Sunday, December 6, 2009

QBQ! Introduction: What Ever Happened To...

From a billboard towering over the Houston freeway loomed this question:

"What ever happened to personal responsibility?"

I don't know who put it up there, but it sure jumped out at me. For one thing, it seemed so clearly true. What has happened to personal responsibility?
And we're off! Ladies and gentlemen, you can tell you're in for a treat when a book begins by declaring a question to be clearly true. True or false: how old am I? One gets the feeling that Putnam has fired all of its copy editors, and also that John G. Miller is a brain-dead asshole.

Lo and behold, the second of our feelings is confirmed almost immediately. He offers us "some examples" of his conclusion that "What ever happened to personal responsibility" is true. The first:
I was looking for some coffee in a gas station convenience store, but the carafe was empty, so I said to the person behind the counter, "Pardon me, there's no coffee in the pot." He pointed at a coworker not fifteen feet away and said, "Coffee is her department!"

Department? In a roadside gas station the size of my living room?
Now, if I were making (most likely) minimum wage to work in a gas station convenience store--a relatively dangerous job, incidentally--I would not be particularly interested in going out of my way to help pushy assholes with mustaches, either, but, OK, sure, the guy sounds like he was maybe a little rude. Not rude enough to justify stewing about it for years and writing a book about it, but slightly rude. What Mr. Miller does not tell us, of course, is whether this gentleman was busy doing anything else at the moment, or whether the coworker he pointed at had a history of dropping the ball on making the coffee, or alternatively was a control freak who didn't want anyone else to touch the machine, or whether maybe the convenience store has some kind of safety regulations about who can handle the coffee maker, or any other number of things (like, say, what tone of voice Mr. Miller asked his question in). In other words, not only does Mr. Miller want his inferiors to always go out of their way for him, he does not care what their reasons for not doing so may be. Another thing we do not know, but which I feel we can safely draw conclusions about, is whether it is the nameless employee or John G. Miller who has the bigger living room.
Another: On a cross-country flight, the flight attendant got on the intercom and said, "Sorry, everyone, but the movie we promised you will not be shown today. Catering put the wrong one on board."
First of all, the o in the word on at the beginning there should be lowercase, Putnam. Second of all, I have to wonder if Mr. Miller would have preferred the flight attendant to lie to him. "Sorry! I brought the wrong movie on board!" I wonder also if this desire to be lied to would extend to more serious matters on the plane: "No, we're not crashing! You really shouldn't brace yourself for an impact! Don't worry about a thing!"

He gives us another inane example, then tells us that in addition to finding the billboard's question true he also agrees with it, and then moves on to the meat of his introduction. He gives us a list of questions that people ask that he thinks indicate a shirking of personal responsibility ("When is that department going to do its job?" "Why don't they communicate better?" "Who dropped the ball?" "Why do we have to go through all this change?" and "When is someone going to train me?"), telling us that they "go right to the heart of many of the problems we face today." Oh, along the way he pauses to tell us that he prefers "personal accountability" to "personal responsibility," simultaneously telling us that this whole thing is really about wanting to blame people for things they may or may not have actually done and rendering his whole awkward mention of the billboard pointless.

He doesn't, of course, go into any detail yet--that would make the remaining 110 page (minus all the blank space created by frequent chapter breaks) bulk of the book moot, and who would buy hundreds of copies of a book at a time to force down their employees' throats if that book was only five pages long? He does, however, make this ludicrous claim: "Once (people) start practicing QBQ thinking, things just seem to go better. People have more fun. Life is simply more satisfying and enjoyable for those who choose the way of personal accountability" (emphasis mine). This is just a guess, but I have a feeling that if our convenience store employee is going to find satisfaction in his life, it is not going to come from taking personal responsibility (er, sorry, accountability) and brewing up a new pot of coffee for John G. Miller, yessa massa.

QBQ! Table of Contents

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