Sunday, November 30, 2008

Define: "Busy People"

This is something that has massive significance in my life, so I assume you're all interested to hear about it.

There are two kinds of people, Ghandi was told by his father: the people who do the work, and the people who get the credit for it. Try to be in the first group my son, said Ghandi Senior - there's less competition there.

Half a globe and several decades away in Australia today the same concept is true. There are Busy People and the rest. It's a well known concept that if you want something done right you need to ask a Busy Person, so here are some helpful tips for finding them.

First, a brief definition.

The rest spend their mornings in bed, their day time at work earning a living, their afternoons stuck in traffic listening to the radio, and their evenings glued to the TV.

The Busy People (I think I'll call them BPs from now on) spend their mornings frantically reading meeting minutes over breakfast, their day time at work earning a living, their afternoons composing replies to the minutes they read that morning, and their evenings on the phone to other BPs working out exactly how to move their mutual organization forward into the future, bearing in mind that there are a dwindling number of BPs in the world.

The trouble is, BPs are invariably fairly modest about their efforts and achievements, and almost NEVER mention their selfless sacrifices of "life" (whatever that might be). So spotting them (in order to get something done, as above) is often quite a challenge. Here are a few clues.

First of all, you ask them if they saw the footy last night. This doesn't always give a 100% correct answer because some BPs are excellent multithreaders (mothers are almost always BPs, but even in males there's a genetic correlation between BPism and multithreading ability) and can listen to sport on the radio while composing submissions in response to a set of minutes as distributed. Of course if they happen to mention that they only heard bits of it due to the fact that they were concentrating on their submission you have your answer, but most BPs are fairly self-conscious about the image they present to The Rest so they'll usually fudge an answer on the spot. Incidentally they're always fairly good at that sort of thing, it's another genetic correlation.

The next test is to ask them (on Monday morning) how their weekend was. If they talk about washing the car or planning their end of year holiday, it's a fairly good indication that they are not BPs - although again this isn't perfectly reliable because they might have done that for half an hour on Saturday and be maintaining a "normal person" (ie The Rest) type of image in order to fit in with society. Remember that bit about where the competition is?

Further and more accurate tests really need to be done over a fairly long time and a closeish relationship like a workmate in a team of no more than ten people.

The specific tests vary from subject to subject, so I'll just give a sort of word picture of the BP and you can all work out some tests from that.

Structured thinking
The true BP can analyse a situation down to its essentials in less than 3.14159 seconds. We want to save theatre hire overtime costs by bumping in on Monday night instead of Sunday afternoon? We'll need to hire a truck instead of using a van at mates' rates, and we'll lose two hours of our tech run which we'd scheduled on Monday. Will it be a false economy? Circle yes or no. BPs often make snap decisions (although not always) but they're always well thought through and usually the right course of action in the situation.

Operating economies
I've already touched on the way BPs use time economies by doing useful work while eating. They will also create cost economies by using their best buying power (ie what's on special at the shops) to benefit their organizations. Surprisingly, this doesn't actually create much overhead on their brains. They simply have the organization's mental thread running in the background almost all the time. Remember the multithreading ability of most BPs.

Also, they know the limits of their own expertise and will very readily handball matters to other BPs whose expertise matches the situation. Protocol overheads (ie the headers and footers of the job, which have to be spelled out in full when handballing anything) are always very light when matters are moved between true BPs (especially those who have worked together for more than six months), because they know they are working with the same baseline of operating parameters and only specific details have to be conveyed. In handballing situations between The Rest, the "come on, you owe me a favour" packets can sometimes take up more bandwidth than the actual job information itself - an obvious ineconomy.

BP Tools
BPs come in almost every industry so the range of tools used is quite diverse. Pens and paper are almost universal, as is some form of device that allows writing while on the move (laptops, mobile phones with application support, clipboards and pocket notebooks are the most common). BPs also know how to use their tools to the full extent of their capacity, and sometimes even beyond by knowing when the usual safety rules can be broken without actual danger. The downside of this is that the tools of a true BP will usually wear out faster than those used by The Rest. The amount spent by BPs (out of their own pockets, almost invariably) on replacement tools after their unpaid activities have effectively destroyed the originals has never actually been calculated but is thought to be a significant factor in the national economy.

The BP at work
Where does a typical BP work? What kind of companies are worthy of so valuable an individual? Anywhere, actually. Even in government departments, major banks, ASX-listed insurance companies, telephone sanitising contractors and supermarkets. They do all kinds of roles (without exception) and can be spotted in situations like these:

The BP is the one who, while everyone else is taking a tea break, is refilling the sugar and then cleaning the bench where it spilled.

The BP is the one who, while The Rest are clocking off to go home, is making sure the customer is fully satisfied with their purchase.

The BP is the one who, when the building floods because it actually rained for the first time in two years and the drains were full of leaves, wades into the water and rescues a $1500 laptop from the display stand before teaching everyone else how to shovel water into a bucket using a dustpan and brush.

The BP is the one who, if a delivery is delayed, spends extra time clearing the decks for action rather than taking an extended lunch break.

These are just examples by the way. Hopefully by now you're getting enough of a picture to be able to fill in the blanks yourselves.

The BP's appearance
This is actually quite significant.

The BP's car is the rust bucket on wheels, minimum five years old, washed whenever the BP has to go somewhere during real rain. BPs often carry passengers, but if they don't then committee minutes etc will be all over the back seat.

The BP's clothes will seldom if ever be stylish but invariably be highly useful - for instance, there will be pockets in abundance. Large numbers of small pockets are preferred due to the BP's structure of thinking - the phone goes in THIS pocket and the pen in THAT one, because fumbling around looking for the right tool is a useless waste of time. Oh, and ties are only worn on special occasions or where there REALLY is no choice.

BPs will often have glasses - large amounts of time spent reading and writing in evenings take their toll on natural eyesight.

Grey hair is also fairly common. The brain, I'm fairly sure it has now been proven, acts like a muscle - the more it is used the larger it gets. It is said that hair grows inwards as well as outwards. When it strikes grey matter, it turns grey. Thus it stands to reason that BPs, with their significant levels of brain usage, will go grey before The Rest. And besides, almost all BPs are over 40 anyway...

A BP among BPs!
I would like to say a few words about Mr V.A. Cant. I know he will be highly embarrassed to be picked out of all the rest of the BPs, but I can say with sincerity that he stands head and shoulders above the rest.

He works hard enough for ten other people in his paid employment, which is signing the locks on public toilet doors worldwide. But as if that wasn't enough, he holds or has held down roles of significant responsibility in almost every volunteer organization I have been involved with. President, secretary, treasurer, ordinary committee member, and a host of other roles (with or without titles) have had his name beside them.

In closing may I urge you all to do what Ghandi's father told him - become a BP, there's less competition. Find a role currently held by Mr Cant and take it over, allowing him to devote more energy to the rest. The rewards aren't obvious in terms of money, career advancement, horsepower or screen inches, but come in the sincere thanks of other BPs, who will almost invariably become the best friends you will ever have.

With thanks to FOLDOC "Real programmers don't use PASCAL"

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