I Hate People

Well, not all people. At least not enough to write a book called I Hate People, which is just what authors Jonathan Littman and Marc Hershon did. (Note to self: the title was irresistible; here I am writing about it.) One of the authors (Hershon) is a branding expert and comedian who named, among other products, the Blackberry phone and the Swiffer mop.

It’s the comedian in him that accounts for the tone of the book.I Hate morning people

The subtitle of I Hate People is even more compelling: Kick loose from the overbearing and underhanded jerks at work and get what you want out of your job. Now I know I have your attention. Littman and Hershon start with a great quote by Samuel Johnson: “I hate mankind, for I think of myself as one of the best of them, and I know how bad I am.” This in the 1700’s, before the cubicle was even invented. The authors understand that for many people, the idea of stating aloud that you hate people can be scary. So they test your self-proclaimed fondness for people. The quiz asks seven questions like this:

When I’m on a business flight, I most enjoy sitting beside:

  1. Chatty people wearing lots of cologne
  2. Crying children
  3. Children
  4. An empty seat
  5. Two empty seats

Yes, I thought so.

I Hate People goes on to build a case for what it calls the “Least Wanted List:” archetypes of people at work who drive you crazy, from Stop Signs (“no” is their default answer for everything) and Spreadsheets (micromanagers who try to overwhelm you with detailed paperwork until you give up on projects.) And the slow-moving, but difficult to maneuver around “Sheeple” (people who prefer the herd and move in one unstoppable mass “kind of like a glacier that takes coffee breaks.”) The archetypes are organized into Stumbling Blocks, Wrong Turns and Time Wasters (some gifted individuals can be classified as a “combo plate” of unlikeability.)

Flippant tone aside, I Hate People actually throws in some data to prove that teams are not the most productive way to work. A 1913 study by French agricultural engineer Maximilien Ringelmann created a virtual tug of war with groups and individuals tugging against a strain gauge. The “Ringelmann Effect” states that people will put out about 20 percent less effort in a small group than they will as an individual, a concept he called “social loafing.” In a group of eight, people pulled just half as hard as they did alone.

Slacking seems to be hard wired into the human brain. If I pull alone, I pull as hard as I can; after all, who else is there to pull? But once we add a team into the mix, I can relax a little, knowing that my team will share the load. In my experience, social loafing may also be tied into the fact that as a team member, you get less credit for a win, even if your chances of winning may be greater. Sharing credit is usually less rewarding – although assigning blame is our new national pastime.

The answer for some of us, the authors claim, is to give up teamwork and become soloists. It’s a term they coined from orchestras; soloists are more gifted played to not only get to perform alone during the concert, but have a responsibility to lead and inspire the other players in their sections. If you’re lucky, the authors say, you’ll be able to distance yourself from all the time-sucking meetings and mind-numbing office protocol and simply work on interesting projects – alone, or with a small, talented group of people you don’t hate. Skunkworks, one my favorite cool business terms, is used to describe a group within an organization that is given a high degree of autonomy and unhampered by bureaucracy, tasked with working on advanced or secret projects. Sound good to you? Read about how to become a successful soloist in the next post.

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