Thursday, April 8, 2010

The K Rule

I had a co-worker once who taught me more than probably anyone else about the way American corporations work.* You probably know the type -- super-enthusiastic, thirsty for power, barely competent on a good day. He would volunteer for everything, and usually fail to do anything after that. When he did complete a task he left a trail of questionable results, indefensible liabilities, busted budgets, and disgruntled employees. Shortly after K received his first project to manage, I walked into his office late one evening to find him angrily reworking some results produced by people with considerably more expertise than he possessed in the area. "Why does this have to be so hard?" he fumed. "If people would just do what I say and not back-talk, we wouldn't have these problems." This outburst pretty much defines his management style.

Away from the office, he was pleasant and fun to be around, though he did ask my wife if she had a younger sister (presumably for him to date) when they first met. It was a nice gesture, but the "younger" part didn't go over really well, especially considering there is less than two years difference in their ages. I still see him at parties on occasion, and I will go out for a drink with him anytime. At work it's a different story. We once had to leave the office, go to his house, and drink an entire bottle of vodka just to work out our differences long enough to finish a project.

To the surprise of most around him, K moved up the corporate ranks very quickly, in spite of the fact that his egotism and lack of judgment produced near-disastrous results on several occasions. There were at least two separate times when I was sure he was going to get fired, only to see him promoted or given more responsibility within a short time. Apparently, all the corporate officers saw was a results-oriented self-starter who was not afraid to take risks to succeed. He was also a shameless self-promoter and would take credit for anything he could get away with, which didn't hurt.

But even the corporate types can get irritated, and management eventually created a rule that bore his name. When the rule was invoked, no one was allowed to use the word should unless it was immediately preceded by the word I.

I like the K rule. Since I first heard it several years ago, I have tried to live by it as much as I can. It has also made me sensitive to how often those who espouse personal responsibility believe it is always someone else who needs to change.

I really think more people should use the K rule.

* And as far as I can tell, governments and universities and just about anywhere else that bureaucracies thrive.


  1. i'm adopting the k rule. i will treat it with respect, cuddle it and feed it and care for it as if it were my own.

    there should be a special place in hell for self-promoters. maybe standing outside the Hell Executive Washroom, legs forever crossed...

  2. Ah, shit....Dilbert always thrives.....I have never not run into these types in any office environment, and you are correct, they are over-running the government.....

    BTW, the opera"Moby Dick" premieres 'on the world stage' in Dallas soon. I just know you and D will want to order your tickets now and make arrangements....

  3. Okay, that's excellent. I should do that. See? See how that works? I will be awesome at this.