Which side of the desk are the drawers on? (Dunkelisms)

Back in 2001, I had the pleasure to have some long conversations with Phil Dunkelberger.  The impact of those meetings still resonates with me today in a collection of “Dunkelisms” that are an invaluable part of my kick-ass-and-take-names tool box.  I can’t find any Internet source, so I’ll take it on myself to archive these jewels!

Which side of the desk are the drawers on?

I was sitting with Phil and complaining that our web site was not updated and the information was inaccurate.  He looked at me and asked me “which side of the desk are the drawers on?” and completely threw me for a loop.  He explained “when you’re the boss, you sit on the side of the desk with the drawers on it.  You have the power to make changes.”

I whined back that it was Marketing’s job to update the content.  I squirmed under his glare until he asked “as a programmer, do you have ability to update the web site?”  When I said, “yes, but…” his glare wilted my desk plant and the rest of my excuse died with it.

His reply was very crisp, “you have the power to fix it because you have access to the web servers.  If it’s a real problem then the drawers are on your side of the desk.  If it’s not a real problem then help Marketing solve it or move on.”

I’m not saying it would be the right move politically, but it was amazingly powerful to acknowledge that I had the power to fix the problem if I needed.

There are many situations where we voluntarily give up power even when the drawers are on our side of the desk.  For example, when my team is planning we expect Marketing to set priorities that drive development.  Engineering goes along with this for a lot of good reasons; however, the Engineering has the drawers on what really goes into the product.

This Dunkelism helps me align priorities and eliminate roadblocks.  As I dig deeper and deeper into community driven open source projects, I find that the idea behind this expression is a mantra that drives projects forward.

I find this expression very powerful in many situations.  I hope you find it helpful too!

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