SHUT UP AND MAKE THE GODDAM WIDGET, ALREADY: There has been a lot of pissing and moaning, especially since the departure of Bill Clinton, about what is "wrong" with the American economy. Sure, the aftereffects of 9/11 have and will continue to have enormous repercussions—the terrorists knew that and it was probably at least as much a reason for the attacks as the appeal (to them) of mass murder—and there is frequent lamenting of "shaky consumer/investor confidence" which can largely be attributed to spoiled baby-boomers and high-rolling seniors who failed to understand that the stock market is not necessarily a one-way up-elevator. Be all that as it may; a more serious underlying cause of our economic downturn is much more fundamental. It’s that many Americans have, basically, quit working.

And I don’t mean the unemployed either, God love ‘em.

Look at it this way: almost all of us, in one way or another, are employed in the process of making widgets. Be it a good or a service, Mr. A is building something or "doing" something that will be purchased by Ms. B for X amount of money. Some of that money will contribute directly to the American economy and some will go to support the functions of government. That’s it, in a nutshell. That’s the structure of free enterprise.

Let me introduce a phrase here and see if I get any raised eyebrows: meeting industry. If you caught on, good for you. If not, allow me to explain why this was not a non-sequitur, although I certainly wish it was.

The problem is this. More and more of us, no matter what line of work we’re in, spend more and more of our time in meetings. There is, yes, even a burgeoning meeting industry--something that was practically nonexistent ten years ago.

I think my own situation is fairly typical. I do PC and network support for a large government agency. The widget I produce—functioning computer systems and more productive employees—is not an inconsequential part of our business. Yet, if I were so inclined, I could structure my week in such a way as to spend fifty percent or even more of my time in meetings (I don’t—I go to an average of one meeting per month, the only one I absolutely cannot get out of). And now the infection has seeped deeper into the tissue of most corporate cultures, through the further inroads of "seminars" and "employee development." [NOTE: by "seminars" I do not mean a convention in which our apps developers are introduced to the newest Java-script technologies, and by "employee development" I do not mean job-specific educational opportunities. No, I mean seminars like "Boom in the Bust: Dealing with Change and Stress" or "Adapting to Carpooling for Managerial Personnel". And by "employee development" I refer to employer-sponsored classes in Kundalini Yogic Breathing and Volleyball.] The deal is this: We work for our employers. We do a job for them, for which they pay us money. That’s it. They are not our babysitters and they do not (or SHOULD not) have any responsibility or say in what we do in our off-hours. We are not their "family." That’s what we have our own families for. Soft-focus beliefs like this, on both sides of the employer-employee fence, are beginning to destroy the American economy.

And let’s face it: The real function of our current meeting-obsession is to avoid actual work, scarf free goodies, and pontificate or chitchat. Or worse: more and more employees "pre-register" for meetings to which they have little or nothing to contribute so that they can sit in the back of the room and play games on their PDAs. Our national corporate culture has evolved to a point where many meetings are so fuzzily defined, and the reasons for holding them at all so questionable, that basically anyone in the organization can think of some reason why they should attend. Long gone are the days when meetings were reserved for developers and engineers in mid-project, or senior management plotting the fiscal strategy for the next quarter. Those are viable reasons to hold meetings—and, obviously, the list of invitees will be quite specific.

There are very few other reasons to hold meetings. Let’s face it, folks—there just aren’t. We’ve all got real work to do. The American economy itself relies upon us all doing our jobs, at least most of the time.

So can we all shut up now and make the goddam widget?

posted by Alois 07/02/03