Archive for May, 2008

The constant gardener


First of all, I tell you that one of the central ideas is not mine, but from a professor at a University where I teach when I have time, Universidad del CEMA.

Again, I will start with a driving example. It happens that I found a lot of examples while driving, probably because I have plenty of time to think about what is happening around me.

In Buenos Aires the transit is chaotic. I know: there are cities worse than mine in that aspect, but I live here and the example applies very well to other sites. I remember hearing the thoughts of an actor visiting BA, when the reporter asked about his feelings on this city. He said ‘I don’t know why you bother to paint the lines on the street, nobody cares!’. I agree. Almost nobody cares, but it is enough that only a few percentage do not care to generate this chaos.

That is what characterizes the transit in BA: there are more than a few drivers that don’t respect the laws. Probably is only a matter of obtaining benefits over the rest of the “group”, as I wrote in a former comment (A beautiful mind), but I am falling short if assigning all the responsability to sellfishness.

In my country die more than 20 people per day because of transit accidents. Not all of them are because the same problem, but I assign a very big number of them to one common cause: there are insufficient punishment for breaking the laws.

In the movie “The constant gardener”, some people were killed because they started to sniff around a pharmaceutical company testing new drugs in people at a country in Africa. The risk of punishment there for any of the crimes (the killing of some main characters and the killing of the africans who were using the drugs) was so low, that there was no incentive to act differently. Before anyone yell, of course it depends on your own values, way before the incentives (that will be matter of another blog entry).

The worst punishment one can receive because killing someone in an accident (providing it is not demonstrated that it was deliberate) is the indemnization you must pay in a civilian trial. And it is here where I am using the ideas from the paper: that amount is a number of pesos (my country’s currency) calculated based on the worth of the live of that person, which happens to be so low that the incentive to do the right thing is almost null. But even that situation have diminished risks under some circumstances, if you are a person with power, connections or lack of repentance.

As before, I will try to connect this to the attitudes at a job or in the society.

I live in a regulated world, where I supposedly receive benefits, provided I obey some rules. At the job, I am given a pay for doing some tasks according to some rules. If I don’t perform the tasks or do them against the rules, I should not receive the pay. Sorry to say this, but that applies only to some people and not to others. Some people know that the risk of not receiving the pay, or even being fired, is extremely low under some very known circumstances: if they are in a certain position (the power position), if they have a boss or a union that protects them (the right connections) or if their behavior was deliberate to benefit some person (lack of repentance) who can protect them, even hurting others.

There must be a balanced amount of prize and punishment, and both must be applied with the same rules for everyone. To live in a society or to work in a company means you are part of the system, there are a lot of people that depend on you doing the things you ought to and according to certain rules. You can not go through the live crashing people with your car just because you know nobody can punish you; in any moment, someone can crash you, knowing that he will not be pursued for doing it.

See you soon.

Diego :D

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The godfather


I was in a hurry while driving (very frequent for me, mainly because I hate driving), but going by the rules, as always. I was going on the lane next to the leftmost because I needed to follow straight, but a bus
made me stop: he wanted to turn right, and was left of me. I don’t want to discuss how he got there given that the buses must travel on the two rightmost lanes, but instead about his attitude: he started to turn right, and he didn’t care about anybody else. He has the most powerful weapon and knows that his liability was almost null; neither he must pay for the damages he could incurr in his vehicle nor mine, nor even worry about a trial, because the owners of those companies are very well connected and can threat anyone who try to get justice. He had power and know he can use it, and he did. He pissed me off.

Reading again my own words, I discover two of the main reasons why a person uses what he thinks is power: he assumes there is no risk (he is not paying for the consequences for the others and for the assets he is
managing) and there is a very small chance that anyone will start an action against him because he is sorrounded by people like himself that will protect him.

There is only one side on his equation: himself. The harm that can be done to the others doesn’t count. Regretfully, these people use to be seen as very succesful, since they usually get very good results to
the eyes of their peers.

Companies used to reward very high the results oriented people in the past. But times changed; some very important people loose their jobs or even went to jail in known cases of threatening, sexual harassment or
mobbing, because the companies and government started to understand that not only the results matters, but also the means by which they were obtained. You can’t go through life getting what you want from
your neighbours just because you wanted it. The governments started to write laws against some damages that were not taken into account before, like the time the damaged people loose to get justice or the
psicological consequences of the actions; the companies started almost the same kind of actions, and started to evaluate people based in a mix of attitudes (competencies) and not only on results.

I am not against powerful people or getting power, but in the way the power is used. It is very different to use the power to get knowledge than is to use it to force people to your will, as a leader is different than a dictator, even when a lot of people is under his command in both situations. Even the first situation is border to the law (for example, if you used privileged information obtained by means of your power position), but to manipulate people’s will is not only criminal, but also shameful.

One point for those who think are powerful enough to ignore the law aspects: there is a very big chance that someone have power because someone else gave him that power, and that means that person is more powerful than the former, so he can take the power away from him in any moment. Is like natural numbers: there is always a number bigger than the one you thought about.

What this “naked” people will have in that case, is what they have constructed, without the faked environment. Did them make friends or just accomplices in their “powerful” life?

Anyone has a Sherman tank to replace my car?

See you soon. Regards,

    Diego :D

Out for lunch


Going home last night, the traffic was insanely congested. It was not very late, but it was not rush hour. After about 15 blocks, there is the reason: a public services company made a hole in the avenue, blocking more than half of it. I am sure the problem they have justify the hole, but there was nobody working, and it seemed that there would be no one working until the next day. And that, friends, pisses me off.

I know: everybody have the right to go to take lunch during work hours, and also have the right to rest, be it at night or when it was arranged with the employeer. And there would be no exceptions, but there is a phrase that characterizes the roman law principles: your rights are delimited by the rights of the others. This company, as a lot of others in the city, was causing a traffic congestion, very big traffic congestion, limiting my right to take rest. Should the workers of this company work all night? I think they should; not the same workers, but they shoud have shifts to work all night and all day to reduce the time to solve the problem, even during lunch hours.

Just picture in your mind a neural surgeon, in the middle of a surgery, saying all the people around ‘OK, i am going to take some lunch’ and leaving the surgical room. It is also wrong if that surgeon must work 10 or 12 hours without stopping. He must have a backup. It is very difficult to have that backup if you are the specialist, and that means that the situations where you are involved are not everyday. But the people that should fix the problem the public services company has at the beginning of this post are not specialist. They should have backup, or shifts, and that is a company responsability.

If you know the contribution you do to your company, I am sure you don’t regret working 12 or 14 hours in a row to solve a problem or an urgency. But it has to be an urgency. If everyday you have to work that much, there must be something else going on. We, the managers, have a responsability in that kind of situations. You ask one of your team leaders to prepare some kind of document and give him 3 days to do it. Pretty long time, right?  But that person have to choose between doing it by himself or delegate to his team. If he chooses the second, he must meet his team, give them the assignment and deadline, assure he will have time to review the resulting document before giving it to you, and even to have time to suggest changes. And, of course, to leave time to lunch and rest to his team. He will probably choose to solve it by himself. And he will probably do a wonderful work, surely delaying some other work he had planned. The next time you ask him for something you will think ‘Hey, he can do it in 3 days’. No, he can’t; at least, he can’t do it always.

So, the responsability of the manager is to really know how much time should take to solve the problem. And, if you have a deadline, to assign people to do it without hurting their rights, but also without missing the deadline. The public services company have a ‘deadline’: to disturb the citizens as few as possible. That means sizing their resources accordingly, so they can work, rest and go out for lunch, but without stopping the work.

There is another thing: the worker also has a very big responsability. He is paid for doing his best at the job. And that means that the “out for lunch” hour should be delayed if necessary, and he should not be so negligent to extend that time if he has work to do.

Do you want an open question? I like them, because they give me the opportunity to get feedback and to write another post. Does the government have a responsability in the traffic congestion caused by this company?

I am going out for lunch. See you in a couple of days.


    Diego :D

It pisses me off en español


I started a parallel blog in spanish. You can find it in

Comencé a escribir este blog en español. Lo pueden encontrar en

See you. Regards,

    Diego :D