We had a watercooler in the kitchen; one of those simple water systems that relied on five-gallon jugs being lifted onto the water distribution dispenser. For a long time, whenever I saw the water jug empty, I would just replace it with a full one. No big deal, just lift with your legs and muscle the awkward jug into the plastic hole. Not difficult, just heavy. Finally it dawned on me one day – I was the only one replacing the jugs. To test my hypothesis, I let the current jug reach empty and did not replace it. For three days, the office had no water except tap water, until I got so annoyed and thirsty that I replaced the jug myself. Within half a day, the watercooler was swarmed with everyone drinking the fresh water. It was gone quickly, because everyone was waiting for the water.
The next time it emptied, I ignored it for 5 days… and for 5 days, no one in the office replaced the 5-gallon jug. Only this time, I was intrigued. I asked other people: “Gee, I’m thirsty. I wonder why the water jug isn’t full?”
The responses were numerous and lame. “It’s too heavy”, “I can’t lift it”, “Someone else always does it,” and the best one – “I’m thirsty, too. I wonder when it will work again?”
Is this story a parable? An example of office politics? A way for me to try to understand the way the brains work of the people around me? I don’t know. All I know is that whenever I’m in a situation where I feel left out or confused, I always remember the watercooler. In my head, I try to figure out – is everyone waiting for someone else to solve the problem? Or is the problem so obvious that no one can figure out the simple solution?
And the ultimate question – should I bother opening my mouth and give my opinion, or should I just be quiet and fix the problem myself?