The Art of Killing Trees

Definition: Blahcess – Something that is done repeatedly, without question and has gone on so long that people cannot even explain how it got started, why it’s done, and what its purpose or value is.

For a number of years I helped companies select the proper accounting and information software. The process began by interviewing personnel in every department to determine their information needs. For example in the accounting department I would determine the type of information needed for recording and reporting sales, accounts receivable, accounts payable, etc.; the extent of financial reporting necessary both internally and externally; and also any special reports that were necessary that may be unique to their company or industry.stack of paper

I would talk with the sales people, the service people, truck drivers, warehouse workers and any other person that needed information produced and transmitted to them so they could properly do their job. As a part of these conversations I would always ask how they received information, what it is they received, and was it useful or not. As I was doing this I also asked them to provide me forms they used to capture and record information that eventually would be entered into the computer system. Also I asked what they did with the multiple copies of these forms that were always inherently generated.

From these interviews, using the collection of reports, forms, spreadsheets, gathered during the process, I would flow-chart the entire accounting information system. This generated a picture of the flow of information throughout the company. This “picture” allowed me to compare what was told to me was needed with what exactly was happening. Also it identified the parts of the information processes that were inefficient and generally producing information that was neither wanted nor used. I was doing this at a time when it was general practice to produce paper reports so I found that almost every company was, as they say, killing trees.

I remember once looking at a huge stack of reports in an accounting department and asking how they were used. The reply I received was, “I don’t know.” So I asked, “why then were they printed?” The reply was, “someone told me to.” As I begin asking people whom I believe might have some use for the information in the reports, I found that no one knew the reports existed. This is a Blahcess.

How to find Blahcesses:

  1. Start by asking why something is done – ask as many people as you can. If you can’t find anyone who can explain it, it’s a blahcess
  2. If you find people who can explain why something is done but it doesn’t make sense to you, then ask them what would happen if it were stopped. If they say “I don’t know, I never thought about it,” then you are talking to a Blahbot and wasting creative time. Go to the next person.
  3. If you receive a memo entitled “Notice to All Employees” or “Important Information-New Policy,” there is probably a blahcess hidden in it.
  4. If you regularly produce the same information and pass it on others, try omitting some of it and see if anyone complains. If you hear nothing, if was a blahcess.
Have a Great Blahless Day!


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