Two TED speeches on waste

This week I want to examine two talks on TED. Both seem to deal with the subject of waste. Dan Phillips uses building materials that would otherwise be wasted in landfills and make homes out of them. Jason Fried campaigns against the senseless waste of time created by the company meeting.

Dan Phillips

http://video.ted.com/assets/player/swf/EmbedPlayer.swf

Dan Phillips has made his living constructing affordable homes from materials that would otherwise be sent to the landfill. The homes have lots of character, “warts” and things that don’t look perfect or regular. Phillips counters that our desire to have houses (and most things) look perfect and predictable have led to a stunning amount of landfill waste. For instance, if we see a cracked window pane, it disrupts the pattern.

Some notable quotes:

  • “Looking up into the turret, there are bulges and pokes and sags… and if that ruins your life, then you probably shouldn’t live there.”
  • “This light is the same light that appears in every middle class foyer in America. Don’t put it in the foyer. Put it in the shower.”
  • “The Apollonian perspective creates an awful lot of waste. If something isn’t perfect, if something doesn’t line up with that pre-meditated model of perfect… dumpster!”

When I helped my brother renovate his house, he was re-installing a sink temporarily, and wanted to re-use some copper pipe for the hot and cold water leads. So I helped him, and it involved positioning the old sink, a heavy piece of 1930s nostalgia, while he bent the copper pipe properly, and sweated the pipes together. This process took well over an hour, and I suggested that next time he buy a $20 sink connection from Home Depot, which would have made the job take five minutes. But reusing material is a mindset that forces you to re-think the whole concept of time and what it is worth in the grand scheme. It’s like walking to work. It takes me 20 minutes each way. I spend easily 40 minutes walking every day. It changes my conception of time, but I have a lot more value for that time, because I’m able to exercise and listen to a podcast or two.

Jason Fried
“Where do you go when you really need to get something done?”

http://video.ted.com/assets/player/swf/EmbedPlayer.swf

Where do I go when I really need to get something done? It can be the office, but only later in the evening or on the weekend. Sometimes it helps to be in a coffee shop. The library can be effective. Sometimes at home in the morning, rarely at night however. Fried likens the work process to sleep. Sleep is ineffective when done in 15 minute increments; sleep’s effects are useful only when it progresses through stages. I would agree. On days where I can spend 3-4 hours on a project, uninterrupted, that work has been high quality work. At the same time, some work can be monotonous by nature, can be emotionally draining, and requires frequent distraction to numb the pain.

Fried argues for “no talk afternoons” where office managers and fellow employees will agree to keep silent and not disturb each other while working for the entire afternoon. He also tells managers to cancel this afternoon’s meeting… and next week’s meeting too. He frames meetings not in “hours lost” but “employee hours lost.” A one-hour meeting represents one-hour lost. But if ten people attend the meeting, then multiply that hour lost by ten. By conducting the meeting, the employer has lost ten employee hours, which could have been spent on more productive ventures.

Meetings offer a chance for social interaction, the type of which can be rare in an office which requires less and less human interaction to accomplish tasks. At the same time, meetings seem to put employees in a dismal mood, as they rarely seem to offer a chance for true collaboration. The type of scheduled weekly meetings that nearly every company division or department conducts seem necessary because everyone must be present, and we don’t have to go through the misery of scheduling just to have a sit down.

What is the future of meetings? As the gen-x and gen-y employees of today move into tomorrow’s management positions, is the weekly meeting a thing of the past? Are gen-x employees savvy enough to find other, more efficient ways to meet? My feeling is that better managers will find more effective ways to meet, and less effective managers will continue with the status quo. Maybe managers don’t want to cancel meetings because those meetings provide the only chance for interaction at the office.

Finally, Fried has been asking people “where do you work best?” for years, which got me to thinking about types of data that I could collect from people “over time.” I have been trying to think of some enduring questions that I would like to get some direction on before I formally construct them into a survey. Maybe this would be an ideal time to drop them into an internet survey, post them on my website, and try to gather some data from passers by.

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