Thursday, October 29, 2009

Tortoises and hares

Here’s another good game for imposing simplified Platonic categories onto the chaotic mass of humanity: work types. I’ve carefully avoided business management books as best I can throughout my career, so I expect this has already been written about many times, but two broad categories of worker I’ve noticed are tortoises and hares.

It’s obvious enough: tortoises fill the 9 to 5 day with a steady, even distribution of work, while hares work in short furious bursts of super-activity interspersed with long periods of idle, almost braindead doziness.

(I’m so much at the hare end of the spectrum that it’s possibly bordering on mental illness. Certainly it’s a running joke in my office. uh oh, he’s off on one again. Back here Martpol suggested that I must be having a ‘quiet Friday afternoon’ on the grounds that I posted three ridiculous missives in a day. In fact the opposite is the case: you can be pretty sure that if ToE is busy then I’m also simultaneously banging away at numerous real work projects, plotting strange and unrealisable epic prose-poems, compiling a fantasy all-time cricket XI etc*; whereas if ToE is quiet, then picture me sitting staring into the middle distance without a thought in my head, drooling gently onto my collar, and pound to a penny you won't be far off the mark.)

I’m very lucky in that my job is ideally suited to haredom – project-based, unsupervised and based on results rather than clock-punching. For small businesses, getting hares in tortoise jobs and vice versa can be disastrous. A hare in a tortoise job will be slapdash and demoralised; a tortoise in a hare job will never get anything finished because they’ll endlessly try to perfect the minutiae.

It’s up to employers to get the right ones in the right jobs. The problem being, of course, that humanity is a chaotic mass and most people don’t fit neatly into the categories, being Hartoises and Tares and so on, which is why business management books never work and why this whole post was, ultimately, a bit of a waste of time. Still, we soldier on, we soldier on.

*That's another stupid myth, isn't it, that only women can multi-task?

14 comments:

Uncle Dick Madeley said...

I'm very much a hare but trapped in a tortoise world.

Peter Burnet said...

I'm a hare too. Survival rule number one for hares: Make sure you are backed up by a happy, dependable tortoise and treat them well.

I'm just reading Dawkins's new book where he tells us stupid people that every two species has a common ancestor--humans and bananas, scorpions and ragweed,etc. He also lays the blame for the historical resistance to the axiomatic truth of evolution, not on American creationist nutjobs, but squarely on the shoulders of that old fascist, Plato. Do you think that if we could find the common ancestor of the hare and the tortoise, we could bury the old coot forever and henceforth glory in our chaotic, category-free mass of humanity? If so, what would be left for you to blog about?

Brit said...

Cricket and cupcakes, probably.

Tricky Dicky Dawkins does have a point about Platonic thinking and evolution, though. Life doesn't conform happily to our urge to categorise into neat species.

Peter Burnet said...

Nor to our urge not to. Frankly, life doesn't conform too happily to most of my urges. Difficult to please, life is.

martpol said...

Working for a small educational charity, I often feel the need to be a super-hare: one continual frenetic burst of energy from start to finish. Of course, at the moment it's half term, so I am currently, if anything, a sub-tortoise.

David said...

In the end, nothing conforms neatly to anything. That's why we run "Platonic" models of the world in our minds in the first place. If Dawkins thinks that he doesn't do that, he's delusional.

worm said...

I'm more of a hummngbird or a bee, I flit around getting excited about something for about a nanosecond, before becoming bored and drifting off to look at something else.

as peter says, its helpful to have a tortoise type for a partner, and my german fiance is one heck of a tortoise!

malty said...

There is that famous comparison between the Japanese and the British work model. The British take five minutes to plan it and fifty five minutes to build it.
The Japanese take fifty five minutes to plan and five minutes to build.
The first method is OK, as long as you are just making one, a situation in the modern world as rare as hens teeth.

It’s obvious enough: tortoises fill the 9 to 5 day with a steady, even distribution of work, while hares work in short furious bursts of super-activity interspersed with long periods of idle, almost braindead doziness.
In the world of manufacturing, unfortunately, it is 8 till 8 and continuous super activity, the reason so few are prepared to make a career in it.

Nige said...

I think bloggers are almost bound to be hares, aren't they? Most of us are fitting it in around lots of other stuff, dashing it off at hare-like speed etc. (and you're so right about women and multitasking - but don't tell the Mrs)

Brit said...

Yes I'd have thought blog commenters at any rate are disproportionately harish.

Peter Burnet said...

Lou Gots?

Frank Key said...

Don't write off all business management books. There's a good one called "The Seven Habits Of Craven & Wretched People" by, I think, the author of "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From A Girly Planet".

Brit said...

Ah, verily, Peter, it behoves us as gentlemen to consider the commentary contributions of Mr Gots, and his tireless tortoise-like tirades 'gainst the tyranny of ill-directed baseball caps.

Brit said...

Ah yes, Frank, I think that was Chuck L Steinburger III. He also wrote 101 Sure-Fire Guaranteed MegaPower Ways To Wow Customers, Break The Bank and Blow The Rest Out The Water Or Your Goddam Money Back Every Time!