, and enjoy acting out my role of “corporate harlot“, not being bothered about the authenticity or actual worth of the work as long as blocks of text or tables of numbers are passed to me by some arbitrary deadline for me to spiff up and make it look nice and apply a spell check, if this happens, then all is good.
The metaphor I use is pipes and plumbing.
Imagine a sequence of pipes connecting people. People all over the council send me things, it is my job to ensure that there are pipes there connecting me and them so this stuff can flow between me and them.
It ISN’T my job to be concerned about the stuff that flows through the pipes. If it is sewage or clean fresh water is immaterial, what matters is that it flows. So I’m a plumber, which is a fine and noble profession.
Talk like this tends to alarm people. I’ve noticed they act like I’ve just started talking about my hemorrhoids or something, lean back in their seat and try and pretend I’m not saying these awful words. Like it is dangerous talk. Now I’m being polite really, cos I think the same about most corporate work, in a normal ordinary command and control organisation this type of work is mainly waste with little chance of being good for the end client/customer/resident. But strutting around pointing out the pointlessness of others work isn’t polite, so I stick to my own.
This is not the ideal way to pass the time, but time is going to pass anyway. I boldly claimed at the top of this post that in some way “My Purpose” is to be revealed by Thor within the post, and all I’ve talked about is staple providing services and a metaphor about plumbing. Locating and articulating purpose in an entertaining or educational way, why you might expect something, especially given the name of this blog but it might not be possible at an individual level, especially when I don’t have a self-defined purpose. All systems have a purpose, but not necessarily a node within it.
Handily I found a thing about a phrase or word that the man who invented
Lean the Toyota Production System used to describe anything that wasn’t work….moving around. Here it is…
He taught people to call all motion that adds value to products “truly working.” Motion that is not adding value is simply called “moving around.”
By clearly separating the use of these symbols, he taught trainees how to tell the difference between non-value-added work and value-added work by creating awareness of that difference with his creative use of spelling.
In this way, he shows us that the most effective approach is to eliminate unnecessary “moving around (動) ” and create “true work (働)” with the full participation of the shop floor as the first step.
I love this. Moving around, if you’re not doing value work than may as well be flapping your arms about a bit. Now if you’re a typist like me, value work and waste work isn’t moving around, it’s typing.
Or as Thor describes it here “Hitting the machine with the words that come out of it“. See, I got to the point in the end. My purpose is to hit the machine with the words that come out of it. Like I’m doing right now.
So if I hit the machine in the right way, then the words that come out of it please people, and it contributes to the gaiety of the organisation in some way. I’m under no illusion that this can possibly change or improve because the thinking of top management cannot change. Well it could, obviously, but it won’t.
Performance management/reporting/ analysis/whatever is a system condition, a symptom of management thinking, so we’re lumped with it. Whilst decision making is separate from the work, then the decision makers will need reports to make these decisions, and I’ll continue to hit the machine to make the words come out.