Part 18. The Toolbox
There's nothing like a good set of tools. There is a certain "feel" that
a solid hammer or a favorite drill has, a familiar feel based on years of happy
and successful use. A workingman's tools say a lot about his or her character, because
the craftsman often chooses his or her own tools. Thus we can note whether they
prefer Craftsman or Stanley or Husky or some other brand. We can draw conclusions
based on how much money they are willing to spend, and on whether they choose all
the tools from the same manufacturer or "mix and match."
A workman choosing tools seems like such a simple and elegant way for a manager
to show respect for their employees. It basically costs the same thing to have Procurement
get a crate of tools, then find out that some of them don't feel comfortable or
don't match a particular work situation, and then go out and make corrections, as
it does to simply allocate a certain amount of discretionary money to each worker
and allow them the freedom to choose. The worker is thus treated with respect and
is given credit for the ability to use some common sense and judgment. Perhaps a
diligent worker so treated will even pay a little extra out of their own pocket
for an especially nice set of tools; after all, they are going to be using them
every day, perhaps for many years.
Of course this particular way of running a business works because tools come in
standard sizes. Nobody will sue a toolmaker for making a 5/8-inch wrench, because
the number "5/8" is public property. The same goes for guages of wire
and the sizes of screws, nuts, and bolts. Therefore the workers can buy these standard
sizes and simply choose the heft and feel and brand-name features that they are
most comfortable with. A worker is known by his or her choice of tools, and there
is no question that a well-made set of tools which pleases the worker will accomplish
However, when the work to be done is with information instead of nuts and bolts,
the scenario changes completely. Instead of showing respect to the "data craftsman"
in their workforces, more and more managers have become dictatorial in forcing only
one set of tools upon all their workers -- as if "one size fits all" was
somehow more reasonable for computer users than for blue-collar workers. Instead
of wisely showing respect for the individual needs of each worker, information managers
require absolute conformity to the Windows model, treating their highly-paid white-collar
employees with less respect than even a janitor. Once locked-in to Microsoft products,
superior alternatives are forbidden by the dictates of the management -- and the
Sure, they will make some weak attempt to compensate the workers for their loss
of freedom, individuality, and work effectiveness -- such as allowing individual
styles of dress and grooming, or having frequent office parties -- but this does
nothing more than increase the level of frustration felt by the information workers.
Instead of allowing craftsmanship and individual interaction with favorite tools,
we now see the way Microsoft views the modern workplace: nothing more than a simple-minded
assembly line, treating workers like identical, interchangeable pieces of machinery.
Once in control of the marketplace, Microsoft shows itself to have the same command-and-control
mentality they once railed against.
Most recent revision: January 3, 1998
Copyright © 1998, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.