The Ministry of Common Sense – Cutting out Useless Work and Stupid Rules
Updated: Aug 4
In 1930, legendary economist John Maynard Keynes wrote that within a century, technological efficiency would be so great and prosperity so assured that people would be at pains to avoid leisure and boredom.
However, Keynes continued, people will need three hours work a day to feel useful and occupied. (‘Economic Prosperity for our Grandchildren’).
We would never be so bold to disagree with the top economist of all time (especially as his theories on how to deal with a great depression could be back in fashion soon), but if his vision is to come true, we’d better hurry up.
It’s possible Keynes overlooked one critical point.
Work is, in fact, a science and follows scientific laws, namely:
“The amount of work naturally expands to more than fill the time available : or W>T.”
It’s a law that can’t be disputed – like Newtons Law of Gravity.
What is it, for example, about the current crisis and remote working that’s making everyone so busy?
We hear stories of 60-hour weeks, the blurring of home and work life and people spending all day on online meetings. At Microsoft they reported. an 18% increase in one-to-one meetings since the lockdown began (‘New York Times’ 31st July).
Sadly, instead of re-thinning how work is done, companies are trying to replicate what they used to do into a remote setting. This approach fails to recognize the problems that existed before and an opportunity is being missed.
In his new book ‘The Ministry of Common Sense, How to Eliminate Bureaucratic Red Tape, Bad Excuses and Corporate BS,’ Martin Lindstrom says that companies have lost all common sense in the way work is done. They’re riddled with time wasting useless work practices and stupid rules.
Lindstrom says that 40% - 45% of the work done is down to this lack of common sense and that it would hardly be noticed if it wasn’t carried out.
So, bearing this in mind, please watch out. Things that can create useless work and waste time are all around us and can leap out at any time:
Endless Power Point presentations (which could be summed up on one-page).
Meetings where people discuss the same issue over and over again.
People turning up late for meetings.
Meetings where previous actions haven’t been done.
Manually checking system generated reports.
Developing useless plans (mistaking producing plans for taking action).
Copying emails to anyone who could possibly have an interest.
Complicated timesheet processes (in one company the timesheet process was so complex, staff asked for a timesheet code to use for the time spent doing their timesheets).
Over-engineered authorization and checking processes (because something once went wrong).
Conference phones that don’t work.
Double booked meeting rooms.
Complicated performance appraisal systems.
Supervising and micro-managing people who don’t need it and
Setting objectives that no-one can control a so no-one looks at them.
The list is never ending.
Why is this happening? What has happened to common sense?
On top of this, the office world is also riddled with stupid rules. Examples from Lindstrom:
The bank where staff had to phone in 48 hours before they went sick.
The automotive company where Health and Safety dictated that, at all times, the light and heat had to be at predetermined levels in the manufacturing plant. An employee pointed out that at night, only robots worked there. The lights and air conditioning were then turned off at night saving thousands of dollars.
There is a danger with stupid rules.
In poor work cultures, staff will follow them even though they know they are wrong -they are too afraid to do what is right.
This happened in the notorious United Airlines incident - a paying passenger was forcibly removed from a plane and suffered a broken nose, concussion and smashed tooth. Every member of staff knew what was happening was wrong - but they had to observe the rules. The incident caused United massive PR repercussions and financial cost.
Afterwards, United Airlines CEO, Oscar Munoz, said that:
‘We hadn’t provided the tools and policies to our front-line supervisors and staff to allow them to use their common sense; they all have an incredible amount of common sense and the issue could have been solved by that.’
Jordan Peterson is clear also about the implications of useless work and stupid rules:
‘It demotivates you –‘why should I be pecked to death by this stupid work and these stupid rules?
It makes you resentful and irritable and lowers your motivation.
It warps you – and eventually you just get on with it.
(‘the Dangers of Meaningless Work: Jordan Peterson YouTube)
So, what can be done about all this? Some ideas from Lindstrom:
At one bank, a Ministry of Common Sense was opened. Staff sent suggestions to remove pointless work and rules (they get over 1,000 suggestions each year).
In another bank, it they only introduce a new rule if another one is discarded.
At Lowes US, staff met once a month to discuss their frustrations with the way they work and. 90-days project sprints are held to put things right.
At an insurance company, staff are asked to take pictures to highlight useless work. They add a comment arty and pin the photos in a central office.
Final word to Jordan Peterson:
‘You need to object to radical stupidity when it first emerges. Do not do things at work that are obviously stupid.’