I am not a Resource

WRITTEN BY Dave Nicolette

When I tell colleagues and clients I’m not a resource, they often appear puzzled.

“Aren’t you resourceful?” they ask.

“I’d like to think so, on a good day,” I reply.

“Then you’re a resource!”

According to the glorious Internet, resourceful means

Able to act effectively or imaginatively, especially in difficult situations.

or

Able to meet situations: capable of devising ways and means

Yeah, that sounds good. I’d like to be that. But a resource is just a thing. A resourceful person might be resource-full, but isn’t merely a resource. Humans are far more than that.

In my book on software metrics, I make the observation that to treat humans the same as resources is “the mother of all management anti-patterns.” (Okay, it’s an opinion. As the saying goes, everybody has one.) What does it have to do with metrics? Well, it seems to me the assumption people are resources leads management to measure the wrong things, to misunderstand the results of measurements, and repeatedly to be blind-sided by “unexpected” behaviors their measurements cause.

The behaviors are unexpected because humans don’t behave like resources. They behave like humans. If you expect them to behave like resources, you will be surprised. If you don’t change your assumptions, you will be surprised again. And again.

It’s funny how many people would rather be surprised over and over again than to question their assumptions. But I digress.

Coal is a resource. Coal isn’t resourceful. Coal can’t “act effectively or imaginatively.” But humans can. Humans can think of useful things to do with coal. Coal itself rarely has any creative ideas.

You can measure coal and predict its performance. For instance, you can calculate the amount of energy one can obtain by burning coal. According to this resource http://www.brighthubengineering.com/power-plants/52544-basic-calculations-for-a-power-plant-calculating-the-coal-quantity/:

Energy content of coal is given in terms of KiloJoules (kJ) per Kilogram (kg) of coal as the Gross calorific value (GCV) or the Higher Heating value (HHV) of coal. This value can vary from 10500 kJ/kg to 25000 kJ/kg depending on the quality and type of the coal.

Coal just is what it is. Coal doesn’t get sick, worry about family, ask for a raise, take vacations, get bored with its daily routine, seek higher meaning in its existence, go on strike, or get black lung disease. Coal doesn’t develop spiritually throughout its lifetime. Coal’s Weltanschauung will be the same tomorrow as it was yesterday. Unless encouraged by humans, it doesn’t even produce energy. Coal would be perfectly content to lie around unproductively until the sun dies. It’s easy to measure coal by weighing it and to predict its performance by calculating what will happen when you apply heat and pressure to it.

Can you measure coal miners and predict their performance in a similarly mechanistic way? Well, you can try. If you do, you’ll be surprised by their “unexpected” behaviors.

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2 comments on “I am not a Resource”

  1. Cristian

    Nice article, I had a teacher at college that would go crazy if you refer to an employee as a resource, if I remember correctly, the term he would use is “human capital” or “human factor of production”

    Reply