Who Knows?

nose

We’ve all been there.  You can feel that THING growing in your nose.  You feel your nose swell up.  It is hot.  The skin is tight, stretched and painful.  When you rub your finger over it you can feel the thing, turgid, massive, disfiguring.  It must be on the point of exploding!  You can feel everyone looking at you.  The disgust in their faces.  You must look like Quasimodo at this stage….

Then you get to a mirror and……. where is it?  You can’t see anything.  Oh, well if you look really close it’s obvious, but just nothing like as big and disfiguring as it feels.  This has been impacting on you all morning.  You are full sure everyone was staring at your face.  But now you know it was all in your imagination.

Some things are like that.  Some physical attributes or character traits can dominate your life.  You are full sure that everyone can spot them and that they are judging you for those traits.  But often you are wrong.  Nobody even notices the things that cause you so much angst.  Those are not your real problem.

The real problems are the character traits and bad habits that you carry which are not on your radar, but are impacting on your life.  There are things we do without noticing that can severely impact on how others behave around us, and the opportunities opened to us.

I have seen people eat their meals with mouth wide open and half chewed food on display for all to see, with small flecks of their meal spraying freely across the table onto everybody else, on their clothes, on their food.  These are people who come from a family of open mouth eaters who are unaware of the impact it has on others.  They wonder why the boss did not bring them to dinner with an important client and why Dave, the junior analyst who chews with his lips together was tapped for the best contract of the year.

Personal habits are things we need to be aware of.  We need to be very aware of them in business situations.  Personal hygiene and grooming.  Clean and ironed clothes.  Down to polished shoes.

Habits that can drive others insane.  Noises such as constant tapping on tables, kicking chairs, sniffing, coughing and sneezing relentlessly.  Talking loudly on the phone, talking loudly on the mobile phone while walking up and down the office.

Selfish or inconsiderate usage of common facilities.  Leaving toilets in a disgraceful state.  Cooking smoked fish in the office microwave.  Leaving dirty dishes on your desk.  Stealing (borrowing) other peoples food. Regularly asking to borrow money.

Personal traits are a big issue.  You may come from a family that settles disputes by shouting at each other.  You can’t bring that to the office.  Nor can you ghost your boss and give colleagues the silent treatment.  Aggressive or over assertive behaviours were accepted back in the 1970’s or 80’s but not any more.  Passive-aggressive behaviours have endured, but do you no favours.

The big problem with all of these traits and habits is that normal polite people are reluctant to take you aside and tell you that you have a problem.  They will try to ignore it, or drop vague hints that fly totally over your head.  Your career stagnates, or goes into reverse, and you have no clue why.

I once attended a week long residential Executive Communications Workshop (Grid Management Training) where the week concluded with everyone being rated objectively by their peers.  It was a fantastic opportunity to hold a mirror up to myself and see how I was perceived by a room of strangers.

From “An Essay on Man: Epistle II” by Alexander Pope

I.
Know then thyself, presume not God to scan;
The proper study of mankind is man.
Plac’d on this isthmus of a middle state,
A being darkly wise, and rudely great:
With too much knowledge for the sceptic side,
With too much weakness for the stoic’s pride,
He hangs between; in doubt to act, or rest;
In doubt to deem himself a god, or beast;
In doubt his mind or body to prefer;
Born but to die, and reas’ning but to err;
Alike in ignorance, his reason such,
Whether he thinks too little, or too much:
Chaos of thought and passion, all confus’d;
Still by himself abus’d, or disabus’d;
Created half to rise, and half to fall;
Great lord of all things, yet a prey to all;
Sole judge of truth, in endless error hurl’d:
The glory, jest, and riddle of the world!

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Telling lies #5: Bluff

medicine bluff

A bluff as a geographical feature is a broad cliff or bank, overlooking a body of water (or a dried up water course) which was created by erosion.  A bluff is blunt, solid and strong.  It is perhaps this show of strength that gives us the lie.  A bluff person is somone of solid build, quiet strength, simple honesty.

A bluff as a lie is commonly used in gambling.  It involves presenting a strong position to deter an opponent from meeting your bet.

In business bluffing is a frequently used technique.  A seller will bluff a buyer by inferring that they have many buyers interested in the goods.  A buyer will bluff the seller by inferring that this is only one of many competing offers.

Every job interview in history has involved bluffing.  Interviewees bluff the employer as to the depth, success or seniority of their previous roles.  Interviewers bluff the candidate with regard to the attractiveness of the role, the seniority of the role, the budgets available, the autonomy possible and so on.  A certain element of bluffing is expected on both sides, but there are limits to acceptability before a bluff becomes an outright deception.  A candidate can get away with inflating their previous salary by 10 or 15% to negotiate a raise from their prior role.  But when they begin the job, and their taxation documentation comes across the employer will have a strong sense of the prior salary.  A candidate who inflated their salary by 50% could be accused of a lie instead of a bluff, because that could represent a significant difference in seniority sufficient to exclude them from the role.

A good bluffer, a really good bluffer, is never caught in the bluff.

poker-bad-hand

 

 

Telling Lies #3: Truncated Scale

bap2

Which brand has the higher approval rating?  Brand X or Brand Y?

There is no difference is there?  Is there not?

When it comes to brand marketing a true believer will always find a difference.  It’s just a simple matter of manipulating the statistics.  Take the same data, and present it in a more compelling way.  Just truncate the axis and show the difference instead of the absolute scores.  Then you get this graph:

bap 1

Woah, Brand X has a way higher approval rating than Brand Y.  It must be 3 times higher!  Now that’s a good result.

Note to art department:  Just don’t bother with those pesky numbers down the left hand side.  Get rid of them entirely.  A picture paints a thousand words.

This is not a job, it’s a religion!

Clappy

Beware a Job where they keep clapping for nothing.

It is quite simply the most horrific thing I have read in years.   A true horror story.
The scene begins in the Apple Corporation……

Johnson and Jobs wanted ambassadors whose ostensible role was not to sell products – uniquely, Apple store employees receive no commission – but to create positive customer sentiment and repair trust in the brand when it broke.

In 1984, a group of professors at Harvard Business School published a book, Managing Human Assets, aimed at updating workplace organization for a new era.

Previously, the book argued, labor discipline could be achieved in a relatively straightforward top-down manner, but now it required something else. “The limitations of hierarchy have forced a search for other mechanisms of social control,” the authors said. The mechanisms they proposed consisted, at root, of treating employees as nominal stakeholders in business success, but within narrow limits that would increase rather than challenge shareholder profitability.

How do you create an engaged, happy, knowledgeable workforce that can pass, however implausibly, as an entire battalion of geniuses in towns across the country? More importantly, how do you do all of that without the stick of the authoritarian boss or the carrot of a juicy commission?

Apple’s solution was to foster a sense of commitment to a higher calling while flattering employees that they were the chosen few to represent it. By raising the bar of admission, crafting a long series of interviews to weed out the mercenary or misanthropic, Johnson soon attracted more applicants than there were posts. Those keen enough to go through the onerous hiring process were almost by definition a better “fit” for the devotional ethos of the brand, far more receptive to the fiction that they weren’t selling things but, in an oft-repeated phrase, “enriching people’s lives”, as if they’d landed a job at a charity.

“When people are hired,” Johnson explained, “they feel honored to be on the team, and the team respects them from day one because they’ve made it through the gauntlet. That’s very different from trying to find somebody at the lowest cost who’s available on Saturdays from 8 to 12.”

While not the lowest, the cost of these eager staff was still low – relative to industry averages, to the amount they made for the company, and to the $400m that Johnson earned in his seven years at Apple.

Lower wages also had another, less obvious effect. As Apple store managers explained to the New York Times, the lack of commissions meant that the job didn’t pay well enough to support those with dependents: older workers were functionally excluded from representing the brand without the need for a formal policy – or the attendant specter of discrimination lawsuits that it would raise.

Products are clapped, customers waiting overnight to buy them are clapped, their purchases are clapped, claps are clapped. Clap, clap, clap. “My hands would sting from all the clapping,” said one manager. Claps, cheers, performances of rapturous engagement provided, by design, a ready-mixed social glue to bind teams together, reaffirming both the character of the brand and employees’ cultish devotion to it.

Full Article

Growth and Death

Ferguson

Harry Ferguson was born on this day in 1884.  He was born into a world of horse powered agriculture.  Two great leaps forward occurred in agricultural practices during WW1 and then again in WW2.

Ferguson began his career in engineering with aircraft.  He was the first Irish man to build a plane and the first to fly a plane.  He moved from aircraft to tractors just before the outbreak of the Great War.  All through the war he was developing ideas for ways to attach a plough to the tractor.

In the early 1920s he presented his ideas on the three point linkage to that other great Irish engineer, Henry Ford.  Together they created the Fordson.  Ferguson went on to build his own tractors and incorporated his designs into David Browns and Massey Fergusons.

When the second great agricultural leap forward came during WW2 it was powered by tractors designed by Harry Ferguson.  His work revolutionised agricultural production and allowed for the radical improvements in output per acre that originated during WW2.  By the end of the war Britain was able to feed itself.

After the war these innovations were rolled out to the world and sparked the prosperity of the “Swinging Sixties”.

Harry Ferguson never saw the 1960’s.  He died at the beginning of the decade after years of legal battles with Henry Ford II over the illegal use of his patents.  The legal battles cost him half his fortune and all his health and was unsuccessful in restricting Fords use of his work.

If Ferguson represents an era of Growth we can see in the poem below that Williams has experienced an era of Death, Murder, Famine and Dictatorship.  Born in 1936, on this day, Charles Kenneth Williams lived through those swinging sixties.  But he saw the rise of tin pot dictator after dictator pillage country after country in Asia, Africa, South & Central America.  Much of it carried out under the cloak of U.S. Foreign Policy.

Today on the news we see thousands of troops sent to the US Mexican Border.  Donald Trump is addressing voters for the upcoming mid term elections.  He uses the language of the demagogue.  He sounds like another tin pot dictator.  He says his troops will shoot at any migrants who throw stones.  He says that the Democrats want to invite “Caravan after Caravan” of migrants over the border.  When Republicans speak about Democrats they describe them as Communists or Socialists.  From here in Europe the Democrats come over as far right liberals.  We would see them as right wing extremists.  It is hilarious to describe a club of multi-millionaire politicians as socialists.  It is, frankly, an insult to socialism.

The future of the planet lies in sustainability.  Humans must live within our means or we will become extinct.  Politicians who, like Donald Trump, deny climate change are doing so because they are trading personal greed against public good.  They know the world is full of short term thinking greedy people.

The failure of democratic American style politics to plan beyond the next election is the major barrier to long term sustainable planning.  When Harry Ferguson was designing his first tractors during WW1 American saw itself, and was, the saviour of the Western World.  Roll the clock forward 100 years and today, 2018 the USA is the worlds greatest problem.

 

Zebra; by Charles Kenneth Williams

Kids once carried tin soldiers in their pockets as charms
against being afraid, but how trust soldiers these days
not to load up, aim, blast the pants off your legs?

I have a key-chain zebra I bought at the Thanksgiving fair.
How do I know she won’t kick, or bite at my crotch?
Because she’s been murdered, machine-gunned: she’s dead.

Also, she’s a she: even so crudely carved, you can tell
by the sway of her belly a foal’s inside her.
Even murdered mothers don’t hurt people, do they?

And how know she’s murdered? Isn’t everything murdered?
Some dictator’s thugs, some rebels, some poachers;
some drought, world-drought, world-rot, pollution, extinction.

Everything’s murdered, but still, not good, a dead thing
in with your ID and change. I fling her away, but the death
of her clings, the death of her death, her murder, her slaughter.

The best part of Thanksgiving Day, though—the parade!
Mickey Mouse, Snoopy, Kermit the Frog, enormous as clouds!
And the marching bands, majorettes, anthems and drums!

When the great bass stomped its galloping boom out
to the crowd, my heart swelled with valor and pride.
I remembered when we saluted, when we took off our hat.

How to choose a college course.

College Choice

As one cohort of students begin their first year in college a whole new batch are embarking on their final school year.  Somewhere along the way this year they need to fill in a form to apply for college places.

In Ireland the university and college applications process is centralised by a government body called the Central Applications Office.  So you will hear Irish kids talk about their CAO form and their CAO choices.

For the vast majority of Irish kids the system is entirely meritocratic.   It is a points based scoring system.  If you get sufficient points in your exams you get the place in college.  There is no opportunity to sway the opinions of a “selection” committee with a jazzy video or a fat donation.  There are some sensible exceptions.  Places for art schools generally involve an additional points allocation based on your portfolio.  Music schools award separate points for musical ability, awards and prizes.  But for the most part the selection is based on the results of your secondary school leaving certificate exam.

So in Ireland, when the Leaving Certificate results come out you will hear conversations about the “points race” and the “CAO Points”.  For reasons of social etiquette it is gauche to ask what points someone (or their child) received.  It is OK to ask “did they get their first choice?”  A high performing kid might get 525 points and be disappointed because they needed 550 to get into Law.  Another kid might be over the moon because they got the 300 points they needed to secure their first choice course.

These days it is possible to recover from a terrible leaving certificate and negotiate alternate routes into third level education.  But the leaving certificate remains the simplest and fastest way to get from school through college and into the workplace.

Hence the Venn diagram at the top of the article.  Confucius is supposed to have said that if you do something you love you will never work a day in your life.  It’s a nice idea and it is certainly wonderful to have a job you love.  It makes your days fly by and every morning is an engaging challenge rather than a depressing trudge to a workplace that seems like a prison.  The modern equivalent of the “dark satanic mills”.

Putting an old head on 18 year old shoulders is a challenge.  When I see a college course in data science I see a future of possibility, interesting work and excellent pay.  My 18 year old sees a lot of boring stuff on the syllabus.

Which brings me to the TV jobs farce.  When you look at TV what are the exciting jobs?

Lots of TV shows glamorise a law career.  Those sharp clothes, beautiful people, shiny courtrooms, exciting cases, sexy colleagues.  It all seems such a rush.  For me “Better Call Saul” is probably a fairer view of a law career.  There is glamour and excitement, for the senior partners.  For the grunts there are long days of work that is often boring and tedious, with risk of severe criticism for any mistake.

Law is categorised (Freakonomics:  Dubner & Levitt) as a career that is structured as a tournament.  You have a very wide entry base and a very narrow apex of the pyramid.  Those at the top, the partners, reap huge rewards from the work of their teams.  It is a microcosm of the capitalist system.  You get rich by taking the value of the work of your low paid staff.  Careers structured as tournaments are great if you win.  Not so great if you lose.  Either you spend your life being paid less than you are worth, or you depart from the competition to accept a more stable position, having given your best years to a senior partner.

Big 4 accounting firms are similarly structured as tournaments.  Kids need to be aware that if they enter that race they need to be up for the long haul.  20 years of 50 to 60 hour weeks, breakfast and lunch at the computer, working weekends, cancelling holidays, having kids who think the mobile phone is called “daddy”.

TV is also pretty good at glamorising jobs that do not pay.  TV is filled with interior design shows.  It seems there must be a booming career for interior designers.  But riddle me this, the last time you did a home makeover, how much did you spend with your interior designer?  What?  You didn’t use one?  Why ever not?  Oh, they cost too much.

So you have a handful of well connected interior designers who work for millionaires, who are probably the sons or daughters of millionaires themselves.  You then have a handful of designers who are connected to the right industries, such as hotels or restaurants, but they seem to get ALL the work in those industries.  Each year hundreds of young hopefuls enter college to study interior design and end up working in the restaurant business serving food instead of designing rooms.

My advice to young people selecting a college place, for what it is worth, is this.

  1. Use the Venn diagram above.  Be honest with yourself.  If you get 50% in Maths and you really love maths, but you get 80% in Spanish, you are better at Spanish, even if you hate it.
  2. Add up your points from the last set of exams you sat.  That is your base working assumption.  Unless you plan to really, really work really really hard, you are looking at a good approximation of your final marks.  Look at the courses in that points range.
  3. Search job sites, and the kind of job you would eventually like to have.  Look at the qualifications they specify as mandatory requirements.
  4. If you are selecting a career speak to some people who actually work in that career.  Don’t fall for the corporate literature or what you see on TV.  For instance a recent survey found that most US college students in nuclear physics learned most of what they knew about the subject from watching the Simpsons.
  5. Keep your options as open as you can early in your college life.  What I mean here is select the general rather than the specific.  If you have a choice of “General Science” or “Food science” go with the General and you will find that there are options to specialise all along the way.  If you go too specific too early it can be hard to back out if you hate it.
  6. Finally, don’t stress about it.  Most people end up working in a career that has little or nothing to do with their undergraduate college course.  Life takes you in some strange directions.  Whatever you do choose, stick with it.  Complete the course and get the degree.  Employers are impressed by people who finish what they start, not by people who found themselves on a beach in Thailand instead of sitting their finals.

 

 

Work? You don’t know work.

Keyboard

I worked some pretty bad jobs in my time.  Weeks serving food on grotty ferries.  Long days stacking shop shelves and sweeping grubby floors.  Disgusting days lifting coughing patients in a chest ward, or turning geriatrics with turgid pee bags and soiled pads and all for pretty low wages, but I never complained at that.

I worked some pretty great jobs, running hard from morning to night, days gone in a blink, boxes ticked, tasks completed, a blur of achievement richly rewarded. I certainly never complained at that.

I worked a well paid job in a comfortable office with little or nothing to do.  I watched the hands of the clock march slowly around the dial praying for the end of the hour, the end of the day, the end of the week, the end of the month, the end of the year, the end of my life.  I literally wished my life away.  I complained about everything.  I longed for a geriatric to be turned, or a floor to be swept.

That’s not work.  That’s prison.

Fear and Fame; by Philip Levine

Half an hour to dress, wide rubber hip boots,
gauntlets to the elbow, a plastic helmet
like a knight’s but with a little glass window
that kept steaming over, and a respirator
to save my smoke-stained lungs. I would descend
step by slow step into the dim world
of the pickling tank and there prepare
the new solutions from the great carboys
of acids lowered to me on ropes — all from a recipe
I shared with nobody and learned from Frank O’Mera
before he went off to the bars on Vernor Highway
to drink himself to death. A gallon of hydrochloric
steaming from the wide glass mouth, a dash
of pale nitric to bubble up, sulphuric to calm,
metals for sweeteners, cleansers for salts,
until I knew the burning stew was done.
Then to climb back, step by stately step, the adventurer
returned to the ordinary blinking lights
of the swingshift at Feinberg and Breslin’s
First-Rate Plumbing and Plating with a message
from the kingdom of fire. Oddly enough
no one welcomed me back, and I’d stand
fully armored as the downpour of cold water
rained down on me and the smoking traces puddled
at my feet like so much milk and melting snow.
Then to disrobe down to my work pants and shirt,
my black street shoes and white cotton socks,
to reassume my nickname, strap on my Bulova,
screw back my wedding ring, and with tap water
gargle away the bitterness as best I could.
For fifteen minutes or more I’d sit quietly
off to the side of the world as the women
polished the tubes and fixtures to a burnished purity
hung like Christmas ornaments on the racks
pulled steadily toward the tanks I’d cooked.
Ahead lay the second cigarette, held in a shaking hand,
as I took into myself the sickening heat to quell heat,
a lunch of two Genoa salami sandwiches and Swiss cheese
on heavy peasant bread baked by my Aunt Tsipie,
and a third cigarette to kill the taste of the others.
Then to arise and dress again in the costume
of my trade for the second time that night, stiffened
by the knowledge that to descend and rise up
from the other world merely once in eight hours is half
what it takes to be known among women and men.