Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Franklin Covey

Let's begin today with another gem from a Starbucks cup. This nugget of wisdom comes from Vik Muniz, Brazilian photographer:

In an age when pictures have become more eloquent than words, schools are still programmed to reduce the child's immersive interaction with the visual world to the practical poverty of the alphabet. Visual literacy should become a pedagogical priority in order to prepare our children to function within the increasingly visual complexity of our environment.

Ohhhhh man. What's the hell is wrong with these Brazilians? First they give us Blanca from Street Fighter and his unnatural ability to electrically charge his entire body, and now we get Vik Muniz and his bald idiocy. Though I really want to deconstruct every single phrase of his cup quote, I think we've beaten that horse enough. I'll only point out that Vik chose to make his argument using (gasp) words! Shouldn't he have expressed his thought through a photo of a Sao Paulo slum, or something? You know, what with the practical poverty of the alphabet and all?

Okay. So, Franklin Covey sells "Time Management". ... And maybe, maybe I could just end this post right there. Everything I'm going to tell you in the next eight pages of text is pretty much all there in the first sentence.

My friends from my old job will know what I'm talking about - and yes, this still steams me and gets me agitated to this day - but one day at work I was told to attend this surprise all-day workshop being held by Franklin Covey, mandatory for all staff, to learn about time management and better productivity.

The four hour presentation that followed can only be described as useless, boring, frustrating, awkward, and whatever the adjective for bullshit is. Seriously, with the hindsight I now have (having gone through two years of MBA schooling where I have sat through enough management theory and productivity theory to almost be able to speak that zombie language myself) I can tell you with certainty that the Franklin Covey shtick is as pure as bullshit gets. It really is bullshit. If you can truly come away from a Franklin Covey workshop on time management with a bold new outlook on getting your life in order, then a) your life is in bad shape, and b) you are an easily dazzled fool.

Do you think maybe that in an age with Blackberrys and mobile officing and wireless networks and mobile conferences, etc. that the entire business concept of Franklin Covey - based around the idea of a bulky day-planner system of time management, complete with multi-colored pens to assign different levels of task importance - well, that it's about as current and relevant as a wood paneled station wagon?

Real management theory is about the balancing act of using incentives, positive reinforcement and mental stimulation to get the maximum productivity out of your workforce. It's about fostering a culture of teamwork, camaraderie and loyalty in the workplace and getting everyone invested.

Bullshit management theory is about buzzwords, catchphrases, quotes from great men, acronyms that spell out positive messages, and, frankly, the idea that a four hour workshop on time management can do a single, goddamn thing. Bullshit management theory is the idea that you can put up a poster that offers Buddha-lite advice like this:

Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up.
It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed.
Every morning, a lion wakes up.
It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death.
It doesn't matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle.
When the sun comes up, you better start running.

...and think that it's going to make anyone file or collate or data-sort or word-process just a little bit better. Ironic, don't you think, that we were pulled away with no warning from actual pressing tasks to hear a four hour lecture on time management? It's like the old joke about the nurse who wakes up the patient to tell him it's time for his nap. Bullshit management theory is about thinking you can hire some doofus with a powerpoint show to come in and talk to your staff, and suddenly everyone's going to give you more productivity.

Let me tell you something about the message I got from Franklin Covey in the workshop. Franklin Covey would have you believe that you need to plan out every minute of every day with gestapo efficiency - backing up their philosophy with non sequitur bromides like "Put the big rocks in first!" - all the while treating you like you must have the mental capacity, patience, and attention span of a screech monkey. It's one thing to be pulled out of work to hear a seminar with lousy advice, it's another thing to get lectured to like a schoolchild, and it's yet something else to find out that in the end it was all just a four hour sales pitch for a spiral binder.

Look, here's the real truth. You want more productivity out of the team? Block the internet. I know it would be cruel, and you'd hear no end of it - but there it is. If someone has the choice of a) doing some tedious task, and b) going to, (and they're not being supervised) they will go to espn. If the choice is between the tedious task and staring at the ceiling tiles, they'll do the tedious task. There's your four hour seminar, and it was free.

And if you want even more efficiency, get some of them four colored pens! You know, the pens where you push down on a particular side to get a different color? One pen - that does the work of four! Think of the desktop space you could save; space that was previously taken by so many, many pens! One pen! One beautiful, glorious pen! Yes!


Matt Vella said...

The remark about being akin to a screech monkey made me laugh pretty damn hard. Great post.

jungle said...

you hit it right on the head.

and it applies to every single group activity that human beings (and probably more than one non-human species)engage in.

keep up the good work, you're doing a great job.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't disagree with you more. You mentioned a lot about what good theory and bad theory is. That however is the the paradigm you have, in my opinion. The challenge that even most MBA programs don't address is executing the "good" management theories and strategic plans. Much of the time, failure to execute is a direct result of lack of focus AND poor time management. As a business owner, I understand that not everyone will benefit from ALL that is being said at these types of seminars. I am however, happy if it could mean a better time management outlook from a handful of my team members. Unfortunately, there are individuals such as yourself that, at times, lend pre-judgment to others who could benefit from these sessions. Like most other things, you get out of it what you put into it. So your post makes perfect sense.

YoungandStupid said...

Haha, yeah I couldn't agree more about the physical planners. He needs to develop some kind of Iphone App to sell to people with the program, that's where the big money is.

Ohh wait David Allen of "Getting Things Done" has already done it!

Although I do think there are things you can do to increase personal efficiency, some of these planning people would have you spend 4 hours every day on your planning system, instead of actually getting your shit done!

Blocking the internet would certainly help, may you could offer some kind of alternative like a library of classic literature? Or maybe something that would increase your employee's intellect. Err well I guess you don't want to increase it TOO much, because then they might find their job meaningless and move onto something else!

Bobby said...

God help me, you are brilliant. Although, I disagree with some of the debate on imagery--as with most things, a happy medium should be pursued. There is value in words and images and, with substantial increases in the volume of advertisement messages we receive on a daily basis, this society is becoming more image-focused. It is only a trend. Great post--again, you are brilliant!