Not the Droid You’re Looking For

not the droid500

Question: Sometimes in our team meetings I have to bring up blocking issues, and lately I’ve been getting yelled at for being negative. Even mentioning them privately gets me slammed as “wildly unproductive.” Pretending that a problem doesn’t exist won’t make it go away. That’s just crazy.


I think you nailed it on the crazy. This is a microcosm of the world at large, where declaring things as true is the norm more than ever before. Your project manager probably feels like she’s losing control of the project. She’s got pressure from above as well as from below (that’s you, punk bitch), so cut her a little slack if you can.

She’s not actually losing control of the project, because she never had it to begin with. A lot of these projects are uncontrollable chaos monsters, and all you can do is hang on and hope for the best. And maybe that is all that is really expected of you.

Meanwhile, denial of the obvious is actually an excellent tactic when nothing else works. Quit trying to make sense out of it, and listen to my real-life story.

I was on a dispersed writing team for a large, ambitious project with daily stand-up meetings just for the writers. There was no direct face-to-face contact with either the other writers, or the engineers. The writer stand-ups were all conducted remotely by video, and lasted for upwards of an hour each day. We were expected to repeat all this information on a Slack channel run by a bot. If our reported activities deviated from our weekly plan, there was yelling. I began to lie on my reports, and actively hid my progress.

Us older curmudgeons didn’t like the amount of sheer overhead, or how the remote client-side engineers never responded to any communications from us, ever. We were not part of their stand-ups or their office culture. We were not allowed to complain about this lack of responsiveness, or to accurately factor in the learning curve for tools and processes. Even mentioning it was treated as insubordination.

The last straw was getting slammed for an innocent comment on Slack. I dreamed of East Germany.

A few weeks later, I was getting my daily video beat down for “being negative” to the point where I finally said to my manager, in front of my entire writing team, “I don’t think I’m the droid you’re looking for,” an ancient Star Wars reference. I said, “I can see how frustrated you are with me. I’m sorry, and I am prepared to be fired if that’s what you feel you need to do.”

This was a very difficult thing for me to say, because frankly I desperately needed the income. But I was not willing to engage in 100% bullshit. She then said No, no, no, we’ll work through it, etc.

The very next day I had a long-awaited content review (video) with these same elusive engineers who said, in the first 2 minutes, how pleased they were with my draft content thus far. And they are pretty tough nuts. I was floored! After I found my smelling salts and stood up again, we ended the meeting early because they didn’t have any critical remarks.

So, I am not fired, yet. Maybe when this cartoon comes out, I will be.

I think I am serving the work, the task itself, when I should be obeying the chain of command instead. Meh. Anarchists shouldn’t go corporate.

“Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig.”

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