Media Perspective: When the manager and maker clash, creativity loses out

You can smell it, can't you? Autumn, just around the corner. Mists and conkers and mellow fruitfulness. The nights draw in, the shadows lengthen and 2010 planning kicks in with thoughts of organisational optimisation.

Restructuring, recession, lack of budgets, green shoots, visions of the future. Whatever your motivation, there's likely to be some reorganising. So, given that, a couple of pieces have popped up on the internet you might want to look at.

The first is a piece by the programmer, writer and venture capitalist Paul Graham, called "maker's schedule, manager's schedule".

He points out that management people tend to have a schedule divided up by the hours of a traditional appointment book. Their tool of productivity is the meeting and their unit of productivity is the hour. If they want to have a meeting with someone, they just look for the next hour when they're both free and stick it in the diary. All fairly straightforward.

But Mr Graham then goes on to point out that many people, such as programmers and writers (and in our world, planners and creatives and anyone who has to do a sustained bit of thinking), have longer units of productivity.

They need at least half-a-day of uninterrupted thinking to get something done: many of them need that much intellectual run-up in order to do half-a-day of productive work.

Which is all fine, and, if asked, we'd probably recognise this as true in our own lives - the thing we're being asked to do changes the nature of the time we need to do it.

What Mr Graham makes us understand is that these types of time are constantly in conflict. Because, typically, the managers are also the bosses - their time takes precedence and the hour-long meeting gets shoved in the diary whenever the next slot is available: thereby interrupting someone else's "maker's schedule" and ruining a whole unit of creative production. And I know from personal experience that this effect gets exaggerated in difficult times as everyone tries to demonstrate their worth and organises meetings to convey a sense of motion and activity.

Now, of course, meetings are both splendid and necessary: meetings won the war, put a man on the moon and wrote The Simpsons, but the carefully organised organisation will think hard about when these meetings are and what they're interrupting.

Mr Graham's solution is to put all his "manager's meetings" at the end of the day, when his "maker's time" is over. He can do this because he runs his own business, but maybe it should be part of the "reorg" you're "orging" right now.

Next week: we review some PowerPoint about organisational dynamics. I bet you can't wait.


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