Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Working with Snakehandlers

Do you work with extremely literal people? You know who I mean: people who only see exactly what is in front of them, who wait to be told precisely what to do, who don't seek out answers independently but wait for you to come up with what you want them to do, and who never question what you tell them.

I think of these kinds of workers as snakehandlers. Maybe you've heard of them: the Pentacostal religious group that places specific and oddly literal emphasis on a single phrase in the Bible, "They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover."

There are a lot of things in the Bible that people over the years have chosen to understand as metaphors for stuff. Like this part. But the folks who subscribe to snakehandling read that and say, "The good Lord must mean for us to take up serpents and drink Dran-o." And so they do, and that's fine.

But if I issue a memo that says, "Take up serpents, coworkers!" I would hope that someone would perhaps take me aside and say, "You know, I've been doing some research on the Internet, and it turns out that most organizations like ours aren't handling snakes. I found three other places that are similar to ours and they don't use snakes at all, but they are using teambuilding exercises instead."

But it turns out that some people may just sit there and wait for me to decant the snakes.

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