wait and drink tea

waiting and drinking tea

I have a friend who definitely believes in the Pareto principle and quotes it at every opportunity. The basic idea is that about 80% of the result comes from 20% of the work (and the converse: you do 80% of the work and get only 20% of the benefit). Business people talk about this concept often. It’s regularly used to talk about where you’re putting your effort and how you can better optimise your success.

There’s a lot I could talk about regarding this, but I’d like to focus on the way people work together. How groups function, and what sorts of people make up successful ones. But first, why? Where did this topic come from?

I got to thinking about the German idiomAbwarten und Tee trinken‘, which has always made me smile. I like it partly because it includes something I love (tea drinking), but also because it’s a decent option of what to do when you’re just not sure about the next step.

Literally it means ‘wait and drink tea‘. Yet as with most idioms, the literal definition is only part of the story. Wait and drink tea is used specifically when adding pressure to negotiations won’t help. When the best thing to do is to do nothing at all. So, you have to wait…and while waiting, why not brew some tea? It’ll at least make the wait a bit more pleasant.

One of the translations I saw while searching for examples of ‘Abwarten und Tee trinken‘ was wait and wonder. If you know anything about me, you know I love that sort of thing. Sitting and pondering things. At length. Sometimes to my detriment.

Then I went a bit farther down the search list and what did I find? An article from 2005 in Der Spiegel called Warum wir abwarten und Tee trinken (Why we wait and drink tea). And here’s where we get to the workings of a group.

The article talks about a study done by evolutionary psychologist Robert Kurzban in which he divides groups into three types of people. There are the helpers (active, selfless volunteers) and the freeloaders (those that don’t do anything). If you’ve tried to plan or accomplish anything in a group, you know about those. But then he mentions a third group, and those are the ones who wait.

They’ve seen Pareto principle in action, and they’ve already come to the conclusion that a very small number of the group is actually going to do anything. Having seen the freeloaders get by with little if any work on earlier projects, the ones who wait take a bit of a fatalistic stance and then they watch carefully what happens next. It’s what they do.

I had a look at the website of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, where the original study was published. Alas, I found a lot of other materials there about the work of Robert Kurzban, but not this specific study. Here I am translating a German article that’s citing the original…I wonder how close my reading of it is to the source material.

Back to the subgroups

According to the people studied, 17% of people belong to the helpers and a full 20% to the freeloaders. The largest group by far is the ones who wait whose numbers come in at a whopping 63%.

The claim that’s made is that one can predict how reliable a group is based upon the numbers in each subgroup. The ratio of the useful to useless is important, but what’s also crucial is how many people are willing to work if they see that their effort will have any appreciable meaning.

How does one accomplish that? The answer offered is that everyone be informed about each individual contribution. That there’s a sort of positive accountability, in which the ones who actually did the work are praised accordingly. Once the ones who wait see that there exists such accountability, they’ll be much more willing to take part and contribute.

Until then, they’ll be happily drinking their tea.

Shameless plug: here’s my teablog post on the same topic Abwarten un Tee trinken.

Don’t care if you’re couthie or not…if you shoogle it, you’ll end up draekit. Ya (bleedin’) glaekit numptie.

lahikmajoe with an Irn-Bru

This blogpost has nearly no actual content. It has a bit, but it’s definitely content light.

My friend Jenny recently gave me several Scottish words, and I just had to employ them in any way possible. I had an elaborate plan to create an epic story using my new words, but then I realised I could fit them all into the title. Problem solved, right?

Well, only if you know what the words mean. Then it’s great. Just great.

To be ‘couthie‘ is to be amiable or sociable. The photo up above is one of me being especially couthie before a football match between Aberdeen Football Club and the local Munich team whose name I won’t even bother mentioning. Before the match, we all met at my Aberdonian friend Iain’s for an Irn-Bru.

(correction: Iain has told me that he’s Glaswegian. It’s his dad who’s an Aberdonian. All I know is that we went to see Aberdeen Football Club)

To ‘shoogle‘ is to shake or sway and to be ‘drookit‘ is to be drenched, so if you shake up that can of Irn-Bru and open it, you’re going to get very wet.

And ‘glaekit‘ means stupid or idiotic. If you insist on doing all that while knowing that it’s a carbonated beverage, then glaekit really is the perfect word to describe you.

Nothing personal.

in search of a flatter earth

Although I’ve been in an airplane and seen the curve of the horizon, I could definitely argue for the logic of a flat-earth. If the globe was really round, why don’t we lean one way or the other. How can the Chinese live their whole life upside down? Think about it.

I’ve heard about Newtonian physics, and the whole gravity thing. But gravity hasn’t actually been proven to me. Not me personally. From my perspective, those people down in Australia really ought to have some sort of contingency plan for when they finally start floating away.

What about the advantages of a flat-earth? Well, once we’ve rewritten the book on the whole earth-is-round thing, we can get down to all of those other pesky things that people seem to mindlessly accept.

First of all: buy low sell high.  I’ve never liked this one.  The buying low thing is ok…everyone likes a good deal, but I have a bit of a hoarder tendency.  I tend to just buy low and hold on.  Doesn’t sound nearly as good, does it?

And secondly, why is it the people you least want to talk to who end a phone conversation with, ‘I’m going to have to let you go‘?  Really. It’s always the least tolerable people I have to deal with who say this. I’m already daydreaming about what else I’ll get to do when I finally get off of this call, and in the middle of them droning on and on and on, they suddenly remember someone else they have to go bore senseless.  It’s as if the person saying ‘I’m going to have to let you go‘ really thinks I’m going to be deprived of enlightening conversation.

I’m sure that I’ll come up with plenty more of these. Some of them will even be German ones that you’ve probably never heard of. I was informed recently that if you pull out one grey hair, seven more will come in in its place. Really? That’s encouraging isn’t it? Wonder what brilliant scientific analysis came up with that.

I would go on with this, but I’m going to have to let you go.