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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Unusual solutions involving opting out

I've been known to find weird solutions to problems. Sometimes they are driven by my own desire to optimize a situation for my own benefit. Here's one which happened during a particularly bad company "leadership exercise" offsite a couple of years ago.

After a couple of days of serious annoyance in the woods, I was over it and just wanted the whole thing to end. Of course, since I took a company shuttle bus and didn't have any form of transportation, it's not like I could (easily) leave under my own power. I would have had to hike through the woods back to civilization where at least I could get a cell signal and call for a very expensive taxi ride back to Silly Valley.

Before we left on the final day, there was one more exercise. We were herded onto an open space with a concrete pad underneath. A couple of lines were arranged across this space fairly high up, like where the top of a volleyball net would be. We were supposed to take tennis balls, call them "packets", and then feed them from one end of the system to the other. Everyone was supposed to touch every "packet", and none of them were supposed to touch the ground. I also think we were forbidden to hand them to each other - they had to actually be thrown and caught.

With 24 people, this is no small thing to arrange. We were also divided into four quadrants with the lines separating us. To cross from one quadrant to the other, the packets (tennis balls) had to go over those lines. That basically meant a whole bunch of coordination all the way around. Everyone had to receive a ball from one side and then chuck it to the other, but you had to be sure the next person was ready to receive it. Once dropped, the ball was lost forever.

Given that I was over it and really wanted no part of this, I went up to one of the organizers and requested a rule clarification. I wanted to know if everyone had to be involved with this. He just said there were to be four teams of six people, for 24 total. I said "you see why I'm asking, right?", and he paused for a bit and then realized what I was up to, and said "no, everyone has to be in on it". Drat.

My idea was simple enough: coordinating 24 people is hard. Coordinating a smaller number of people who can still schlep the packets around through the four quadrants would be far easier. Besides that, it meant that I would become one of the people standing there not doing anything, since I was over the whole thing anyway.

Unfortunately, that was rejected, so I had to stand there and fling tennis balls every which way in some attempt to prove something. At some point, they also started a "contraflow" thing where a second set of tennis balls, colored differently, went backwards at the same time.

Sometimes I wish I had just stood there and let the balls fall to the ground when they were thrown my way, but that would have just created more drama that would have to be explained and handled later. The fastest way through this particular mess was straight through, so that's what I did.

As soon as that bus stopped in Mountain View, I made a beeline for the parking garage and my car and went straight home. I wasn't sticking around for any more of their garbage.

December 5, 2012: This post has an update.