All the same to you

Somewhere on the road of life, Yvette and Zereen have come to a fork. Should they go left or right? Yvette is indifferent between the two, but Zereen would prefer to go left. Left it is!

Obvious, right? Let’s look at another application of the same basic principle.

Yvette’s cubicle is a pig sty. There are papers everywhere, the drawers are open, the dividers are covered with sticky notes reminding her of deadlines long since met, and paperclips seem to cover everything. Zereen, Yvette’s boss, is peeved about this. Yvette’s performance doesn’t seem hindered by the mess, but what a mess!

Zereen, being a boss, instinctively orders Yvette to clean up her cubicle. But is this the efficient solution?

Yvette says it’s not. Let’s hear her speak for herself:

I don’t care about the mess. It doesn’t affect my performance, either. Since I’m indifferent between having a neat cubicle and a messy one, but Zereen has a preference, I agree that my cubicle should be clean.

But here’s the thing. Zereen should be the one to clean it. Since I won’t reap any benefits from the added tidiness, but Zereen will, it’s only fair that she expend effort and I don’t. And hey, it’s efficient, too! Look, there are only five outcomes here:

  1. I clean it under Zereen’s supervision. Result: Zereen is satisfied, but we both have to work at it.
  2. I clean it myself, but I don’t clean it to Zereen’s exacting expectations. Result: Zereen has to coach me or supervise my next attempt (see number one).
  3. I clean it myself, but I make it too clean. Yes, this is possible. If I inspect every last square centimeter and expunge every last speck of disorder & dust from my cubicle, Zereen won’t be much happier than if I had simply done a regular ol’ clean. I’ll have spent a bunch more energy than I would have on a regular ol’ clean, though, so that extra energy will have been wasted. Result: Zereen is satisfied, but I work harder than necessary to achieve said level of satisfaction.
  4. I clean it myself without supervision, and I do it perfectly, i.e. precisely to Zereen’s standards and no more. Result: Zereen is satisfied, and I work no more than necessary. Fine, but unlikely.
  5. Zereen cleans it. Result: Zereen expends exactly as much effort as she deems necessary. She is ipso facto satisfied.

Obviously, numbers one, two, and three are to be avoided in favor of number four or five. But the only way to ensure that we avoid the first three is by having Zereen clean. Therefore, she should clean, not I!

Is there anything wrong with Yvette’s argument? I’ll give my own opinion soon.

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