Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Hard Day's Night: Paul & George at Work

How does Beatleology play itself out in the workplace? Here are a few real-life scenarios that I have observed in the past year, interactions between a project manager who is a strong Paul (the Ram), and a software developer who is a strong George (the Dark Horse). Already some obvious traits can be pointed out: Rams are often the ones leading the projects, thinking "big," coordinating efforts and telling other people what to do; Dark Horses are usually the ones focused on the details, more comfortable working within clearly-established guidelines (don't ever put a Dark Horse on a project that lacks a strong blueprint and well-defined dates and deliverables - they'll go nuts).

The Ram checked the project plan and realized that a certain set of deliverables were due that day. Checking in with the Dark Horse on the status of those items, he was given a "realistic" update that those items were running a bit behind, and might not be finished until the next day. At the end of the day, the Dark Horse reported that they were indeed running behind; they were at "close to 60% completion instead of 100%"; the Ram reported back to the client that his team was "making significant progress and should have it wrapped up soon."

Dark Horses are always looking at the risks involved; that's why they aren't overly optimistic. They hope for the best, but they also see the things that might go wrong, and they try to plan for those eventualities. Rams, on the other hand, are rarely deterred by the warnings of the Dark Horse, because Rams keep their eyes fixed on the best possible outcome, and firmly believe that this is the outcome they will see. Where a Dark Horse will be somewhat discouraged that a deadline is being missed, a Ram will cheerfully report that "significant progress" is being made, because that is honestly how the Ram sees it.

The Dark Horse will see the Ram as dangerously un-tethered from reality, behaving recklessly, setting up unrealistic expectations and goals that won't likely be met; the Ram will see the Dark Horse as too pessimistic, lacking vision, too restricted, aiming lower than is necessary. This is why Rams and Dark Horses don't typically work well together; they're coming from opposite ends of the spectrum.

As the project continued along its way, the team came to a holiday weekend, which meant a solid four days out of the office and not working on the project. The Dark Horse left for the holiday and shut off the work cell phone for the duration; the Ram worked 10-hour days from home all through the weekend. Dark Horses are hard workers, but they draw clear boundaries between work and personal life; to burn up large chunks of holiday time working on office projects is to sell your soul for success. Rams, on the other hand, are energized by working on projects; they love the thrill of getting ahead, of making progress, of being able to cross major to-do items off the list. Putting in 10-hour days over a holiday weekend feels like a good weekend to a Ram; a Dark Horse, if forced to do the same thing, would quit his job on the spot.

The project finally came into its final week, and the Dark Horse was finally tying up all the last loose ends before the product would be released. With two days left to go, the Ram came in with a laundry list of "new features" that he wanted to be added, things that would make the product "really, really top-notch." When the Dark Horse strongly objected that now was not the time, two days before "live-launch," to start experimenting with new ideas, the Ram insisted that the changes were "not that difficult" and would "not take that long" to do. Besides, argued the Ram, these changes would take the product to "the next level" of excellence, would really push the product "over the top." The Dark Horse worked frantically to meet the new objectives, but it delayed the launch of the product by several days, and required several long nights of over-time work.

Again, Dark Horses hate risks. When a situation is stable, the risks have been eliminated, and assurance is high, the last thing a Dark Horse wants to do is to start tampering and changing things around, introducing a bunch of unknowns into the mix. For the Ram, however, optimism and professionalism rule the day: if a situation can be made better, then it should be, no matter how many little details need to be sorted out, because that's the professional thing to do; anyway, everything will work out just fine, because nothing is unattainable. Rams don't give as much weight to the risks, because their optimism tells them that risks are just "maybe's," and you can't sacrifice higher quality for a "maybe."

Rams also have a highly optimistic perception of how much effort will be required; in this scenario it was "no big deal" to add changes to the product, but it cost the Dark Horse a lot of extra over-time to make the Ram's vision become reality. In the Ram's mind, the tradeoff between the amount of extra work and the increase in the quality of the product makes the extra work seem insignificant. In other words, the extra work is well worth it, so in the end it's "no big deal."

The Ram and the Dark Horse almost certainly had different appraisals of the project once it was over. The Dark Horse, in all likelihood, will think of that project and have a bad aftertaste, remembering the difficulties, the lack of planning, the extra work required. The Ram, in all likelihood, will look back and happily remember what a great success the project was, because it ended well, the client was happy, and the product was high quality. He will take pride in his accomplishment, and quickly move on to the next big project.

It's a well-known fact that Paul and George had some trouble getting along within the Beatles. Paul was a kind of "project manager," writing his songs and overseeing their arrangements to the last detail; he had a vision of how it ought to sound, and he worked at it until he got it exactly right, and that meant telling everyone else how to play their instruments. George played a subservient role in these recordings, taking orders from Paul on what to play and not play, even if that meant working for hours and hours re-recording the takes until Paul was happy with it.

Much like the Ram and the Dark Horse in this scenario, when the Beatles went on vacation to India to get some rest and relaxation, Paul couldn't stop working - he kept writing songs and planning for the next album, much to George's extreme irritation:

"George actually once got quite annoyed and told me off because I was trying to think of the next album. He said, 'We're not fucking here to do the next album, we're here to meditate!' It was like, 'Ohh, excuse me for breathing!'" (Paul, quoted in Many Years from Now)

What George probably didn't realize was that planning for the next album was Paul's way of relaxing and meditating; what Paul probably didn't realize is that George saw The Beatles as a job, and needed some time to get away from all the work. Paul was muddying up George's vacation with work; George was expecting Paul to give up something in India (working on music) that truly helped him relax and feel good.

Rams and Dark Horses can work together, but it takes a lot of patience and trying to see the other person's point of view, because both are coming from such polar opposite viewpoints.

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