A Masterclass in Corporate Boondoggling
Everywhere I look in Corporate America I see people gaming the system: They’re not trying to figure out how to deliver quality work. Quite the opposite, they’ve mastered the art of looking busy and productive while in fact generating jack squat.
Example 1: Chang Zang – “Technical Architect”. First of all, nobody knows what a “Technical Architect” is. Thus, nobody really knows what our teammate is supposed to be doing. He also has a thick accent. Very thick. I can understand maybe 40% of what he says, on a good day. In today’s politically correct world, nobody (including me) has the guts to point out the obvious: We have no idea what the hell he’s saying. Every time he finishes talking there is a long silence or an unconvincing “that makes sense” comment. Last but not least, my man creates Excel documents or Visio documents that are so complex and esoteric that nobody could ever make sense of them. You’d have to bring in the professor from the Da Vinci Code to sleuth out what the heck is going on. Rest assured, none of this is an accident. He’s a smart guy and he knows exactly what’s up: Put together some complex looking document, “explain” it to us knowing full well that nobody has any idea what he is saying, clock out at 4, collect that paycheck.
Example 2: Jim Wendall – “Senior Managing Director”: My boss in 2012 was one of the nicest people in the world, also kind of a moron. To his credit, he’d admit as much, frequently. One day I told him over Happy Hour: “Jim, you keep ragging on yourself for not being that bright, but you’re pretty high up in the organization so you must be doing something right.” He flashed a huge smile and said that he trusts me not to say anything. He then reached into his coat pocket and brought out the world’s largest memory stick. The thing was about the size of a cucumber!
“In 1996 I started saving every single final document or presentation I created or someone on my team created. Now I just send them to you young guys and have you clean them up.”
Apparently around 2009 he crossed the desired threshold – he never had to create a new document again. His corporate recycling program had reached 100% efficiency. Two beers later Jim admitted that he spends most of his workday planning drills for his son’s High School Football team that he coaches.
Example 3: Jeff Potino - Office Drunk: “Fuck man, I’m sorry I was late. I woke up 10 minutes before the meeting in my car, surrounded by McDonalds wrappers.” Jeff was not our summer intern. He was a Director and my boss. Smart guy but limited work ethic and perpetually hungover or outright absent. His skillset: Drinking and delegating. The emails he would forward me were a cascade of shame. VP asks an executive director to research something, one sentence forward to a Managing Director, forwarded again to Jeff, forwarded to me – the junior consultant. The worst part was that Jeff would come in hungover at 11 AM, stop by my desk to inquire about the research effort, and then tell me that “this was a huge opportunity for me”. Fuck you bro. Five hours and an ample lunch break later and Jeff was out the door to go drinking with the CEO. Delegate to competent people and drink with the right people. Work output: Absolute Zero. Jeff gamed the system like nobody I’ve ever met.
It’s all such a ruse. 85+% of office work is a complete and utter waste of time, energy and resources. It’s worse and more soul crushing than a hamster wheel. Sure, the hamster doesn’t go anywhere but at least he burns some calories and probably gets an exercise-induced endorphin rush. No such satisfaction on my end.
I sometimes ask my colleagues and clients questions like: “What is the goal we are trying to achieve through this effort?” or “Could this exercise be done in a more efficient way?”. These inquiries are met with restrained rage; three seconds of silence followed by a change of subject. I’m sure they talk shit about me behind my back. “What’s this nonsense about efficiency and achieving actual goals? Didn’t this guy get the memo?” or “We have a turd in the punchbowl!”
It’s probably time to fully embrace the boondoggle. I’ll fake a thick accent at my next job, demand a nebulous job title, beg Jim to make me a copy of his legendary memory stick, and scout out where the top brass goes for cocktails. I’ll also try and keep a straight face when I tell the recent college grads that I’m bestowing them with a “growth opportunity” in between bites of my cold, soggy Big Mac.