Wednesday, December 23, 2009

QBQ! Chapter One: A Picture of Personal Accountability (part two)

Part One, in case you missed it.

Before I take the polar bear plunge back in to the icy waters of John G. Miller's psychotic book, I would like to point out that in comments on the first installment the indispensable JRB pointed me in the direction of John G. Miller's Amazon page, whereupon I had to immediately change my pants. First of all, I was startled and intrigued to learn that he has a photograph of himself there without a mustache, which blew my mind. And before I had fully recovered from that, I learned that, dude, he has a blog there. OK, there are only three entries in it since the first in November of 2007, but each one is a perfect little morsel of inanity (sic, or you can put an s in there if you'd like). JRB pointed out the second blog entry (blentry) in particular, and I cannot recommend it to you highly enough. To summarize, in this blentry Mr. Miller responds to a reader writing to praise a particular bank for avoiding the risky behavior that has landed a lot of banks in trouble recently (the words "risky," "landed," and "trouble" should be interpreted as comedy on my part, so laugh damn you). A questionable sentiment to be sure, but at least well intended. So how does Mr. Miller respond? By making fun of foreclosed-on homeowners for blaming anyone but themselves. Ha ha ha! I want to listen to what this man has to say!

So here I go.

When we left off, we were about to "take a look at (our occasionally mustachioed hero's) server's thinking and the choices he made." So let's take that look. Johnny Boy summarizes the situation for us again (lunch rush, busy, customer not in his section, guy goes out of his way for some reason most likely having to do with his estimation of potential tip quantities, though Miller would never consider that because he probably doesn't even tip, the bastard). Miller gives us an exciting list of questions that he thinks "many people" would have asked in this situation:
"Why do I have to do everything around here?"
"Who's supposed to be covering this area, anyway?"
"When is management going to provide us with more products?"
"Why are we always so short-staffed?"
"When are the customers going to learn to read the menu?"
Aside from the ludicrous third one, these all strike me as reasonable questions (and even that third one has a kernel of sense in it, namely, why doesn't management allow us to have what we need to do what they demand we do). According to Miller, though,
these are lousy questions. They're negative and don't solve any problems. Throughout the rest of the book we'll refer to questions like these as Incorrect Questions, or IQs, since nothing positive or productive comes from asking them [Ethan interjecting here to point out that no dictionary reads "incorrect, adj. having no positive or productive result"]. They're also the complete opposite of personal accountability, because in each one, the implication is that someone or something else is responsible for the problem or situation.
More specifically, John, they implicate our betters in the problem, which is unforgivable. We must always focus our problems, our anger, inwards or, failing that, downwards--never upwards. Luckily, JG is here to tell us how to do that. After lingering lovingly on that worst of all words, "opportunity," he begins the downward slide to the bolded sentence-fragment paragraph that has been a stylistic inevitability since first we saw the book's cover.
The moment the IQs pop into our heads, we have a choice. We can either accept them--"Yeah, when are we going to get more help around here?"--or reject them, choosing instead to ask better, more accountable questions such as "What can I do to make a difference?" and "How can I support the team?"

This, in a nutshell, is the essence of the QBQ:

Making better choices in the moment by asking better questions.
You'll notice that he has yet to define what better means in this context. This is because if he did, no one would be able to avoid realizing that he does not mean better for you. He means better for the masters, the bosses. After all, if we're not questioning our unreasonable work environments, but rather working ourselves to death within them to "support the team," then we're not organizing, not unionizing, not working together to better our situations; rather, we're staking ourselves against one another to better their profits.

The chapter ends with an unreadable anecdote about the author returning to the restaurant a few months later, asking for this same server by name, and learning that he's been promoted to a non-server position. The conclusions Miller draws from this are obvious (why he assumes that the server is now "on his way toward his chosen goals," emphasis mine, is less obvious), but I'm more interested in this: in the anecdote, Miller refers to the poor guy as "my own personal server." Which leads me to a very, very practical, immediate, and non-political reason why those unfortunates who work in customer service should never go out of their way for a customer: if you do it, ever, for any reason, that customer will think they have a personal relationship with you. They will always expect the same in the future, no matter what, and frequently will tell friends that they can expect it, too. These people will, almost without fail, become very angry and demanding when they don't get what they want, every time. Anyone who has worked in any service position knows this, and it is the most certain way to make an impossible work situation a thousand times worse.

QBQ! Table of Contents

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