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Today we’re happy to share a story by our friend George Saunders, which originally ran in McSweeney’s 4.
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DATE: Apr 6
FROM: Todd Birnie
RE: March Performance Stats
I would not like to characterize this as a plea, but it may start to sound like one (!) The fact is, we have a job to do, we have tacitly agreed to do it (did you cash your last paycheck, I know I did, ha ha ha). We have also—to go a step further here—agreed to do the job well. Now we all know that one way to do a job poorly is to be negative about it. Say we need to clean a shelf. Let’s use that example. lf we spend the hour before the shelf-cleaning talking down the process of cleaning the shelf, complaining about it, dreading it, investigating the moral niceties of cleaning that shelf, whatever, then what happens is, we make the process of cleaning that shelf more difficult than it really is. We all know very well that that "shelf” is going to be cleaned, given the current climate, either by you or by the guy who replaces you and gets your paycheck, so the questions boil down to: Do I want to clean it happy or do I want to clean it sad? Which would be more effective? For me? Which would accomplish my purpose more efficiently? What is my purpose? To get paid. How do I accomplish that purpose most efficiently? I clean that shelf well and I clean it quickly. And what mental state helps me clean that shelf well and quickly? Is the answer: Negative? A negative mental state? You know very well that it is not. So the point of this memo is: Positive. The positive mental state will help you clean that shelf well and quickly, and thus accomplish your purpose of getting paid.
What am I saying? Am I saying whistle while you work? Maybe I am. Let us consider lifting a heavy dead carcass such as a whale. (Forgive the shelf/whale thing, we have just come back from our place on Reston Island, where there were 1) a lot of dirty shelves and 2) yes, believe it or not, an actual dead rotting whale, which Timmy and Vance and I got involved with in terms of the clean-up.) So say you are charged with, you and some of your colleagues, lifting a heavy dead whale carcass on to a flatbed. Now we all know that is hard. And what would be harder is, doing that with a negative attitude. What we found, Timmy and Vance and I, is that even with only a neutral attitude, you are talking a very hard task. We tried to lift that whale, while we were just feeling neutral, Timmy and Vance and I, with a dozen or so other folks, and it was a no-go, that whale wouldn’t budge, until suddenly one fellow, a former Marine, said what we needed was some mind over matter and gathered us in a little circle, and we had a sort of a chant. We got “psyched up.” We knew, to extend my above analogy, that we had a job to do, and we got sort of excited about that, and decided to do it with a positive attitude, and I have to tell you, there was something to that, it was fun, fun when that whale rose into the air, helped by us and some big straps that Marine had in his van, and I have to say that lifting that dead rotting whale on to that flatbed with that group of total strangers was the high point of our trip.
So what am I saying? I am saying (and saying it fervently, because it is important): let’s try, if we can, to minimize the grumbling and self-doubt regarding the tasks we must sometimes do around here that maybe aren’t on the surface all that pleasant. I’m saying let’s try not to dissect every single thing we do in terms of ultimate good/bad/indifferent in terms of morals. The time for that is long past. I hope that each of us had that conversation with ourselves nearly a year ago, when this whole thing started. We have embarked on a path, and having embarked on that path, for the best of reasons (as we decided a year ago) wouldn’t it be kind of suicidal to let our progress down that path be impeded by neurotic second-guessing? Have any of you ever swung a sledgehammer? I know that some of you have. I know some of you did when we took out Rick’s patio. Isn’t it fun when you don’t hold back, but just pound down and down, letting gravity help you? Fellows, what I’m saying is, let gravity help you here, in our workplace situation: pound down, give into natural feelings that I have seen from time to time produce so much great energy in so many of you, in terms of executing your given tasks with vigor and without second-guessing and neurotic thoughts. Remember that record breaking week Andy had back in October, when he doubled his usual number of units? Regardless of all else, forgetting for the moment all the namby-pamby thoughts of right/wrong etc etc, wasn’t that something to see? In and of itself? I think that, if we each look deep down inside of ourselves, weren’t we each a little envious? God he was really pounding down and you could see the energetic joy on his face each time he rushed by us to get additional clean-up towels. And we were all just standing there like, wow, Andy, what’s gotten into you? And no one can argue with his numbers. They are there in the Break Room for all to see, towering about the rest of our numbers, and though Andy has failed to duplicate those numbers in the months since October, 1) no one blames him for that, those were miraculous numbers and 2) I believe that even if Andy never again duplicates those numbers, he must still, somewhere in his heart, secretly treasure up the memory of that magnificent energy flowing out of him in that memorable October. I do not honestly think Andy could’ve had such an October if he had been coddling himself or entertaining any doubtful neurotic thoughts or second-guessing tendencies, do you? I don’t. Andy looked totally focused, totally outside himself, you could see it on his face, maybe because of the new baby? (If so, Janice should have a new baby every week, ha ha).
Anyway, October is how Andy entered a sort of, at least in my mind, de facto Hall of Fame, and is pretty much henceforth excluded from any real close monitoring of his numbers, at least by me. No matter how disconsolate and sort of withdrawn he gets (and I think we’ve all noticed that he’s gotten pretty disconsolate and withdrawn since October), you will not find me closely monitoring his numbers, although as for others I cannot speak, others may be monitoring that troubling fall off in Andy’s numbers, although really I hope they’re not, that would not be so fair, and believe me, if I get wind of it, I will definitely let Andy know, and if Andy’s too depressed to hear me, I’ll call Janice at home.
And in terms of why is Andy so disconsolate? My guess is that he’s being neurotic, and second-guessing his actions of October—and wow, isn’t that a shame, isn’t that a no-win, for Andy to have completed that record-breaking October and now to sit around boo-hooing about it? Is anything being changed by that boohooing? Are the actions Andy did, in terms of the tasks I gave him to do in Room 6, being undone by his boo-hooing, are his numbers on the Break Room Wall miraculously scrolling downwards, are people suddenly walking out of Room 6 feeling perfectly okay again? Well we all know they are not. No one is walking out of Room 6 feeling perfectly okay. Even you guys, you who do what must be done in Room 6, don’t walk out feeling so super-great, I know that, I’ve certainly done some things in Room 6 that didn’t leave me feeling so wonderful, believe me, no one is trying to deny that Room 6 can be a bummer, it is very hard work that we do. But the people above us, who give us our assignments, seem to think chat the work we do in Room 6, in addition to being hard is also important, which I suspect is why they have begun watching our numbers so closely. And trust me, if you want Room 6 to be an even worse bummer than it already is, then mope about it before, after, and during, then it will really stink, plus, with all that moping, your numbers will go down even further, which guess what: They cannot do. I have been told in no uncertain terms, at the Sectional Meeting, that our numbers are not to go down any further. I said (and this took guts, believe me, given the atmosphere at Sectional): Look, my guys are tired, this is hard work we do, both physically and psychologically. And at that point, at Sectional, believe me, the silence was deafening. And I mean deafening. And the looks I got were not good. And I was reminded, in no uncertain terms, by Hugh Blanchert himself, that our numbers are not to go down. And I was asked to remind you — to remind us, all of us, myself included — that if we are unable to clean our assigned “shelf,” not only will someone else be brought in to clean that “shelf,” but we ourselves may find ourselves on that “shelf,” being that “shelf,” with someone else exerting themselves with good positive energy all over us. And at that time I think you can imagine how regretful you would feel, the regret would show in your faces, as we sometimes witness, in Room 6, that regret on the faces of the “shelves” as they are “cleaned,” so I am asking you, from the hip, to try your best and not end up a “shelf,” which we, your former colleagues, will have no choice but to clean clean clean using all our positive energy, without looking back, in Room 6.
This all was made clear to me at Sectional and now I am trying to make it clear to you.
Well I have gone on and on, but please come by my office, anybody who’s having doubts, doubts about what we do, and I will show you pictures of that incredible whale my sons and I lifted with our good positive energy. And of course this information, that is, the information that you are having doubts, and have come to see me in my office, will go no further than my office, although I am sure I do not even have to say that, to any of you, who have known me these many years.
All will be well and all will be well, etc etc,
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IT IS PREFERABLE, our preliminary research has indicated, for some institutional space to be provided, such as corridor, hallway, etc, through which the group may habitually move. Our literature search indicated that a tiled area is preferable, in terms of preventing possible eventual damage to the walls and floors by the group moving through the space. The review of published literature also indicated that it is preferable that this area to move through (henceforth referred to, per Ellis et al., as the “Fenlen Space”) be non-linear in areal layout, that is, should include frequent turning options (i.e., side hallways or corners), to give the illusion of what Ellis terms “optional pathway choices.” Per Gasgrave, Heller et al., this non-linear areal layout, and the resulting apparent optional pathway choices, create a “Forward-Anticipating” mindset. Per Ellis et al., the Forward-Anticipating mindset (characterized by an Andrew-Brison Attribute Suite which includes “hope,” “resolve,” “determination,” and “sense of mission”) results in less damage to the Fenlen Space, as well as better general health for the Temporary Community, which in turn results in significantly lower clinic/medicinal costs.
Also in Ellis et al., the phrase “Forward-Anticipating Temporary Community” (FATC) is defined to designate a Temporary Community which, while moving through a given Fenlen Space, maintains NTEI (Negative Thought External Indicator) values below 3 per person/per hour. A “Non-Forward-Anticipating Temporary Community” (NFATC) is defined as one for which NTEI values are consistently above 3 per person/per hour. NTEIs are calculated using the Reilly Method, from raw data compiled by trained staff observing from inside what are termed “Amstel Booths,” one-way mirror locales situated at regular intervals along the Fenlen Space.
For the purposes of this cost proposal, four Amstel Booths have been costed, along with the necessary ventilation/electrical additions.
As part of our assessment, we performed a statistical analysis of the NTEIs for four distinct Fenlen Spaces, using a standard Student’s T-test, supplemented with the recently developed Anders-Kiley outlier correction model. Interestingly, the most important component of the Fenlen Space appeared to be what is referred to in the current literature as the Daley Realignment Device (ORD). The ORD allows for quick changes in the areal layout of the Fenlen Space during time periods during which the Temporary Community is moving through another, remote, portion of the Fenlen Space. The purpose of the ORD is to prolong what Elgin et al. term the “Belief Period” in the Fenlen Space; that is, the period during which the Temporary Community, moving through the recently realigned DRD, fails to recognize that the portion of the Fenlen Space being traversed by them has already in face been traversed by them. Rather, the altered areal layout leads to the conclusion that the portion of the Fenlen Space being traversed is an entirely unfamiliar and previously untraversed place, thus increasing the Temporary Community’s expectation that, in time, they will arrive at what Allison and Dewitt have termed the “Preferable Destination.” At some facilities, a brief oral presentation is made to the Temporary Community shortly before the Community enters the Fenlen Space, during which it is strongly implied or even directly stated that the Community will be traversing the Fenlen Space in order to reach the Preferable Destination, which is described in some detail, especially vis-a-vis improvements in terms of cold/heat considerations, food considerations, crowding/overcrowding considerations, and/or perceived menace considerations. An “apology” may be made for any regrettable past incidents. It may also be implied that the individuals responsible for these incidents have been dismissed etc etc. Such presentations have been found to be extremely beneficial, significantly minimizing NTEIGs and prolonging the Belief Period, and several researchers have mentioned the enthusiasm with which the Temporary Community typically enters the Fenlen Space following such a presentation.
Should Building Ed Terry wish to supplement its DRD with such a pre-traversing oral presentation, Judson & Associates would be pleased to provide the necessary technical writing expertise, a service we have already provided successfully for nine facilities in the Northeast.
In any event, some sore of DRD is strongly recommended. In a study of a Fenlen Space located in Canton, New Jersey, a device which was not equipped with a DRD, it was reported that, toward the end of Day 1, the Temporary Community went, within a few hours, from a strong FATC (with very low NTEIs, ranging from 0-2 per person/per hour) to a very strong NFATC (with NTEIs as high as 9 per person/per hour). Perhaps the most striking finding of the Canton study was that, once the Temporary Community had devolved from an FATC co a NFATC (i.e., once the Belief Period had expired), NTEI values increased dramatically and catastrophically, until, according to one Amstel Booth observer, the NTEIs were occurring at a frequency that were “essentially impossible to tabulate,” resulting in the event being classified as “Chaotic” (on the Elliot Scale), after which the Fenlen Space had to be forcibly cleared of the Temporary Community. In other words, once the Temporary Community perceived the Fenlen Space as a repetitious traversing of the same physical space, morale eroded quickly and, per clinical data, could not be restored. Needless to say, the forcible clearing of a Fenlen Space involves substantial risk and expense, as does the related interruption to the smooth flow of facility operations.
In contrast, since a DRD was added to the Canton facility, no further Chaos Situations have occurred, with one exception, which was later seen to be related to a small fire that occurred within one of the Amstel Booths.
Currently available DRDs range from manually rearranged units (typically featuring wallboard panels with quick-release bolts, which are placed into a floor-embedded grid) to electronic, track-based units which offer a large, practically unlimited range of configurations and are typically integrated using the ChangeSpace computer software package. The design we have submitted for Building Ed Terry includes cost estimates for the economical Homeway DRD6 (wallboard-grid model) as well as the higher-end Casio 3288 DRD (track-based, computer-operated unit). For the Homeway unit, we have included approximate costs for the physical labor involved in the manual rearrangement of the DRD. For the purposes of this proposal, we have assumed seven rearrangements a clay, with four persons required for each rearrangement. This corresponds with a circumnavigation period of approximately three hours—that is, seven rearrangements a day, precluding the possibility that the Temporary Community would inadvertently encounter areal rearrangements in progress, which has been shown (in Percy et al.) to markedly decrease the belief period, for obvious reasons.
Judson & Associates firmly believes that the enclosed proposal more than meets the needs described in your Request for Proposal of January 9. Should you desire further clarification, please do not hesitate to contact either Jim Warner or myself. We look forward to hearing from you, and to working with you on this exciting and challenging project, and on other projects yet to come.
Sincerely, Mark Judson
President and CEO
Judson & Associates
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(A FRIENDLY REMINDER)
WE IN KNUCKLES herebuy request that those of you in Sorting refran from calling the Fat Scrap Box the Pizza Hut Box and refran from calling the Bone Scrap Box the Marshmallow Box and refran from calling the Misc. Scrap Box the Dog Food Box because we think that is insulting to our work and workplace in terms of why do you have to make fun of what we all of us do for a living as if it is shameful. Even though it is true that some of our offal might get used for pizza tapping and mashmallows and dog food we do not like it when you are saying those names in a sarcastic voice. Because new hires can be infected by these attitudes which are so negative and soon they will not be working their best but only laughing at your smartass dumb jokes, so in the future use the correct names (Fat Scrap and Bone Scrap and Misc. Scrap) for these boxes if you feel like you have to talk at all while working although also we in Knuckles suggest you just shut up and just work. For example when one of us in Knuckles throws a Knuckle but it misses the belt you do not have to call it a “skidder” or act like you are a announcer on a basketball show by saying whoa he missed the hole. And also you dont have to say Ouch whenever one of our throwed Knuckles goes too far and hits the wall, it is not like the Knuckle could feel that and say Ow, because it is dead dumbass, it cannot feel its leg part hitting the wall, so we know you are being sarcasmic. And we dont think this is funny because when we miss the belt or hit the wall what do we have to do is we have to put down our knives and go get it which takes time. And already we are tired without that extra walking. Because what we do takes real muscle and you can easily see us if you look huffing and breeching hard all day in the cold inside air, whereas you, although its true you are all hunched over, we never see you breeching hard and you dont even work with knives...