Organizational incompetence

Bullshit and chickenshit

Much of what happens in organizations can be classified under two categories: bullshit and chickenshit.

Bullshit is that class of lofty, uplifting, meaningful-feeling words and gestures that seem to promise something of enormous importance — but that important something can never be fulfilled through any practical action.

Chickenshit is that class of practical activities that seem like they ought to contribute in some way to some important end — but, in fact contribute nothing of any value to anything that matters.

Bullshit is meaning without practice. Chickenshit is practice without meaning.

Bringing together meaning and practice, so meaning inspires action toward a realizable vision, and practical actions contribute to realizing this meaningful vision — this is one of design’s key functions.

Another key function of design is to ensure the design is good, both in vision and execution: that it does something useful for people, that people find it easy to learn, use, and master, and that people enjoy using it. A good design will be chosen, used and recommended.

Design leads the conception and actualization of good, practical, visions.

When design is allowed to do its work, it helps groups of people align on a genuinely good, meaningful and achievable vision and helps them see the big, intricate picture of how diverse disciplines can coordinate their efforts and contribute to achieving this vision. Design then helps keep this alignment intact through implementation and subsequent release cycles, so that the meaning envisioned is realized and maintained in practice.

When design is not allowed to do its work, which is almost all the time, blathermouth executives give inspiring talks and emails, get their comms people to hang inspiring posters everywhere, and generally slather their organizations in bullshit, before disappearing into conference rooms to do very prestigious chickenshit all day.

Their subordinates ignore the bullshit and do their less prestigious chickenshit, which is laboriously measured and tracked for no good reason, except to provide other people the chance to do some chickenshit.

Sometimes employees are herded into rooms for bullshit workshops, while chickenshit accumulates in high acrid heaps back at their desks.

If, by some miracle, a good, practical vision is designed in this workshop, that vision is unlikely to survive what happens after. In subsequent meetings the vision gets divided into initiatives, then subdivided into work streams and hauled to far-flung silos, where the work is chopped and diced into chicken turd-sized tasks and poured into a backlog. The backlog is emptied, task by task, by people who have no idea how this important-seeming work will contribute to anything that matters.

And when all the bits of work are complete, it’s all globbed back together in a form that barely resembles the vision. That’s ok, though. The executives re-emerge from their conference rooms to do an all-hands where they bullshit on and on about how this chickenshit frankenstein is the realization of a vision that could never have happened without the dedication and leadership of everyone, especially of whatshername and so-and-so, and they hand out recognitions, promotions, layoffs and such. They then file back into their conference rooms for more very prestigious chickenshit.

A bullshit press release is issued.

Then there’s a major software release. Or maybe there is some change to core services. Or a new generation of product hits the stores. And all the customers and users who have to deal with these “improvements” get to figure them out and adjust their lives to accommodate them. They’re all inconvenienced, confused and frustrated, but there’s nowhere else to go, because the competitors are just as chickenshitty and bullshitty. Business as usual. Bullshit and chickenshit.

Moral: Organizations — entire industries, in fact — export their dysfunction to the larger world in the form of bad design: bullshit-coated chickenshit.

Service malpractice

“Your call is very important to us”

Hey, companies, please listen. When you put people on hold for long stretches of time, or when you take days and days to respond to a help ticket, how about dropping that bullshit about how important this call or this help request is to you? Because it is not important to you, and your blather does nothing but add another redundant drop of cynicism into the infinite bullshit ocean we’re all drowning in. 

The cliche is true, far truer than your marketing blather: Actions speak louder than words. The fact that we have all learned to expect long waits, says very loudly: “We know you’ll put up with this.”


OK, customers, now I’m talking to you.

These companies who claim to care so much about your very important call have calculated exactly how long they can make you wait without losing your business. They track it carefully. They know who drops off and they know the bottom-line consequences of drop-offs.

Shortening your wait time would require hiring more customer service personnel. That is expensive and most companies don’t want to spend money to make you any happier than they have to. They want to spend the least amount possible to keep your business and they want to pocket the rest.

Sadly, that customer service representative (CSR) who finally does speak to you after that long, infuriating wait might very well care how you feel. Many of them dearly want positive interactions with the people they speak with all day every day. But they are “the throat to choke”. Yelling at the CSR is yelling at the company. And so they are yelled at, harangued, bullied and threatened all day. Customers ask their names and address them by name frequently in an oh-so-savvy attempt to signal how they will be held accountable for how things go.

These CSRs are tracked closely and scored. They are supposed to keep your call as short as possible, so they can move on to the next pissed-off customer, and the next, and the next — as many as possible, to squeeze the most value out of them. The call centers are understaffed, so it is important to keep prodding them snd keeping them trotting as briskly as possible through their endless call queue every minute of the day.

CSRs are also scored on how much they can upsell and cross-sell to these customers, who are very much not in the mood to be upsold or cross-sold after sitting on hold listening to “we care” bullshit for the better part of an hour.

And then when it is all over, the customer evaluates them on how satisfied they are. Good luck, CSR.

And, understand: these CSRs are surrounded by posters and banners and huge screens that assure them that Our Employees Are Our #1 Asset. We Appreciate Our Employees. Teamwork Makes the Dream Work. And So On. They too are subjected to empty words belied by the most conclusive demonstrations of the emptiness of the empty words — but your bullshit sentence time lasted 20-40 minutes. Theirs is every minute of every day.  

Meanwhile, the folks creating all this misery are far, far away, hiding behind data dashboards, business intelligence applications and spreadsheets and totally out of earshot of your complaints. The only thing they hear from you is your complacent sticking around for more abuse, always almost, but not quite ever, willing to tell them to fuck off.

Moral: Most customer misery is produced backstage, far from view of customers, and the same misery affects everyone you’ll ever be allowed to talk to. So be nice to those poor front line people trying to help you. Instead, quit. If you can, discontinue your service online, so you don’t make that poor CSR’s day worse by putting a cancellation on their scorecard.


Apple atrocities

Pasting with formatting

Why is the default paste on nearly every application “paste with formatting”? Is that really what most users want most of the time?

Has anyone even looked into it? From all appearances nobody has. Every app has “paste with formatting” as the default, and has created its own unique, complicated and counterintuitive multi-key combo to get “paste without formatting”. Since it is different in every app we never learn it. We use the menu, or develop awkward workarounds to shed the formatting.

But somehow worse than this is Apple’s implementation in Mail on iOS. Get a load of this: there is no paste without formatting option at all. There is no “remove formatting” or “set to default” option, either. The normal formatting of the email must be manually applied, parameter by parameter.

So imagine a scenario where a very bitter user named Stephen sees a headline on a website set in 72 point Jackass Sans Bold Italic from one of those eye-destroying light-on-dark night formats ever design lemming in the world has decided on masse to make the norm. If this angry little Stephen person tries to copy this headline and paste it into an email to the last person on earth willing to listen to his bilious spew, he will have to first find and select the white text he just pasted, which is completely invisible against the white background of the email, then manually reformat it to match the typeface and size the rest of the email is set in, whatever that is.

Let’s just hope this Stephen guy has a blog dedicated to shit design where he can vent his fury. When bad design is your muse, your inspiration will heave forth endlessly.

Moral: Always, always, always offer “paste without formatting”, and maybe even consider making that the default. Just because every other designer is doing something, that doesn’t mean it is the smart thing to do. I swear, designers are some of the most conformist innovators you’ll ever meet.