To climb the corporate ladder you’ll need some rope, but rope has many purposes

When KC told me about a trick she learned to get an area expert to respond to her email, I cautioned her that the trick might backfire:

A friend of mine (let’s call him Bob) happens also to work in the technology industry, and the manager for the part of the project he worked on was, to put it nicely, “in the wrong line of work.” No matter how many times Bob would explain how the system worked on the whiteboard, his manager never really understood it. And the misunderstandings weren’t just of the “oh I missed a little detail” variety; rather, they tended to elicit a “What planet are you from?” sort of reaction. Bob spent many impromptu meetings patiently trying to clear up various degrees of confusion or explaining why some clever new idea won’t work because it violates the laws of physics as we currently understand them.

Add to the tenuous grasp on technical concepts the uncanny ability to take all the credit when making presentations to senior management. You know the type of people I’m talking about: They’re the sort who manage to skate through school by using their good looks, charming personality, and/or social status to get other people to do their homework for them.

One day, the manager sent out a plan to a large group of people, including some senior managers, and included in the email one of those “Huh?” questions, something akin to “… and it’ll connect to the server wirelessly through the parallel port, and—hey Bob, inkjet printers can run off the parallel port, right?”

Bob decided that he’d had enough. He replied to the mail thread with a simple, “Yes, inkjet printers can run off the parallel port.”

Somebody else in the group gave Bob a phone call. “Um, Bob, what do inkjet printers have to do with anything?”

Bob answered, “Just making sure there’s enough rope.”

Bob’s colleague replied, “Gotcha.”

The manager’s tenure ended a few months later.

Comments (17)
  1. Pi says:

    Must I be living in the U.S. to understand the rope thing? I don’t get it.

  2. Rob H says:

    The full expression is "enough rope to hang himself".

  3. Joel says:

    Pi, there is an American? phrase, "Enough rope to hang yourself."

    This extends the cattle/horse related phrase, giving someone rope, which means to give them room to do what they want, because the horse would be tied to a fence but the horse could use more rope to eat in a wider area.

  4. steveshe says:

    Actually the common saying, at least here in Texas, is: "If you give someone enough rope they will eventually hang themselves."

  5. Jacob says:

    Raymond mixed the metaphor into a form that isn’t the normal form – which is fine, but it requires two explanations in order to make sense of it.

    The saying "if you give someone enough rope they will eventually hang themselves" suggests that if you give someone a lot of freedom to move and/or to act, they will eventually harm themselves.  This is the sense in which "rope" is used in the story about Bob.

    The phrase "climb the corporate ladder" usually refers to getting promoted to higher levels in a firm.  I don’t normally hear "rope" associated with this ladder.

    Combining the two metaphors makes for a clever blog title, assuming that the readers had been familiar with both metaphors separately.

  6. Math says:

    KC’s trick would mostly get me annoyed. Do it too often and the rope warning will make sense.

  7. Jonathan says:

    "If you give a man enough rope, he’ll shoot himself in the foot"

    I love mixing metaphors.

  8. David says:

    I’m not really sure about this approach. With most of the psychos (oops, I mean managers) I’ve worked with, it would end up being Bob’s fault when it didn’t work and Bob would be the one hung.

    Obviously in this case it worked though :).

  9. Ken Hagan says:

    I think KC’s observation is Aahz’s Law. If so, I think this reply is another example. There’s really nothing new under the sun. I expect there are old-timers out there thinking "Aahz’s Law? It was *&^%’s law long before that sonny!"

    On the original subject, Eric Raymond has a whole article on his site about how to ask a question.

  10. Tom says:

    The book "Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work" by Paul Babiak and Robert D. Hare describes people similar to this manager. This one seems to be less dangerous, but it’s hard to know from this short story. The authors also warn several times to not judge someone a psychopath without proper assessment by a qualified psychologist. Anyway, I highly recommend the book. It is estimated that about 1 in 100 people has a psychopathic personality. If you belong to the rest of the population, it’s better to know something about them.

  11. jim says:

    @Jonathan: "Enough Rope to Shoot Yourself in the Foot" is the title of a real programming book. Unsurprisingly, it’s about C and C++ ;)

  12. Cheong says:

    Actually, when I see this on another forum, I’d just spend time telling them why "foo" won’t work, without specify the correct solution.

    There’s too many questions be asked in the forum and merely make sure wrong answers don’t excape without correction is time-consuming enough.

    So no, it won’t work. And this trick will actually decrease the time be spent on answering questions.

  13. andyB says:

    He just forgot to fire the competent people at the end…

  14. Stephen Jones says:

    The British version of the proverb is ‘give a dog enough rope and he’ll hang himself.’

  15. Miral says:

    Actually, there is *one* interpretation of that question that’s not utterly absurd.

    If "connect to the server wirelessly through the parallel port" means that some dongle is attached to the parallel port, and does the actual wireless communication with the server (the client software just talks to the dongle), then the followup question could be interpreted as "hang on, does that mean that you can’t connect a printer to that computer when the dongle is attached?"

    (Which is a reasonable question, and only half-true, since you could still connect a USB or network printer, or even a parallel printer with the addition of an extra port.)

  16. kokomo says:

    David is right. The manager in the story is an amateur. Make sure there’s enough rope and your job is done.

    Those truly capable managers are Houdinis who could unhung themselves and teleport your body to the rope. You’ll be the one getting hang.

  17. Igor Levicki says:

    Are you trying to say that inkjet printers CANNOT run off the parallel port?!? ;-)

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