A Different Way of Working

November 23rd, 2008

Friday night I worked as a drone building a temporary competitive gymnastic facility on a local high school basketball court.   My son participates in local gymnastics, and so the parents at the gym have an allocation of work hours to be completed.  These hours are mostly spent setting up, cleaning up and staffing gymnastics meets, whether or not your kid is involved in that particular meet.    Sometimes the meets are at “our” gym.  Sometimes, like this weekend, they are somewhere else.

The Queen Bee instructing the 30 or 40 drones runs a business doing this.  She arrives in a 50 foot long truck that is packed with gymnastics equipment.  She gets out, starts giving orders and continues doing so until everything is set up, the packing materials are back in the truck and she allows everyone still standing to go home.  She appears at the end of the meet to repeat the process in reverse.  We constructed a modern gymnastics floor (springs, floor board strapped together, rolls of bouncy foam taped together, rolls of carpet velcro-ed together), as well as setting up the uneven parallel bars (stablized by 8 10-gallon water containers), vault and beam.

I quickly learned that there is one correct way of setting anything up.  It reminds me of sailing, where there is a correct way for handling everything.  Most other ways are wrong and have to be undone.

This leads to the rule :  Do NOT show initiative.  When you’ve completed a task, go hover around the Queen Bee until she gives new orders that you understand and can execute.  When you’re done, go hover some more.  Standing around waiting between assigned tasks is the most effective thing one can do.  Trying to be more helpful is usually wrong.   Even the coaches — who are the experts with the equipment at their gym — hover and obey.  The Queen Bee has done this a million times with different sets of novice parent drones.    She knows exactly what she’s doing and how to get it done in the allocated 3 hours.

This is so far from my work life that it took a while to adjust.  “What should I do now?  Oh yes, go wait to be told exactly what to do and follow those directions exactly.”

I have to say that sometimes I found this oddly relaxing 🙂

6 comments for “A Different Way of Working”

  1. 1

    Taras said on November 23rd, 2008 at 12:45 pm:

    It’s always shocking how relaxing brainless manual labour can be. I wonder if brain activity sucks up a lot more energy than we realize.

  2. 2

    mitchell said on November 23rd, 2008 at 2:07 pm:

    Figuring out stuff in general probably. If our leader hadn’t known *exactly* what she wanted done and how and had the authority then it would have been exhausting!

  3. 3

    Mark said on November 23rd, 2008 at 8:34 pm:

    Many Mensa people have jobs that seem to be much below their intellectual capacity, gives them more time to think about what they want to think.

  4. 4

    inetpro said on November 25th, 2008 at 3:47 am:

    hmm… interesting, just sad that drones never exhibit typical worker bee behaviors such as nectar and pollen gathering, nursing, or hive construction.


  5. 5

    Lennie said on November 28th, 2008 at 4:45 am:

    Sounds a bit like the surgeon-principle in the mythical man month. Where the surgeon also is the lead that makes everything come together.

  6. 6

    Caroline said on January 6th, 2009 at 2:27 pm:

    This is a fun example, and reminds me of my own volunteering gigs. Routine tasks work well for the drone model (or Queen-Bee model as you call it). Innovation and ownership are killed in this model, but in the gym example you are simply replicating what has been the proven successful model for decades. Plus, innovation in certain settings is unadvisable and plainly dangerous (I don’t want anyone “innovating” with gym equipment installation, thank you very much. Falling off the parallel bars is not appealing). When you want innovation, you have the Mozilla model where decentralization and open participation are a must. Also, group diversity (race, gender, backgrounds, education, opinion, etc) has been shown to be beneficial to innovation tasks, but is more detrimental to routine tasks. Maybe I won’t complain so much the next time I am taking orders from a Queen Bee when volunteering in my community, but will ask the question – is the QB model the best one for this task?

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