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December 15, 2017

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Beware Those Who Boast

Years ago, early in my career, I was half-heartedly asked to look at the numerous forms our company used to see if I could reduce the number. I say, "half heartedly" because I could tell management didn't expect much could be done and it wasn't that important anyway.

It was quickly apparent to me that the forms all had unique uses and that trying to create one über-form would be counter productive.

A few years later I was given, rather more enthusiastically, the task of combining four different marketing databases into a single database. This was more doable but what struck me was that in each database the address for a given place was different. I don't mean "different" as in "some were wrong", just different. For example, one used a postal address (e.g. PO Box 12345), another used a street address, a third used a street corner (Frank Street and Stein Ave.), and the fourth would often have two listings for "one" place since for this group the storage facility was considered separate from the main building even if it was part of the main building.

Again, I could have forced the issue but I would have created a single database that didn't meet anyone's needs as well as what they had now. The costs of duplicate data were more than offset by the efficiencies of having custom databases for each use.

There are a couple of lessons here. The first one is that the world is a complex place and that something as "simple" as "the address" may not be simple at all.

The other lesson is that were I more gung-ho I could have "succeeded" in both projects and spent the rest of my career boasting how I had "reduced the number of forms in my department by 62%" and "increased efficiency by consolidating four databases into a single system". Those "accomplishments" would have looked great on a resume. Instead, I spent my time in job interviews explaining how clever I was in doing nothing.

To this day, I remain skeptical of people who boast about tangible accomplishments. Someone who increased sales 40% may have done so by flooding the distribution channel or conning customers or stealing a big client from another region. It is always possible to get tangible gains at the expense of the intangible; always possible to improve the short-term at the expense of the long-term. Those who boast about their tangible accomplishments are just the kind of people who are likely through selfishness or stupidity to put the long-term at risk.

So be wary of the tangible, be skeptical of the obvious and be willing to take pride in doing nothing when nothing is the right thing to be done.

David Creelman
Hr.com, contributor
www.HR.com