There are No True Emergencies

There are No True Emergencies

My wife shared this little gem with me last night as we were talking about the culture in higher education and our tendency to meet all the time. I was thinking it was specific to higher education as I haven’t been in industry for 12 or so years and at that time it was a small start up where we had lots to keep us continuously busy. I especially like the part about managers … how many of us (I’m a manager) perceive our needs for updates and information to more important than the people we manage. I think there is a huge lesson to take away from open conversations like the one Jason Fried (from 37signals.com) engages in throughout the video. In so many ways it shows us that we may need to rethink the way we create emergencies and have to react to them nearly every single day within our organizations and instead think about the work that should be getting done as the goal.

“And the truth of the matter is, there are really no true emergencies in business.” I love it … now to remember it.

6 thoughts on “There are No True Emergencies

  1. Even in academia our workplace is “optimized for interruptions.” As a progress in my career I find I do a great piece of my “real work” during off hours because my day is over-scheduled by others. And it only seems to get more so as I look up the line.
    I know we try different ways to avoid this phenomena but we’ve yet to get it right. We need to keep plugging away at this. Especially because we want our folks to build in time for reflection as a means for growth.

  2. Jeff, I agree. For some reason we allow our days to be overboked and end up getting things done at night and weekends. I even find myself up at 5:30 AM doing email just to catch up on the stuff from 9 or 10 the night before. What I’d love to think about is how we mandate a shutting off from meetings for at least an hour each day — imagine if the whole office didn’t schedule meetings from 2-3 every single day. Would that change things for us? I just loved the video and thought I’d post … thanks for the comment!

  3. I left this comment over at one of my blogs (http://bradkozlek.posterous.com/interruptions-and-emergencies) but I thought I’d post it here too:
    I think it is a technology thing. Back when the main mode to communicate electronically was telephones, there was no way to talk to someone that wasn’t right next to you with out using the telephone. The telephone would ring, it would be your job to answer it and talk to the person on the other end. Now with email, basecamp, IM, etc, it is more up to the receiver to decide when or if she will respond. Of course the downside of this is that there is no limit to amount of requests for communication one can receive. Since I have an email address, literally anyone in the world can request a slice of my time. While I am talking on one phone call, no one else can be also be talking to me (although I suppose they could be leaving a voice mail). Perhaps the difference between phone and email is that it takes both parties just as long to be engaged. If it takes me five minutes to engage in the communication, the person on the other end is tied up during that time. Contrast this with an email that may take the sender 30 seconds to compose, but the response requires 30 minutes.
    Anyway, back to the video. I am not sure what to think about this vision. One on hand, I agree that we need less interruption, less meetings, managers of one, and that technology can help enable an organization to function this way. One the other hand, there seems something strange that I cannot quite put into words about an office full of people working all day without talking to each other. This comes back to something I was wondering about lately: why do we even congregate in the same physical space anyway? Would we have more productivity if everyone just worked at their favorite coffeeshop, living room, library? I would be curious to see how much time the teams of three mentioned spend time physically interacting.
    I do agree with the premise of this post though. In our workplace, we don’t deal with matters of life and death. There are no true emergencies.

  4. Yeah….I’ve been thinking about this kind of thing a lot in the last two months. We haven’t had an operations meeting since January and I don’t think we’ve missed anything. We haven’t had a Rogue Team meeting for quite some time, but we’re getting things done.
    It seems as though the normal one-hour meetings have been replaced by more spontaneous mini-meetings around particular issues. It’s actually more interrupt-based than the scheduled meetings, but so much shorter and productive that I like it. Plus I’m an extrovert, so I really prefer to talk with people instead of creating e-mail threads from hell that last days or weeks. Those may not be interruptions, but it creates a lot of issues that hang in the ether and remain unresolved.
    The manager-of-one philosophy is great, but that means that we have to encourage all of our staff to step up and lead from where they are and understand how what they are doing fits into the strategic direction of the unit (which I totally endorse).
    But I agree that there are no true emergencies. That helps to put things into perspective.
    LOL…it’s 10:30 p.m. and I’m using this time to catch up on e-mail. Oh well, I’m not complaining.

  5. Brad, Allan, and Jeff … thanks for your thoughtful comments. What struck me about the video is the view that so many of us generate emergency situations to spin our staff up and engage them. I think it is a tactic that is largely unnecessary in an organization like ours where our team is really engaged and motivated. Perhaps there was a time when we had to launch into 911 mode to get people to react and while we aren’t yet perfect about maintaining and sharing information we are getting really good at it.
    Do we need a physical space? I say yes … but that doesn’t mean we need to spend all of our time in it. We are getting set to renovate and it will force lots of us to not show up at the office — that will be telling. I am afraid that the relative inflexible structures of our policies limit peoples’ willingness to work in other locations … ever fill out paperwork to ask to work one day a week at home? I also think our culture needs to undergo a massive change so that managers realize the outcomes are more important than controlling the workflow. I work so much better when I have the space to focus on my challenges in a fashion that fits my style. When I am pushed and pressed I get a bit resentful and lack the proper motivation to achieve the results I am satisfied with.
    All in all the video is a reminder of how difficult it has become to strike a balance between productive and invisible. I am reminded of how lots of my friends in industry work out in the open with little distraction, but disappear into rooms to collaborate … sort of the opposite of the way we do it. I wonder if our culture could *ever* handle a swing like that?

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: