Unraveling the Laws of Corporate Physics
One of my favorite activities is perusing books in a library or book shop - the one activity I really miss due to the Covid lock down. I mean not entirely. During the years I was still able to indulge in this luxury, I have managed to collect over 500 books - so I can carry out this activity within the safety of the four walls of my home. Only thing is you don't get any surprises. For having bought each one of them, I know all the books. One of the books I came across during a jaunt at a local library was titled 'Factory Physics'. That got me musing about what Physics has to do with factory management, I ended up realizing that laws of Physics are applicable to almost every activity in life. Today I thought I will write about how laws of Physics can be applied to one's corporate life.
I can talk about various laws of physics and their applicability to the corporate world. But that would take an entire book. Maybe one day I will write that book. But today I want to talk about just one law - the law of conservation of energy. You know the law that states that energy can transform from one form to another but the net amount of it will remain the same. Now accountants will come and say what is so great about it. "Even we would have told you that. Just in our case we would be talking about money instead of energy. After all we have spent lifetimes balancing credits and debits on our books to enforce the law of conservation of total wealth in the world." I know, I know. This in fact strengthens my hypothesis that some form of conservation law exists in every sphere of life.
So what is this law in the work place context. I would saw it is the law of triangle of quality, cost and speed. If you try to increase one, the other necessarily has to go down. I remember this joke about a manager saying, "I want this work done right now". And the employee asking, "Do you want it right or now?" Which though might sound funny, is the reality. If you want a man to get it right, give him the time or if you want it now, live with the mistakes he makes. As they say you can't have the cake and eat it too. Or if you really want it both right and now, put more people on the job which would mean more cost. Or do the sly thing which business have always been doing - push the cost to someone else. You know what they call externalities in economics parlance - stuff like pollution and stuff that society bears the cost of to enable companies to make profits. In this case, the cost is borne by employees. Instead of hiring two employees, make the one employee do the work of two. And give it the benign sounding name of flexible working hours and say proudly we are not like the offices of the old who mandated that employees have to come in to office by 9.00 am in the office and not leave till 5.00 pm. Yeah, you don't mandate that but if I got a work that came to me the previous evening and needs to be turned in by end of the day today, delivered with high quality, I probably end up starting at 7.00 am and working till 10.00 pm. That's flexible hours for you.
I was once having this discussion on the quality-cost-speed paradigm with one of my managing directors. He brought in a new dimension to the mix - "Innovation". He said innovation is the thing that breaks the constraints of cost, quality and speed and helps take the performance to the next level, increasing one of these parameters without decreasing either of the other two. It did seem right. But not so right. It could not be. This was against the law of conservation. And the law is universal and could not be violated. What was I missing? What was I missing? I kept pondering. Then I realized - Newton's third law - an equal and opposite reaction to every action. So if you introduce a fourth dimension, there necessarily has to be a fifth dimension opposing it. And what is the fifth dimension here? Any guesses? No? Let me give the answer - "Risk". Yes. Along with innovation, comes risk. And who takes the risk? Who else did you think? The company? They have all these fat cat shareholders to think of, you know. Unlike you who has only a family who won't mind starving a bit now and then if you lose your job. If they can't have bread, why don' they eat cake, eh? And have it too like the corporate big wigs want to.
All that is fine you say. Its all gloom and doom. Everyone is out to get us and all that. But how do we deal with it? It takes no genius to list the problem. What is the solution? Hats off, my dear reader. Spoken truly like a corporate manager. Keep at it and you are on your way to earning your corporate laurels. "Why do you always come to me with problems? Why don't you come with solutions." is the famous catchphrase of corporate managers.
But anyways lets see if we can cobble together a solution. Let me summarize what we have seen so far. Net net as an employee, we have two things pushed on to our plate - cost and risk. So it is a choice of which one we want to take. Slog like a donkey and get things done. Or try gymnastics like a monkey to balance all of it and risk falling off a branch and ending up a crippled monkey. And the third choice, evaluate if the returns are worth the risk or cost. That is the real deal. The real employment contract you need to read between the lines and decide if you want to sign. The one that you actually signed is not worth the paper it is on -that one is just words, words, words as our good Danish prince of the old would have said.
One has to decide the question of whether to be or not to be an employee based on the real equation that would read something like this
Learning + CV Uplift + Salary > Base Hours + Extra Hours + Risk/Pressure
If you go by your official employment contract, it may look like this
Salary > Base Hours
But with no Learning or CV Uplift
It can become Salary << Base Hours + Extra Hours + Risk/Pressure
All that is fine. But how do you quantify and compare all these different quantities. Do they even have the same units? One of the basics of Physics is dimensional analysis, isn't it? True. To get them to the same units, we need to put money value for all these things.
Things like Learning and CV Uplift can translate into future salary increases. So left hand side of the equation is taken care of. Right hand side equation is your own estimate of how much you value every hour of yours and the mental pressure of taking a risk.
So equation would read like
$100 x Learning Hike Factor + $100 x CV Uplift Hike Factor + $100 on the L.H.S
$75 + Extra hours per unit base hour x $75 + Mental stress units x $50 on the R.H.S
assuming $100 per hour is your base salary, $75 is the value you put on your own time (depending on other priorities - family, hobbies, health etc.) and $50 the value you put per unit mental pressure. Of course this is a bit simplistic and can be made more complex. But I guess you get the general drift.
If L.H.S < R.H.S, immediately call your supervisor and hand her your resignation on a plate. But wait! What now? Do you want to know why the plate? Forget the plate. What if I don't get another job? With Covid, the job market is so bad and all you know.
Ok. Cool. Lets add one more factor to the L.H.S.
Now the L.H.S will read Learning + CV Uplift + Salary + Mental Peace due to job security.
There you go - you have the basic Corporate Physics equation. We can add more and more factors and make it more complex and then torture it with all kinds of esoteric techniques such as Differential equations, Fermat's last theorem, Brownian Motion, Random Walk, Black-Scholes equation and what not and play around to your heart's content to spit out all kinds of inferences. Alternatively, if you are not mathematically inclined, you can pay some of your out of work geek friends to code it all into a computer and put a cool graphic interface that abstracts away all the Math. Get them to make some virtual character who likes like an ancient bearded mystic giving you the answers to the questions of your life in a cool poetic language like a prophecy.