Written 27 June 2000

Dawson Rambo <drambo at> wrote:

[. . .] that time, $NATIONAL_ISP was monitoring calls for "performance" grading for something called (sensitive readers, shield your eyes) "Quantum Quality Measurement."

That's perfect! It captures the randomness of such metrics and how the act of imposing the measurement changes the thing being observed.

Would that other policy initiatives were so inspirationally named. How about:

  • Brownian Reorganization Initiative
  • Monte Carlo Salary Adjustments
  • Heisenberg's God Performance Review

At a company I used to work for a number of initiatives were rolled out which were intended to make the company a better place to work for and more responsive to the needs of its employees. Some were announced and never heard from again, some were reduced and reduced until there was nothing left, and others were scaled down, tried once, and never mentioned again.

One example was "periscope". The idea was that one day a year everyone in the company would meet with the rest of their department and talk about the hopes, ideals, and goals that ones department normally never even has time to think about, basically because the company operated in a perpetual emergency mode for no apparent reason and this precluded planning much more than a day or two ahead. But I digress.

I kind of liked the idea. The name "periscope" was intended to reflect the fact that this was one day during the year that you could (metaphorically) stick your head up, survey the scene, and think about what you should really be doing. (I suggested that the other days of the year be called "ostrich days" but this was not taken up.)

So this was cool, it was going to be a full day to discuss this stuff. Well, OK, a while after it was first announced it was cut down to half a day. Um, and eventually they decided to cut it down to two hours. But it was still going to be two hours when the company was going to shut down and we were going to be able to talk about the awesome things we wanted to do and were hopefully capable of.

The systems department's meeting was held in the law offices next door (since we didn't have enough conference rooms for all the departments). These law offices belonged to a couple of mafia lawyers; shortly before I started working in the building the FBI came and raided them, and later on one of the receptionists told us that one of the lawyers was in the witness protection program. We were warned that we should not directly talk about any potentially illegal activities the company might be engaged in (software piracy) while in the conference room as it might be bugged.

So we trouped into the room and had the meeting, which was great. The head of systems, not a pointy-haired boss in any sense of the word, whipped both himself and his team into enthusiasm. We talked about some current deficiencies and what things would be like if we fixed things up the way we wanted. We talked security policy, we talked air conditioning, we talked policies--it's impossible to describe what it was like. The overall sensation was one of, "Yes, this is the way things ought to be, and if we work towards them it is quite possible that we can get a lot of them. We are capable of great things." It was a magic two hours.

Afterwards, of course, nobody in the company ever spoke of Periscope again, and another was never scheduled. The message of the meeting, "we are capable of great things," quickly came to have an implicit "if only these bastards would quit jerking us around," and morale fell back down to its usual low level.

This was something random written by Jacob Haller. To see another random thing, click here. To get a permanent link to this particular random thing, click here.



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