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Tuesday Hatred of Targets

If you’re not working in a big organization you might not know, but the rest of us are being managed by objectives. The people so managing us are convinced they are being SMART about it. The fact is that they are smarter than we are, as is clear from the fact that we have been stupid enough to put up with it for so long. They sell it to us like diet pills are sold to those addicted to sugar: as a replacement addiction. Suddenly we should feel liberated from micro-management when the only ones liberated are those managing us: liberated from caring about the actual human beings that do the actual day-by-day work.

If you are working in a big organization (and you’re a bit of an a***hole) you may find this amusing: the rest of them are being targeted as well. As politicians increasingly see themselves as entrepreneurs (mostly forgetting the adjective ‘failed’), they want in on the magic. This means they want all of the control and none of the taking-an-interest. They want to be liberal and eat our cake too. Above all they want us to feel different from the others who haven’t achieved independence. Divide …

Let me use my newly found independence to say something about managing for performance: it’s inhuman because it sets out to eliminate the specifically human uncertainties from the process. That is enough to stop doing it. More than enough to start questioning it. Forget about it not working. Forget about the appeal to intuition (diet pill ads appeal to your intuition as well). It is anti-human and we should not put up with it. Out of principle. Full stop.

I’m not the first to say this, see Geert Hofstede (1978):

Schermafbeelding 2014-08-18 om 20.14.55

In other words: the sole reason for reducing us to targets is to discharge one human being (called: the manager) to give a flying fuck about any other human beings (as are variously called: the employee, the citizen, the colleague and even the customer). Henry Ford invented a process for assembling machines by treating human beings as machines. Most powerful people since then have dreamed about a future in which machines would be smart enough to replace the human beings in that process. This desire is chiefly due to the fact that they found themselves to be intelligent and others stupid. Finally they realized this cybernetic view had its limitations because machines are, hmmmm, intrinsically stupid. When they realized they were stuck with human erratic behavior, they adapted their dream into simply ignoring our erratic nature (and calling it: free time) and managing us like a type of subroutine that could only run on a human brain. They are trying to program us by objectives.

It doesn’t work but on slides it looks efficient and effective and all those other eff-ing words. 

And that’s what counts because they are managed by objectives as well so nobody would listen to something else.

But in the end, and we all know this because we wouldn’t take any of this from our friends or family: it’s not the outcome that counts. It is purely and precisely how we get there. Because we want to get there. We really do. We just don’t know what way is the best way. Nobody knows. We’ll get there because we’re intelligent human beings solving shit. We just need some kindness along the way. Kindness is not just the opposite of clarity. It’s true that nobody wants somebody to regulate all of their lives; when to get up (badge in) or go to sleep (badge out). Nobody wants that clarity but nobody wants the clarity of: do this and be done with it on time (or else …). We don’t need a failed target or a bad performance to know either somebody needs help or, as the case may be, another job. 

By the way, logically there can be no difference between the outcome and the way to get there because if it could be calculated (the one reduced to the other) then no human beings need to be involved. Ask a jazz musician what is the most important: the act of creation or the creation? Tell your children: “Kindness is superfluous as long as the job gets done”. Hold that (some might actually think this is the way to raise children. No, just imagine your loved ones telling you to stop nagging about what you’re doing and report back when it’s done. Specifically when you’re down. Treat people managing you by objectives in exactly the same way you would treat your loved one refusing to give you some love.

Human beings need kindness. We need the Principle of Charity and The Maxim of Co-operation to be the first things in how we interact, not some background values that become important only AFTER the targets are clear. We’re not rockets which wait to be fired somewhere. Clarity does NOT come first. Kindness does. The doing comes before the done. You need kindness. To learn something and to work together. Our first relationship between human beings is not a business relationship. That view, as popular as it may be nowadays, is simply and (not simply) demonstrably false. Yes we need to talk about where we want to go and whether we are on track but that are just two attributes helping to make the journey pleasant.



August 19, 2014 - Posted by | economics, innovative technologies that shape our lives, politics, Tuesday Hatred, waking up in a cold sweat


  1. Oddly, I have been doing some freelance research assistance in the field of Organization Development, and even came across Hofstede while helping prepare a paper for submission to a conference. OD as a field seems to posit a world in which the leaders of large organizations want nothing more than to maximize the quality of life and personal development of their subordinates. It’s often hard to remember that they’re talking about modern corporations, instead of some sort of grown-up day care. I’d be fascinated to actually see a professional in action.

    Comment by Josh K-sky | August 19, 2014

  2. I have been such a professional at times. The thing is that as individuals we do our best but, specifically in OD, it’s a lot of newspeak with mostly good intentions that hangs as a fog over the real deal. There is a lot of good stuff (& I certainly always tried to do something positive) but look at it as psycho-analysis: I guess it can help, but if they’re at the same time continuing to abuse you, there are more important solutions to the problem.

    Modern large organizations have a wealth of bull-shit that disguises the fact that people are not treated as people. At this point I’m not even sure whether it takes even one evil genius to keep that ball rolling, maybe it is much like global warming … it doesn’t take a single person to actually want that for it to still happen.

    Comment by JoB | August 20, 2014

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