Re: The Efficiency Experts

by The Inmate

The technocrats suffer from character defects which have to do with their inability to maintain any links between reason, common sense and morality.

—John Ralston Saul, Voltaire’s Bastards

Steve Hall sat in his small cubicle in a large building that was part of an even larger corporation: INC Incorporated.  In front of him a small blip of light skipped from place to place on his computer screen as he dumped a second pack of sugar into his sixth cup of coffee.  It was 11:00 a.m.  Down the hall the Human Resources Department worked out the details of a new employee incentive program.  The HR Specialist and the HR Generalist had disagreed whether to award points or certificates of merit to the 6,000 employees in the field who knew exactly what they wanted but knew they would never get.  Three floors up a Total Quality Management (TQM) representative addressed 300 executives and managers who would leave the next day for an important business convention in San Diego.  Any convention in Southern California was important.  Thirty-eight floors up the CEO negotiated with the board of directors for a million dollar raise and another million in bonuses because of all the money he had saved the company by freezing wage increases for a year.  Down by the water cooler half a dozen INC. Inc. Junior Vice-Presidents argued about who would make it to the NBA playoffs while around the corner in the lunchroom a Senior Vice-President cussed because no one had brewed a new pot of coffee.  Outside in the parking lot a well-dressed man stole a BMW that would soon be parked in a warehouse where it would be dismantled and the parts sold in a far more efficient manner than INC Inc. could ever hope to attain.  Across the nation at hundreds of construction sites INC employees engaged in the activity by which INC Incorporated made its money: ditch digging.

Steve Hall worked for the Quality Assurance department of INC Inc. and was busy contemplating his new assignment: devise a better, more efficient way to dig a ditch.  The problem had perplexed him for several weeks.  He had read several field reports, held four meetings with his QA staff, made several motion study charts, built a sandbox where he constructed several scale models of ditches and watched a PBS special on the Grand Canyon before finally deciding it was time for he and his staff to go to an actual ditch digging and watch actual ditch diggers dig ditches.  INC Inc. was the premier ditch digging company in the United States.

Two months later Steve and his staff arrived at a construction site in a white mini-van.  After exiting the van they removed their coats, loosened their ties and put on white construction hats.  The foreman put his shovel down, brushed off his shirt and rolled his eyes at several INC Inc. ditch diggers then walked toward group.

“What can we do for you boys today?”

“We’d like to view a ditch digging, Ralph,” Steve said.  “I don’t think you’ve met the rest of my staff.  This is John Richards, the Western Region Field Engineer.  This is Jordan McClintok, the Southern Region Field Engineer.  And this is Harry Williams our Northern Region Field Engineer.  Harry came aboard this month.”  They shook hands with the foreman.  “Harry did his doctoral dissertation on ditch digging.  He’s going to be a real asset.”

“Well, boys, there are plenty of ditches here,”  Ralph said as he adjusted his orange construction helmet.  “Go ahead, make assets of yourselves.”

The small group walked slowly to a ditch where INC Inc.’s Bill Havel dug.  He worked at a consistent, rhythmic pace, never acknowledging his audience.  Jordan pulled out a video camera and began filming.

Harry pulled his cellular phone out, dialed a number, then spoke.  “This is Harry Williams at INC Inc., how long you going to be? . . . Excellent!”  He turned to the rest of the group.  “Helicopter will be here shortly.”

“You know what I’m wondering,” John said as he raised his hand to his mouth, nodded his head several times then pointed at Bill.  “How about a bigger shovel head.  One twice that size.  It would slow him down a little, but since each shovel full would be bigger he’d get more work done.”

“I was thinking just the opposite,” Steve said with the gravity of heart surgeon.  “With a smaller shovel head he could work much faster since he would expend less energy per shovel full and though each shovel full would be less than what he is shoveling now his frequency would be twice his current one.”

“That’s a lot of money to spend on new shovels,” Harry retorted.  “If we could make this easier for him he could work faster with the same shovel.  Look at the angle he approaches the dirt.  Lessen that by five degrees, increase the pounds per square inch he uses to drive the shovel, increase the frequency he impales the shovel into the ground, not by the 100% you are advocating but by say, 37.67% and if my calculations are correct productivity will go up by–”  Harry paused while he worked on a calculator, “–23. 34%.”

“Decrease our ditch digging staff by almost a quarter,”  Jordan added.

“Hey!” Steve yelled to the ditch digger.  Bill slowly and disgustedly looked up.  “I wonder if you might try something that we think will make your job easier.”  Bill was about to speak, but Steve continued.  “Swing your shovel handle down a little–that’s right–then push harder with your foot when you go to get a scoop.”

“Look–” Bill began.

“Just lower the handle a bit–that’s it–now–good!”  Bill pushed the head of the shovel into the ground with a much force as possible.  “You really stomped that into the ground.  Almost looked like you were angry at that shovel.  Great attitude!  Can we see that again?  We have a helicopter overhead and we’re making a video so that we can teach everyone else our better method.”

Bill dug with a fervor that had never been seen in his entire twenty-three years of digging ditches.  Dirt flew out of the hole in all directions as the helicopter crew worked in several different camera angles.  After five minutes Bill stopped, shoved his shovel into the ground and with sweat pouring down his face said, “How was that?”

“Perfect!” Steve said.  “They got every bit of it.”

The four men stepped down into the hole on the cool, brown, slightly moist soil to shake hands with Bill.

“I think you’ll see how much better this will be for you.”

“No doubt,” Bill said.

“Great job!”  Harry said.  “It’s–ah–“

“Bill.  Bill Havel.”

“Well, Bill, it’s always good to get back out into the field.  You know, I used to be a ditch digger.”

“No kidding?” Bill responded resting with both hands on the handle of the shovel looking as disinterested as possible.

“Yeah, and deep down, I think I’ll always be a ditch digger.”  Harry bent over and dug his fingers into the dirt.  He raised a handful of it while slowly working it with his fingers until it had all fallen back to the ground.  “I really miss being out here.”

“I’ll bet.”

Steve yelled to the foreman, “Can you get us some shovels down here?”  Ralph brought four shovels and Steve handed him a camera.  “Could you get some pictures of us?”  The four men stood around Bill, first holding the shovels next to them like scepters, then in front of them with a scoop of dirt and finally as if they were actually digging.  Ralph snapped a dozen pictures one of which appeared a month later on the front cover of INC. Inc.’s employee newsletter, Dig It!   with the following caption: “Ditch digger Bill Havel gets help from INC. Inc.’s Field Engineers.  See story on page 3.”

Six months later INC. Inc.’s new ditch digging video arrived at INC. Inc. satellite stations nationwide.  Every ditch digger who worked for INC. Inc. sat through a four hour seminar where the video was shown, a lecture about ditch digging and job satisfaction was given, a test was taken and a round table discussion took place.  Corporate headquarters congratulated their field engineers on what a fine job they had done.   When the ditch diggers returned to the field they dug ditches the way they always had, except that for the next few days the jokes were exceptionally good.

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