“Lots of folks confuse bad management with destiny.”
“So it is with minds. Unless you keep them busy with some definite subject that will bridle and control them, they throw themselves in disorder hither and yon in the vague field of imagination … and there is no mad or idle fancy that they do not bring forth in the agitation.”
Michel de Montaigne
“Have you noticed that even the busiest people are never too busy to take time to tell you how busy they are?”
Well. I don’t care what you do, where you work or what matters to you, we all want to get credit for the shit we do and we all know that part of ‘getting credit’ is looking like you are actually doing something.
By the way, this is different than the art of looking busy. Looking busy is all about making it look like you have too much to do and have so much responsibility that:
<a> people will look at you as so important that everyone has given you all that stuff to do, and
<b> no one should dare to give you any more to do because you already have so much to do.
This is an art in and of itself. But the art of looking like you are actually doing something is a completely different heinous skill. On this one the person is actually trying to attach themselves to some types of outcomes.
I call this a heinous skill because in order to be truly effective at this art you:
<a> aren’t actually doing a shitload of meaningful stuff,
<b> you invest a lot of energy wandering in the middle of actual responsibility so that you can absolve yourself of bad shit and take credit/responsibility for good shit, and
<c> take credit for a shitload of shit you have never actually ever done.
I thought about this topic because Donald J Trump may be the poster child for the art of looking like you are doing something. He may have a PhD in it. He is a master at the two things which make up a successful “looking like he is doing something:”
- Everything revolves around me.
The corollary to this is “nothing good could ever happen unless I was involved”.
The corollary to that is “anything bad that happens is because they didn’t involve me enough”.
“We don’t need all the people they want us to get. Let me tell you ― the one that matters is me. I’m the only one that matters because when it comes to it, that’s what the policy is going to be.”
Donald J Trump
Now. For the everyday schmuck like me it is easy to shuffle paperwork, get on the computer with two screens <one personal, one work so you can switch and not get busted> and a variety of little things at your desk that kind of fill up some down time all the while implying good shit is happening because of me. This is what doers do. Make their doing look essential (and in many cases it actually is). It’s part of showcasing you have value although your work may not look like it’s that valuable.
But at the senior management level, it is truly an art.
They have the ability to paint a picture of ‘my job is so important that my company wouldn’t make it without me’ that, well, some really senior people start believing it!
Look. There is truly being essential and then there is claiming to be essential. Those who are essential don’t need to try and look like they are doing something, 95% of the time they are simply in demand. People want them to be involved. That’s how you find essential people. They are the ones in demand. No one demands the jerk who wants to look like they are doing something, but don’t actually do something.
- insure you have enough wins to point to because the bigger the win the less you have to do elsewhere (the art of metaphorical winning).
Metaphorical winning is like having medals for nothing (but you have medals). Resumes are strewn with this type of shit under the guise of “all the things I have done.”
Anyway. Insuring you have enough wins is tricky for the “looking like doing something” artists.
“Lots of little wins” doesn’t work because … uhm … to have lots of real tangible little wins you will actually have had to have done something.
“Lots of little <fake> wins” is difficult to make work because keeping track of things you have supposedly done while simply looking like you were getting something done takes a shitload of work and bullshitting.
Now. Here is where the masters of looking like you are doing something are truly skilled – they are the ones who can envision the future. Huh? They can see no big wins in the immediate future and they recognize that imperils their just looking like they are doing something and they start worry that they may actually have to do something. So they get to work.
What do they do? They find some small win and make it look exponentially better and bigger than it is. They make gestures with flamboyance to create an illusion of “bigness.” It is small stuff that is just bigly in appearance.
Some of what I have written may sound absurd because wins & achievements should be relatively easy to discern, but they are not. Most of the meaningful achievements often look frickin’ small when outlined & explained and, in today’s world, we get encouraged to show big. So the art of looking thoughtfully busy people have an edge here because they are masters at self PR.
That said. Maybe that’s where the rubber hits the road. Find the ones who are comfortable with the small, looking small, but have the bigger achievements.
In the end.
I believe senior people who have mastered the art of looking busy are assholes. They are assholes because business thrives on not looking busy, but actually doing things. Anything less than that, particularly if you are being paid more, is business malpractice.
They look thoughtful but haven’t offered a useful thought in years (all the while claiming to be a thought leader).
They look like they are successful but really don’t know how to actually do the somethings they have claimed to do.
They look like they are essential (mostly because their big wins are wrapped around “I was the energy that lifted everyone – but I cannot point to what things I did) but struggle to consistently show their essentialness other than grand results.
They look like assholes trying to look busy, and thoughtful, and sucking morale & energy away from the ones actually doing good shit and not caring who gets credit for it.