27 March 2008

Urgent! Urgent!

Perhaps no one thing better characterizes the corporate environment than a conflation of importance and urgency. Given that importance inside of big corporations is so often hard to establish, and deadlines so easy to set, people tend to gravitate towards the urgent, treating it as if it is important. Nothing seems more certain to create rework than urgency. Worse, it creates stress, trumps thought and creativity, and works to continually subordinate long term vision to short term bursts of adrenaline. Things that are important will change status quo. By contrast, urgent just seems to sustain the status quo.

But urgent makes even people doing unimportant work feel important – if only for a bit. An aggressive deadline can make otherwise tedious tasks seem more important, of seeming consequence.

I watch the scurry – even get drug along with it at times, working with these teams – and am reminded of Deming’s brilliant quip: “Best efforts. We are being ruined by best efforts. Everyone doing their best. We’d be a lot better off if some people just came in late and read the newspaper.”


LSD said...

I'd like to comment, but I'm too busy.

exskindiver said...

even bowel movements--if urgent--become all too important when
delivered safely to a ceramic haven.

exskindiver said...

ps. and with a newspaper in hand...is even better.

ThomasLB said...

Are you sure that was Deming? It sounds more like Wally from "Dilbert." ;o)

Gypsy at Heart said...

I had a boss once. He knew how to do the bossing thing. Came in at 11:00 every day. Worked until 12. At twelve he took a 2 hour lunch. At two, he'd come back, "work" for half an hour. At 2:30 his office door would shut for the next hour. He had a sofa in his office and that is where he took the 2:30 to 3:30 nap. The secretary knew not to let anyone interrupt. At 3:30 the door would open again. By four in the afternoon he was gone. Not bad for a day's work huh? Seems like he subscribed to your Demming's philosophy. To be truthful, I admired his chutzpah.

cce said...

I'm doing my part to alleviate the world's stress and diffuse some of the lingering urgency. I do come to my office early but if blog reading is today's version of perusing the newspaper, then I've got that one covered.

Ron Davison said...

You are just too important. That's your problem.

Oh sure. You're trying to ruin my whole post by pointing out that eventually, urgent trumps important.

I think that Deming was a ghost writer for Wally.

That is hilarious. And truth is, he probably was as productive as the meeting junkies who usually hold those positions.

Deming was the biggest management genius of the last century. I'm sure that he would have approved of your work habits.

Norman said...


Your post reminds me of Covey's 2x2 matrix of important vs urgent. Where do you spend your time? he'd ask. Spend it on the important stuff before it becomes urgent.

Of course that assumes people have a way to determine what's important '-)

HRH said...

so true that I must scurry on...

Ron Davison said...

There is, indeed, a relationship between these two.

and, of course, I only now have the time to do the important work of playing blog host and acknowledging that you played white rabbit to my post, scurrying by as you moved on. It is one thing to point to something as problematic. It is another to embody it.