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1:24 PM Tue, Nov. 13th

Column: Pondering quotas

I believe my car’s turn signal only has so many clicks in it.

Some engineer put a quota on it. When it hits 5,675, or some other preordained number, it will stop working.

So, I ration its use. If a car is over one hundred feet behind me, I don’t flick it on when

I turn. Closer than that rates a signal.

I should probably admit that automobiles are a profound mystery to me. Anything mechanical throws me. Confusion and ignorance are my standard response to gadgets, engines, and things that fall under the category of technological. I regard it as a minor miracle when my ignition key switches on whatever it is that starts my car.

But I am sure about the turn signal. It has a limited life.

And I can’t begin to tell you how grateful I am that I’ll not be around when all those driverless cars hit the road. Unbelievable! It’s bad enough now. I read a study recently from Virginia Tech indicating that driving while texting increases your chance of an accident by 23 percent. I wonder what my chances — a non-texting guy — of being hit by a texter are?

But this column isn’t about cars. I got sidetracked.

I once worked for a president of a university who operated on a fixed quota of “no’s.” He began each day with a number and went through the better part of a day dispensing them. I worked for him for several months before I figured this out. So, one day around 4 in the afternoon, I went in with a budget request. He approved it. He had used up his quota of “No’s.”

After that I never saw him until late afternoon. My success rate of approvals exceeded that of the other two VPs. Of course, I didn’t let them in on my discovery.

I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure one of my friends functions on a fixed quota of smiles. I think it’s two-a-day. I know he doesn’t use up any in the morning. His wife and I believe he uses the first one between 4 and 6 p.m., and saves the second one for one of his favorite TV programs in the evening.

Then there’s a woman executive who apparently believes each member of her staff should not receive a compliment or commendation more than once a year—if that. Fear and intimidation aren’t rationed at all, nor is sarcasm. But positive strokes? On a quota, apparently.

Why these observations?

I guess I have a thing about quotas. It’s the irrationality connected with them. Like my turn signal.

And there’s something so negative about the word. “No exceptions, Mac, we’ve got a quota here.”

It’s as if there is something magic about the word, or that each quota is thrown down from some mountaintop on a tablet.

But what bothers me most about quotas is the lack of thinking and planning that seems to go along with them. In my experience, the establishing of most quotas have been arbitrary and contrived. Sometimes just to exceed the previous quota.

“We need some sort of quota here, Jim, to tell the auto workers what to produce.”

“Fine, how about 96? That was a good year for California wines!”

“Sounds good to me. Send out a memo.”

Whatever it is — cars, turn signals, “no’s,” smiles, compliments — seems to fall under some irrational, unconscious quota system we devise for ourselves. When My Beloved once asked me why I wasn’t using my turn signal. I muttered a feeble excuse which didn’t fool her for a minute. Then I recall telling her that I didn’t want to wear it out. That one elicited the kind of laugh one doesn’t easily forget.

A few weeks ago I heard of an employer discriminating against minorities. The organization was challenged, as it should have been. But forcing quotas on them won’t do it.

Or will it?

Which is more irrational? Discrimination or quotas?