Manager-types like to look at things from a “high level.” Instead of worrying about the crucial details of a project, they prefer to be a bit further off, so they can see issues from multiple angles, and how those issues relate to each other.

I don’t have anything against this. But some managers can be very literal about how “high up” they are when looking at the problem.

I’ve been in meetings (and meetings, and meetings…) where a given manager of the current project will mention how high up he is when looking at the issue, saying something like, “If we look at this at the 5,000-foot level, we can see….” They usually lift their arm above their head, away from their body, and hold their hand flat, indicating how high up they were when they last looked at the issue.

Now, if one manager was looking at the problem from just 5,000 feet, wouldn’t a better manager want to look at the problem from say, 10,000 feet? That way, they could get the “really broad view” they needed to really “get their head around the problem.”

Apparently, yes.

I have personally witnessed metaphorical height-view inflation over the course of several years working for the same company, as various managers compete to view the issue from the highest possible vantage point. For some reason, it became a little private joke of mine. I paid attention, watching the numbers go up over time. How high could it go?

I’ve seen the progression:

  • 5,000 feet
  • 10,000 feet
  • 50,000 feet
  • 10 miles
  • 100 miles
  • 10,000 miles
  • 50,000 miles
  • 100,000 miles
  • 500,000 miles

The last one is what prompted me to write this post.

In a meeting with about seven or eight people, when I heard the manager say she wanted to look at the problem from the 500,000-mile view (and this manager held both hands above her head for emphasis!), I involuntarily blurted out, “That’s almost twice the distance from the Earth to the Moon. What could you see from that far away?”

There was no reaction at all. Just dead silence in the entire room for a couple beats. Then she dropped her hands and continued on. “Anyway, if we could just….”

This was one of my Dilbert moments.