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The Formal Performance of Work

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While we’re on the theme of bad bosses, I’ve recommended John Carreyrou’s Bad Blood before, not least because it not only explains the ways in which Theranos was a unique grift but the ways in which it wasn’t, with a healthy segment of America’s overcompensated and underachieving elites involved. On the latter point, one too-common thing about the way in which Theranos operated was that Holmes and Balwani were absolutely obsessed with tracking how many hours employees spent at the office, and evaluated employees primarily on that basis. It didn’t really matter if you were doing anything useful or much of anything at all; as long as you worked punishingly long hours and didn’t contradict Holmes or Balwani in any way, you were golden. Again and again, talented, competent professionals were pushed out because they wanted to put in 9 or 10 hours and have dinner with their families while frat dudes with no relevant experience or skills were favorites of the leadership because they could stay at the office all day because they had nowhere else to be.

One of the more amusing recent examples of this phenomoenon is Jets head coach Adam Gase, who is famous for putting in insanely long hours even for an NFL coach:

Dolphins wide receiver Kenny Stills told Gase to stop texting him post-midnight because he kept waking him up.

“You would get these texts from him until 4 in the morning on a regular basis,” says Tannenbaum, now an ESPN analyst. “I don’t think he sleeps a lot.”

Fueled by five or six 20-ounce cups a day from the Kuerig coffee maker that is an arm’s length from his desk, and maybe a Red Bull here or there, Gase has energy like a power plant. And it doesn’t wane in the wee hours.

There is no window in his office to make him aware of the black of the night or the first light of day.

His wife, Jennifer, says he typically gets home at 2 a.m. and goes back to work at 6.  When she travels with him to road games, she gets a separate room because he’s up most of the night watching tape.

[…]

The file for Oct. 1, 2013, is particularly interesting. Every Tuesday when he was in Denver, Gase met with Manning at 2 p.m. Except this Tuesday, when Jennifer was delivering Wyatt by caesarean section.

Gase told his wife to schedule the operation for 10 a.m. “So they pulled the baby out of me and said, ‘It’s a boy,’” Jennifer says. “They didn’t even put my organs back and sew me up before he’s like, ‘You good?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I’m good.’” He said, ‘All right then, I’m out.’  They said, ‘You want to cut the umbilical cord?’ He said, ‘No, I’m good.’”

At 2 p.m., Manning was stunned to find Gase waiting for him in the meeting room.

The latest example of this formal performance of work is that Gase decided not to spend Thanksgiving dinner with his family this year so he could grind tape. The result of this was…a gameplan so galaxy-brained that his offense scored 6 points against what is even after that game the 30th ranked defense in the NFL. Oh, and while we’re here, Ryan Tannehill — who posted 6.27 and and 5.29 ANY/A seasons under Gase despite game plans that produced lots of stat-padding failed completions — is putting up 7.42 ANY/A for the Titans this year, leading them into the playoff race. (For context, Russell Wilson and Lamar Jackson both have ANY/As of 7.89. It’s just a massive leap forward now that he’s out of Gase’s QUARTERBACK GURU clutches.) But the American way of work helps to explain both why he’s good at getting head coaching jobs despite a bad track record and why he’s not actually good at doing them.

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