“Sometimes Kitt was sh*t”


So, this happened …

I used to have someone working for me called Kitt. We didn’t work well together. He thought I was the problem, I knew the problem was with him.

He was senior enough, and being paid well enough, that he should largely have been an independent professional who didn’t require much of my time. Sometimes his work was really good: it was accurate, fast, insightful, conclusions were correct, the key message was highlighted, and the communication was crisp.

But sometimes Kitt was shit.

I could never work out if it was his mood at the time that threw him off, or whether that particular project was just too difficult for him, but sometimes the quality of his output was really poor. At a superficial level it looked good: nice graphs, understandable explanations. But either he completely misunderstood the client’s problem, or he came to the wrong conclusion in his work. Either way, it was poor enough that under no circumstances would I be able to send his flawed work to the client. It basically had to be redone, and a lot of that effort was being made by me.

When we would have our regular review meetings, he’d be very argumentative, always pointing to his excellent work as evidence that I could trust him to get on with things. But I would always point to his poor work, reminding him about how that dragged me back and threatened to mislead a client.

I explained that, overall, this made him a poor performer, but he insisted that at worst he was average.

What he missed was the fact that, from my perspective, he was not average. If he were average, then I would just be able to do a cursory check of his work, perhaps make a few improvements, and then get on with things.

But sometimes Kitt was shit.

And when I started checking each new assignment, I never knew whether this one was going to be an excellent one or a terrible one. So I had no choice. I had to check all of his work really closely, just to make sure he hadn’t completely missed the mark again. In fact, I had to spent a lot more time with him than with the real ‘average’ members of my team. And while there were occasions when his work was really good, I still could never relax my efforts with him, because I still had to do a very detailed review every single time to see whether, this time, it was great or terrible.

And as I mentioned to you before, sometimes Kitt was shit.

Simple Definition

Sometimes Kitt was shit: In this #hashtag-story, we highlight the difference between someone who alternates between excellent and terrible, and someone who is average all the time. This inconsistent style is worse than remaining average because the effort required to deal with them is no less than the effort required for someone who is terrible all the time.

Discussing what it means

Let’s be clear, this story is called “Sometimes Kitt was shit”. It is not called “Kitt was always shit”, or “Kitt was usually shit”. This means it’s not a story about poor performance, but rather a story of someone whose performance oscillated between excellent and shit. And that’s a completely different challenge.


When someone is an average performer, you give them a level of work that suits their skills, you pay them accordingly, and maybe you give feedback or offer training to build them to a higher standard. This minimizes your active involvement as a manager, allowing you to get on with your own work, and trusting that they’re contributing as required.

When someone is always a poor performer, in the short run you make the effort to work out what the issue is and solve it. You certainly don’t give them work where their poor performance can have a significant negative impact – like financial loss or an upset client. And if that doesn’t work, then you have to terminate their employment. Why should you or their teammates have to carry their load?

But because Kitt was sometimes – and only sometimes – shit, this gave rise to two important problems:

  • As I mentioned, I never knew when his work would be excellent or when it would be shit. We did complex work, so I couldn’t take a quick look and make that determination. I really had to take time to look at the data, to check market conditions where the client was based, to review the client’s business – only then could I see whether he truly understood the problem, whether his proposed solution would achieve the client’s objectives, whether his financial recommendation actually made sense. In other words, we had two professionals basically doing the same work in full, instead of just one of us. That was neither sustainable nor fair.
  • Additionally, I noticed during my one-to-one discussions with him that he refused to accept that his performance needed improvement, and so he made no effort to eliminate those periods of delivering shit work. He would refer to the times when he did great work and the client was really happy, to prove he was awesome. And oddly, his self-awareness was so … low … that he used certain successful projects to demonstrate his excellent work, without even realising that his examples included projects where I had basically rewritten all his work and altered the ultimate recommendation to the client.


But enough about Kitt. And enough about work. Let’s think about people relationships now.

Have you noticed that sometimes the people in our lives are like Kitt – your partner, your friend, or a family member?

Some people have anger problems, for example, and some people have drinking problems which completely change their behavior when they’ve had a few. And when you spend time with these people, sometimes everything is great and fun and relaxed and enjoyable. But sometimes things are shit. And we have to deal with those tough times.

Over the years I’ve known people, and knew people who knew people, where this ‘sometimes shit’ behavior was a regular feature of the relationship. And I’ve observed that different people deal with it in different ways:

  • Dump: I know we shouldn’t always use “breaking up” as the solution to a problem, but there are times when that’s the best course of action. Sometimes they’re shit, and their shit is bad shit, and we have to walk away, regardless of how good the good times are. That’s perhaps harder for children to do (young people can’t just walk out). But we have to find the balance between staying too long, and walking away too quickly.
  • (And as a reminder as you continue to read these examples. Sometimes Kitt is shit. Sometimes. So we’re talking about relationships here which are sometimes amazing, and sometimes terrible. If it’s all bad, then it’s easier to opt for dumping. But the confusion comes in because it’s inconsistent, on occasions it’s great and … well … sometimes it’s shit.)
  • Tolerate: So yes, tolerating people’s shit is an option too. That might be our decision because the good times are worth more than the bad times. And that’s great, if you’re clear on your priorities, and are prepared to tolerate the bad shit in order to get the good shit. This often isn’t sustainable though, because we might build up resentment, or our tolerance gives them leeway to give more shit knowing there won’t be push-back, and sometimes our personal confidence takes a hit. But it is an option that people choose.
  • Counter-attack: If we don’t want to dump them, and we don’t have it in us to continue to tolerate their shit without digging our heels in, we sometimes bite back. The upside is you show the other person that they don’t have free reign to behave like that, but the downside is that it lowers us to their level, and allows anger to reign free in our hearts. Not a great outcome.
  • Tip-toe: So we can try tolerating it differently, not just accepting but behaving super cautiously in the hope that we don’t trigger their poor behavior. I’ve seen often that the people who tip-toe around end up feeling a little like it’s their fault: if the person explodes at them then they must have brought it on themselves. Why weren’t they more careful? And that person is never really able to relax because they’re constantly trying to avoid triggering the next outburst.
  • Stockholm Syndrome: We probably all know this from one movie or another: people are kidnapped, the baddies are nasty people who are threatening death (maybe they’ve actually killed already). Despicable. But every ‘generous’ act, like letting a hostage go to the toilet or drink some water, is seen by the victims as an amazing loving gesture, and slowly the victims fall in love with the kidnappers. This is a real thing. Sometimes people are shit, but then when they’re even slightly nice, that niceness is over-valued. And that part of what disempowers people and traps them in bad relationships.


The concept of “Sometimes Kitt is shit” can apply to situations rather than people, and it affects how we respond (or indeed should respond) at those times. Here are some quick examples to try widen your thinking, hopefully opening the door to other ideas that resonate with you.

  • Most of the time, and I meant an overwhelming majority of the time, when we take a ride in a car, nothing bad happens. No accidents, no bumper bashings, no death nor dismemberment. But sometimes car rides are shit. Sometimes things go horribly wrong, and people get disabled or killed. And often, a safety belt would have made the difference between a short hospital stay or a slab in a mortuary. This means, therefore, that every time we go out, we have to assume that this journey might be “the one”, and so we wear a safety belt. This is the same as checking Kitt’s work: I have to assume that there is something significant to change every single time, just in case there is.
  • You can say it’s the same with one night stands and the use of condoms. It might make for a “feels better” experience, but if (when?) things go wrong, you might end up getting a sexually transmitted disease (which could leave you with horrible sores, or could even be deadly like HIV), or falling pregnant from someone who’s number you didn’t even get. So … every time … you have to take action, just in case.
  • Before the Covid19 outbreak of (mainly) 2020, we didn’t think that much about hugging, hanging out in packed venues, or sitting at restaurants where they didn’t wipe the table that well. And even now it would be so much less stressful if we didn’t have to worry about masks and hand-washing and sanitizers. But we do, because if we get the coronavirus, if we pass it on to others, then that’s a big downside. So we behave as if this time might be the shit time, and we wear masks. Because being on a ventilator is always shit.

It’s important to recognise these scenarios – work, relationships, situations – for what they are. Everything could be just fine.

But sometimes things are shit.

Making it personal

Do you have your usual notebook at hand, whether a paper journal or a password-protected Word file, where you journal your #HashtagYourLife thoughts? OK, then let’s begin.

I’d like you to think about examples in your experience, past and present, as follows:

  • In what area of your life is your own performance most volatile, where you’re sometimes awesome and sometimes really shit?
    • What creates this volatility in your life?
    • What could you do about it? Perhaps #[One push-up a day] might give you an idea?
    • Are you aware of how people around you respond to your volatility, work around your volatility, or might take action against your volatility?
  • Do you have someone like Kitt that you work with (or have worked with) who sometimes excels and sometimes performs miserably?
    • What drives that person’s behavior?
    • How do you respond to them?
  • Consider your attitude to safety belts, condoms and face-masks.
    • Should your attitudes to them be the same: all-yes or all-no?
    • Or are there good reasons for acting on them differently?
  • What other people or situations come to mind when thinking about the “Sometimes Kitt was shit” story? Maybe dwell on those for a few minutes.

Related stories

#[Umbrella in the sun]

#[One push-up a day]

#[All the cousins preferred him]

#[Putting trees in your field]