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Woodpile Philosophy: A Practical Application

This post has been moved over from my old website.

In June/2000, I sold my Web site to a start-up in the the U.S. and moved to Philadelphia for six months as an employee. My experience there was enlightening, to say the least. After the Internet craze meltdown, my husband and I spent a great deal of time at the cottage during our sabbatical.

During that time, I realized that my entire experience in the corporate world could be compared in many ways to stacking firewood. In a practical application of this woodpile philosophy, I’ve summarized this in the scenario below.

[ Please note: I did not sell my site for the money, but because the online community had grown to the point that I was doing far more admin/management than my own writing. I had been promised that I’d be able to interview & hire the manager types that I needed. While I was given a team at the company who were all wonderful writers and good people (and I still keep in touch with some of them), they were hired for me before I arrived….and I didn’t sell Inkspot because I needed writers. I needed admin/management help. I have since vowed that I will never let myself get involved in any project in which I end up doing more admin/management than creative work.]

SUPERVISOR: Hi, I’m Steve. What are you doing? 

ME: Your company told me to stack firewood. I’m getting pretty tired, though. They said I could hire some help. When will I be able to do that?

SUPERVISOR: Hiring freeze right now, sorry. Anyway, you’re not stacking the firewood properly. Here let me show you how. Here, why not try it like -this-? 

ME: Um, doesn’t it hurt when you do that? 

SUPERVISOR: Hey, it’s just a suggestion. Anyway, I need a report about how you think we can improve the whole process on my desk by tomorrow. And please hurry! We want a big a pile as possible as fast as possible! We -know- you can do it.

[Next day.] 

SUPERVISOR: Hi, I’m Ted. What are you doing? 

ME: Stacking firewood. Where’s Steve? 

SUPERVISOR: He’s been transferred to Ops. I was hired yesterday. Anyway, you’re stacking firewood in the wrong place. It should be over there. 

ME: Okay. Uh, listen…I’m getting really tired here. Can I get some help?

SUPERVISOR: Sure, I’ll see what I can do. And can you get a report to me about how you think we can improve the whole process? 

ME: I gave a copy to Steve already.

SUPERVISOR: Oh. Well, I haven’t seen it. I’d like an updated version on my desk by the end of the day, thanks.

[Several hours pass.]

SUPERVISOR: Hi, I’m Pete. Ted was transferred to another project. I was hired yesterday. Anyway, turns out we’ve run out of matches so we can’t use the firewood yet anyway. Slow down on the firewood stacking until we find more matches, ok?

ME: Um, okay. I haven’t had a break in a while, by the way. When do you think I can get some help?

SUPERVISOR: Soon, very soon. Anyway, you were stacking the wood in the wrong place. You should be stacking it over there instead.

ME: That’s where I -was- stacking firewood, but Ted told me to stack it in the new place.

SUPERVISOR: Ted was wrong. You’ll have to move the wood.

ME: Um, okay. But I have to warn you that I’m REALLY exhausted here.

SUPERVISOR: Ok, I’ll see what I can do. And can you get a report to me about how you think we can improve the whole process?

ME: I already gave updated copies to Ted and Steve, but I’ll print out a copy for you, too.

[Ten minutes pass.]

SUPERVISOR: Hi, I’m Lance. Pete’s been promoted. Anyway, I know you’re overworked, so we’re going to hire some help for you. This is Gomer; he’s here to apply for the job. Can you interview him and give us your feedback?

ME: Sure.

SUPERVISOR: And could you speed up the firewood stacking? Some potential investors from across the lake are going to be visiting, so we need as big a pile as possible as soon as possible. Oh…and I’d like you come up with some ideas on how to improve the whole process.

ME: I already gave copies to Steve, Ted, and Pete.

LANCE: But I never got one. Print out a dozen copies for the team, ok? We can discuss this in our next weekly Team Motivational Meeting.

[An hour later, after Gomer leaves.]

ME: I don’t think you should hire Gomer. He doesn’t seem to know what firewood is.

LANCE: Thanks for your input. We definitely don’t want to hire anyone you aren’t comfortable working with. And can you get a report to me about how you think we can improve the whole process?

ME: I already gave you a copy.

LANCE: Are you sure? I don’t remember. Anyway, print out out another copy for me.

[Next day]

LANCE: Great news! Gomer’s been hired to help you.

ME: I’m confused. I had recommended he -not- be hired.

LANCE: Just give him a chance, okay? Anyway, here he is…

GOMER: Hi there! I’m really looking forward to working with you to move this project forward, going forward. I have all kinds of great ideas to help us think outside the box. Let me know what I can do to help you.

ME: Um, okay. You could start by helping carry some of this firewood.

GOMER: Sure, absolutely, no problemo. But first I have a two-hour lunch meeting with my buddy, Pete The Senior Manager Who Has Great Influence in This Company. We go back a long ways, you know, ha ha. By the way, Lance wants us to come up with a list of ways we can improve the process.

[Next week]

LANCE: So how’s it going, guys?

GOMER: Just great. Lots of things are happening.

LANCE: Why does the woodpile look smaller?

ME: Gomer accidentally set fire to the woodpile yesterday.

GOMER: That wasn’t my fault. You should have -told- me not to pour gasoline on the wood and toss on a burning cigarette.

LANCE: Ah, that’s okay, Gomer. If we need something to burn in the fireplace, we can use this stack of old papers I found in a bottom drawer my office desk the other day.

ME: Those are my Process Report docs.

LANCE: Great, even better!

Looking for more about my experience in the corporate world? Feel free to browse my semi-autobiographical webcomic, My Life In A Nutshell.