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Delegation: An Economical Approach

This is a guest post by Mark Webster. Yes, I’m allowing periodical guest posts so I can do things like shower and eat – no whining. Because he’s a math educator, Mark nerds out about why we should delegate tasks – something I suck hard at.

For those of us who did not attend the SSA convention, we heard Lyz Liddel and many others talk about the importance of delegation—specifically talking to those student leaders out there who had difficulty with the task.

Lyz’s suggestion, and rightly so, was for leaders to delegate tasks to their members and other officers…even if it meant that they wouldn’t do *as good* of a job.

Why?

Of course, the reasoning is fairly simple. One person simply cannot do the job alone.

If the job is only getting done by one person, there are two highly likely situations:

1. The person will get burnt out by the job and the club will dissolve because they were the only person doing anything.
2. The person will graduate and the rest of the club will be lost without them because nobody showed them what to do and will dissolve.

Of course, perhaps I’m being melodramatic, but in a situation where we are still working on getting well-established student organizations all around the country, it’s difficult to see groups struggling when they should be thriving.

“This is an appeal to emotion!” you might grumble at this. Which is absolutely right. But, I can see how, as skeptics, we might want to see some proof that this is actually the case. Good on you all.

The Proof

For the proof in our pudding, we must turn to Economics, that one class we slept through in high school. Now, I am by no means an Economist, but I did take an introductory Micro-economics class in high school AND one in college, so I feel perfectly qualified to talk about it.

Imagine the club were run by two people. In some situations, this is actually the case. When starting out a group, we aren’t going to be able to have six or seven officers. I know in the case of Purdue, in order to be a legal group on campus, a group must have one office designated “President,” and one designated “Treasurer.” Let’s assume this for our “theoretical group.”

Let’s also think about what it takes to actually keep a group like this running:

People to come to meetings and populate events and Money to fund said meetings and events.

Now let us assume that the person designated “President” is an experienced and qualified individual. Perhaps he has been on the executive board of a few clubs in high school so he has excellent leadership. Maybe he was a student council member in charge of the fund-raising for his class, so he knows how to milk money out of pretty much everybody. Perfectly capable of running a fledgling student group.

Let’s talk about Mr. “Treasurer” now. He is a young able-bodied individual, but he has had absolutely no experience in any of these affairs. He wasn’t particularly active in any groups back in high school, and he doesn’t know a bake-sale from a raffle, but he met up with President on facebook, and they decided to start a group together.

I’m sure every one of you in the shoes of President would at least take a minute before handing him anything important for the group. He has no experience at all. He doesn’t know what he’s doing and any of his first couple attempts are going to be slipshod at best. Let’s throw some example numbers out there.

Let’s say, in one day, President could recruit 10 members compared to Treasurer’s 2 and President could raise 300 dollars compared to Treasurer’s 30. If you had to pick someone to do each task individually, who would you pick? C’mon, be cold and analytical! I’ll even add a chart for you:

President

Treasurer

Fund-raising (in dollars)

300

30

Recruitment (in people)

10

2

Of course, President is anywhere from 5 to 10 times as efficient as Treasurer for ANY of these tasks, so we would pick him for both tasks.

We call this “Absolute advantage.” As in, President has the Absolute Advantage over Treasurer for both of these tasks.

However, now we must think about “Opportunity Cost.” How much does it cost for President to spend time raising that 300 dollars? Some of you are thinking “What does he mean…cost? Isn’t he MAKING money?”

Well, yes. President is, indeed, making money, but for every dollar he is earning by fund-raising, he could be using that time to recruit people, and vice-versa. He can recruit 10 people in the same amount of time it would take him to raise 300 dollars. That is to say, for every person that he recruited, he could have made 30 dollars…and for every dollar he raised, he would have ended up with 1/30th of a person instead. Same for the Treasurer.

Time for another chart:

President

Treasurer

Opportunity Cost for fund-raising (in people)

1/30th

1/15th

Opportunity Cost for recruitment (in dollars)

30

15

So while it is true that President had an absolute advantage in both fund-raising and recruitment, his opportunity cost for recruitment is twice that for Treasurer.

It stands to reason, then that recruitment is a job best delegated to Treasurer. Perhaps, he won’t do as good a job as President would, but if they each do the job that they have the lower opportunity cost for, they will be more productive together than if Treasurer just sat around and did absolutely nothing while President did all the work.

Now, of course, all of this has been based on the idea the the President will be best at everything, which is certainly (and thankfully) not usually the case, so it behooves you, oh leader of your student group to seek out and foster those members and officers in their strengths (and relative weaknesses). Find the ones who can get the job done…whether or not they can do it as efficiently or as well as you can.

This is post 9 of 49 of Blogathon. Pledge a donation to the Secular Student Alliance here.

Comments

  1. LS says

    I’m going to let on to something I usually keep quiet about, because it’s relevant to this discussion.One thing I learned in the course of studying philosophy over the years, is that wisdom comes only from experience. But if you know how to look at your experience, you can gain a great deal more wisdom from it than a person might expect.Several years back, I started a World of Warcraft guild. To summarize how this went, here goes:-Start Guild-Gather some good foundation members.-Figure out the trick to recruitment. -Start gaining dozens of members each month.-Guild is super awesome. There are actually people from the guild meeting up for RL romantic relationships, and one person even got a tattoo of our guild crest.-Burn out from doing everything.-Hand guild over to the most capable officers.-Guild crashes and burns within 2 months, after about a year of success, and gaining well over 200 members.I gained a lot of wisdom from this experience, even if it was just a WoW guild. The most important is that your officers can’t simply be small voices of authority to deal with minutia or guide people in your absence. I failed to delegate any of the major leadership tasks I was performing, and a good group of people went their separate ways because of it.

  2. Rosie Redfield says

    It takes you more than half an hour to have a shower? ‘Guest post’ sounds suspiciously like cheating to me.

  3. the_Siliconopolitan says

    “It takes you more than half an hour to have a shower?”Depends how much I need to shave. And my mood.

  4. says

    I’ve seen this argument before – oddly, as an explanation of why women end up doing most of the housework. (Short version: even if the woman would make more money, men generally suck *so much more* at housework… etc). It actually continued to note that this caused a *disincentive* for men to actually learn how to do housework (because then they’d be more likely to have to). Disclaimer: I’m a man, and while my wife *is* better at housework than I am, I regularly handle chores (and our 3yo) when she’s out of town. (And I’ve improved to the point that she doesn’t feel compelled to clean the moment she gets back, too!)

  5. says

    A good article. I’m glad that Hillary Scott was able to articulate her perspective on interracial porn so well as it’s a view that I agree with completely.

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