Saturday, 3 March 2012


The term "anti-work" is one of those terms that makes you do a double-take.
How can something be anti-work?
From the definition of work as "the amount of effort applied to produce a deliverable or to accomplish a task", it follows that
Anti-work is the work done to make the production of a deliverable or the accomplishment of a task more difficult.
So what does that mean in our everyday lives?

1. Learning curves
If a learning curve is made more steep, so that learning a new skill is more difficult than it otherwise might be, this is anti-work in action.

Sometimes this is justified as "intellectual property protection".
You may notice this when you buy a gadget and discover that there are no visible screws or means to open or examine the device.

Sure, there are good reasons not to mess with electrical equipment, for example. But this wouldn't stop one of the manufacturers competitors from opening it - they'd use a hack-saw and be done with it.

2. Officialdom
It takes a certain level of skill to put something moderately complex together.
If you can give it smooth curves or a two-tone plastic case, it conveys the impression that it was made by a corporation, and that tweaking it is "discouraged".

3. The "Oubliant"
This is a French term that originates from the word "forget" but here it's used as a noun that means "a place to send someone to forget about them".
In the context of anti-work, this means a labrynth.
A good example of this is the world wide web.
If you use the right search term and there are one or more sites that feature that term then you're in luck.
Veer of the beaten path and you're in for errors misconceptions, copies out of date references etc.

To remove these entries from the web would be a great service to humanity, but that in itself constitutes another form of anti-work:

4. Work that appears to achieve no result
Another way of putting it is "work that helps you discover all the wrong ways of doing something".
You meant to ask for the right way, but didn't have the language, the grasp of terminology or the experience to pose the question correctly.

This happens a lot in software development, even in cases where buying a book on the subject is not an option, simply due to what's called "shop blindness".
This is where a group of individuals become so immersed in a subject that they unconsciously begin to use every-day terms with specific meaning not apparent to an outsider. Result: anti-work.

5. One vs many
If you're trying to "stay ahead of the field" you can either be ahead of the field, or make the field more difficult, using anti-work.
Of course your ability to encourage others to follow your anti-work path indicates that you're already prominent in that field, so why do it?
Possible answers are: officialdom, in the public interest (e.g. risk or hazard concerns), branding (where the tone used is consistent within professionals in the field).

6. Bureaucracy
The incidences of bizarre procedures where a simpler friendlier and ultimately more efficient alternative exists are too depressing to list.

7. Gamesmanship
When an otherwise simple career path is steeped in dodgy dealings/characters/situations.
See <insert country here>'s next top model to see what people get up to in the business of wearing clothes.

8. Bottle-necks
Just like a bottle, the flow is restricted at the neck, unlike a glass or cup.
This is where the supply/production/application process needs to be handled by an elite group of individuals.
Rather than train others to share the load, these talented individuals are far too busy catering to demand. If only there was more time!

9. The blind leading the blind
No offense is meant towards the visually impaired here.
In this context the "blind" leaders many be amateurs, enthusiasts or those who otherwise manage their audiences expectations of their ability.
If there's a problem, they "have an idea" as to what's wrong.
If they fix it, it'll "probably be OK".
They may ask the real experts but don't tell you otherwise you wouldn't need them.
The wonderful thing about this class of anti-workers is that we can all claim our free membership pass with subjects we're learning or that are a bit beyond us.
I think that's the job description of a parent.

10. It was like that when I got here
The possibility that this was really the case implies the existence of some unknown individual/entity who's in a better position to know how things really work than the people responsible, and that asking too many questions might offend this unknown deity.
Religions have started over this kind of hearsay and rumor.
Then again some people duck and dive responsibility for a living.

11. The "stall"
You have a requirement, and you look around for the tool, service or product to solve it, but none of them fit exactly, or need further investigation.
"OK there are problems with version 0.5, wait until you see version 0.6, it will knock your socks off."
So you start looking into their offering and indeed the possibility exists that one day it could possibly do what you want.
A few days/weeks of learning how to use it you discover you need to buy a book.
Then a DVD.
Then a training course.
Then the next version.
And another training course.
There are more expensive offerings available, but you thought you'd save money be allying with an impertinent start-up or open source alternative.
It's bound to be cheaper than doing it yourself, won't it?
Then they change direction entirely and guess what, there are books, DVDs and training courses for that version too.
Who would have thought they were in the book/DVD/training course business.
Then you find out that the thing you wanted to do could be done with the product, and 250 people.

12. Fashion
Yes, fashion even gets in here too. See also culture, tradition and religion.

13. Psychological projection
See here for more on this.

14. Competition
Anti-work is a tool, and if you can keep a competitor too busy to compete effectively, then that could make the difference.

15. Jobs
It's a sad fact that the importance of some management positions is measured by the number of people that position manages.
Like the emperors new clothes, this can run away with itself.
We should all have more free time by now, not keeping each other busy.

I encourage you to note anti-work wherever you go and whatever you do.

It may help you distinguish between real work and a performance.

I wouldn't describe myself as a "save the planet" type, but most damning of all is the fact that anti-work is just wasteful.

If even one such problem could be solved or its effects reduced by one person spending one hour of their time, to save thousands of other people spending hours or days of their time trying to solve, then we would have a more efficient society.

That's a good thing, isn't it?