#4 Wasting time or enjoying a diversion?

by | Mar 13, 2008 | Blog | 0 comments

Seven areas of waste. Seven deadly sins.  They collided for me this week in a dramatic, disturbing and disruptive way.
Every time I paused to consider what task to do next, I got distracted by the Eliot Spitzer sex scandal. And even when I was working, including talking to a client on the phone, the story got my attention. As soon as I spied an e-mail alert from The New York Times about Governor Spitzer and a prostitution ring, I felt compelled to learn more immediately. Yes, multitasking is bad for you, but something newsworthy is happening!
In between news cycles, I started to wonder. For knowledge workers like me, was following the unraveling Spitzer case an insidious form of waste in the world of LEAN? Tracking the case certainly added time for me to complete my work, which is one of the definitions of waste under LEAN.
And where was the value? My clients certainly aren’t expecting to pay me for knowing the ins and outs of a scandal that doesn’t personally affect them.  Plus, in this case, the shock factor was so great that it didn’t seem to classify as re-energizing small talk, unless you’re a corporate scandal junkie. Which I have to admit I am.
Starting with Enron in 2001, I monitored all the CEO perp walks. Adelphia. Bristol-Myers Squibb. Global Crossing.  Qwest Communications. Tyco WorldCom. It almost became a hobby, although I did apply my learnings to my work with the new leadership team at Adelphia. Among other things, I helped them introduce a new and sorely needed code of conduct and ethics program to the workforce, for which my client and I won an IABC Gold Quill Merit Award.
During our ethics project, Adelphia faced another bump in the road. The company’s 401(k) plan was invested with one of the many mutual funds that Eliot Spitzer, the New York District Attorney was investigating. The head of the mutual fund resigned and another financial institution took over. That problem was unrelated to the issues associated with Adelphia’s founders but nonetheless, it was a communication challenge. Employees were now worried about the safety of their 401(k) money in addition to the future of the company and job security.
Back then my LEAN work was just beginning so I wasn’t as conscious of waste and value as I am today. Even without that comprehension, I was aware that my degree of knowledge about all of these scandals was overproduction, which some LEAN experts view as being the greatest of all wastes. How could I possibly use every gory detail I had gleaned?
Now the dilemma is: Is my addiction to scandals a waste of time or is it an irresistible   diversion that interests me and may bring me more work?

The latter is an appealing argument, especially after reading Lee Gomes’column this week in The Wall Street Journal by March 12, 2008 about why we’re powerless to resist grazing on endless web data.

He wrote about research conducted by Irving Biederman, a neuroscientist at the University of Southern California who’s studying the evolutionary and biological basis of the human need for information.
Dr. Biederman’s research is showing that when humans look at photos that include an element of mystery their brains produce more pleasure-enhancing neurotransmitters, which are called opoids. So when we encounter “new and richly interpretable information,” we experience a chemical reaction that makes us feel good and makes us want more information. Dr. Biederman’s research is also showing the reverse. We want to avoid things that bore us.
Thank you, Dr. Biederman and Lee Gomes! Knowing now about opoids is enough ammunition for me to view scandals as a pleasurable diversion, not a time waster. Who needs computer games, gardening or other hobbies, when you’ve got a juicy story to follow?


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