Successful sheep? LO9927

Eric Bohlman (
Thu, 12 Sep 1996 14:16:12 -0700 (PDT)

Replying to LO9890 --

On Tue, 10 Sep 1996, John Paul Fullerton wrote:

> Today I attended a computer science student meeting and representatives
> from Microsoft were there as part of their interviewing process. I asked
> one of the representatives who is involved in the software development
> process (not necessarily as a programmer) how their developers get needed
> technical information.
> I thought that he would mention an online information system, hopefully
> one of their products that is available for purchase. He said that usually
> one of the other team members or someone working in the same area knows
> the answer, so the main process is to ask a co-worker (who may refer them
> to another co-worker more knowledgeable about the question). The
> effectiveness of their productivity and possibly the reputation for
> "smartness" may give additional significance to the method.
> That's a true AI network (actual intelligence) - the knowledge provider
> may adjust in real time to the understanding and knowledge of the user.

And how different it is from the individual contributor model that most
managers subscribe to. Most organizations would want their employees to
"do the work *yourself*" (if you view the purpose of work as "avoiding
idleness" then the traditional view makes a lot of sense. If you view its
purpose as "transforming something to make it more valuable" then
Microsoft's way makes a lot more sense. Guess which view contributes more
to the bottom line?). To a traditional manager, Microsoft's developers
are slackers; they're minimizing the amount of effort they need to put in
to get a task done, and even "worse" they're minimizing the amount of
effort the whole *group* needs to put in. Traditional American values
(300 Newt-years of American culture!) favor *maximizing* individual effort
(though it doesn't so great when you phrase it as "minimizing the amount
of work you can accomplish for a given amount of effort"). But when the
work involves problem-solving rather than repetitive grind-it-out
production, the traditional model requires the organization to pay people
to do work *that's already been done*; when one person works to solve a
problem and then another person works to solve the *same* problem because
he's unaware of the previous solution, you've got the "knowledge worker"
version of scrap and rework.

One of the sicker aspects of our society is that a lot of "discipline" in
the schools (and most Americans believe we need lots more of it) amounts
to systematic attempts to make sure that students learn *not* to work the
way Microsoft's developers do.

The majority of Americans, when told how Microsoft's development teams
work, would conclude that a few high-IQ, high-SAT individual achievers
were doing all the actual work and that everyone else was just deadwood;
it's a joke among psychologists that anyone who's asked about his
experiences on a team (other than an athletic one, for some reason) always
remembers himself as being the one who did almost all the work himself
while everyone else slacked (is there a formal term for a belief process
where people believe things that, while individually plausible, are
collectively impossible? Another example would be the typical American's
belief that Congress consists of three statesmen and 532 scoundrels).

Americans seem to think that Real Men don't stand on the shoulders of
giants. We value our independence to the point that we systematically
limit what we can achieve to what we can do all by ourselves. It reminds
me of the person with a progressive disability who refuses to use a
wheelchair because that would mean a loss of independence, and "achieves"
that independence by never leaving his/her home. Of course, this kind of
"independence" is a powerful conservative force; any attempts to change a
system are going to be David vs. Goliath struggles.

Eric Bohlman (


Eric Bohlman <>

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