Category Archives: work

When did email break?

I am trying to work out when email broke. I think it was about 18 months ago, maybe a year ago. No-one replies to emails any more.

I think it’s because we read them on our smart phones, but we’ll only reply to the easy ones when we’re on the move. Anything more complex we’ll leave till later and, as I learned when negotiating with my mother, later never comes.

Two or three years ago, five or fifteen years ago, emails worked. You would send an email and someone would respond within a few hours, a day at most. You would reply or send another and they would respond to that one. Email was faster and more flexible than letters, more private than faxes (unless you made the tee-hee-hee “classic” “newbie” mistake). It was great.

Recently I have been working on the schedule for Skeptics on the Fringe, and it’s been frustrating. It feels inappropriately public to make the first contact via Twitter and too in-your-face to make the first contact by phone. However, approaches by email are caught by spam filters or suffer from the double-bounce drop (if your email’s too complicated to be returned on the first bounce, it will be dropped).

I worked in times BC (Before Computers). Then I would have used the phone far more when I was confirming the schedule with the speakers, written letters quite a bit and maybe exchanged some faxes, instead of what I did today which was to use a mixture of email, twitter, FB messenger, texts, phonecalls and skype.

I am not certain which day would have been more productive, but I think I’d have been more productive BC.

We all used the phone more as a business tool, but these days I am shy of phoning people without arranging a time first, and when I do arrange a time to speak to someone call it “skyping”.  Today I got my rapid answers via Twitter, Chat, Skype, and Facebook messenger.

Would the letters have got a better response than the emails will now? I think so. People opened their post and put it in an In Tray and worked their way through it. Ideally you would deal with each piece of paper only once using one of the Three Ds (Do, Delegate or Dump). I am now trying to remember when I last saw an actual In Tray on an actual desk that isn’t in a post room. People mean to do that with emails, but the new wave of crap coming in drowns the previous wave of crap to be dealt with.

I am quite tempted to start writing letters again, just for kicks and giggles. Novelty works. In those early years of my working life, a fax was a good way to get someone’s attention because it was an urgent and important thing and the receptionist would bring it round immediately. But no-one has fax machines any more, there’s no “reply” link on a letter, no click through to our website, and stamps are 60p each.

So was BC was a pre-lapsarian age of artisan communications? When I started writing this post I thought “don’t be silly” but the more I re-wrote it, the less certain I became. With my rose-tinted specs on it seems like a golden age but Time Management™ courses and complicated products which were basically diaries in ring binders were heavily marketed suggest that someone made a lot of money out of other people being inefficient.

Instead, I shall think longingly of the true golden age, of the years between 1994 and 2012 when people read and replied to emails.

Incidentally, I assume you know, you babes who are reading this, that the cc on an email stands for “carbon copy”. Tell me you also know that a “carbon copy” was created by placing a sheet of black “carbon paper” between the heavier piece of paper of your top copy and the lighter piece of paper of your carbon copy; the impression by metal typewriter keys would then knock the carbon onto the carbon copy. This was one of the reasons why accurate typing mattered. The first carbon copy was legible, the second less so, the third a grey fuzzy blur.


The upside of the downside

“Damn. We should have brought the buzzword bingo sheets with us!”

“Shhhhh – we’re too near the front – now hush”

Our Higher-Ups do a road-show every six months or so. In theory this is to rally us troops and inspire us to ever dizzier heights of achievement. Whatever your industry and whoever your employer, these events are usually embarrassing or boring or both. Most of us work to pay our mortgage and get our kids through university. Yes, we have professional pride. Yes, we are loyal to our teams and want to good job. But most of the time we don’t think about our employer as such. We certainly don’t see them as a Cause with a capital C. (Or a capital C# in our case). When we want excitement and tribal loyalties we go to a football match.

Unfortunately all too often the Higher Ups try to play Henry V.

“… DotNet programmers in England still in bed,
Will think themselves accursed they were not here…
You few, you happy few, you band of coders;
For he to-day that tests his code for me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile…”

Dude, you’re not Kenneth Brannagh. Or Daniel Craig. Walking on to Simply the Best just shows your age. And saying “Hello Bromsgrove” just proves you’re a pratt.

Times are hard and getting harder and suddenly these events are dull and getting duller.

I was actually impressed.

We wouldn’t have completed a single row in the buzz-word bingo sheets. David Brent was nowhere to be seen. Instead the Higher-Ups were direct, to the point, honest, not particularly up-beat and remarkably jargon-free.

There were slides; there are always slides.  But the slides were boring.

It was great.

Is prosperity bad for our wealth?

It occurred to me recently that too much prosperity may blunt a person’s ability to make decisions, and that paying senior executives too well may render them incapable of making a choice and abiding by the consequences.  This is a new twist to the argument that senior executives are paid too much.  Every other argument boils down to the childhood wail that it isn’t fai-ai-ai-air.   Me, I don’t give a toss what senior executives are paid so long as they make good decisions, but I’m coming to wonder if prosperity’s bad for our wealth.

If you have to budget and juggle finances, my theory goes, then you learn two very specific skills:

  • the first is the art of deciding which option is best since you cannot have them both
  • the second is the art of getting your children to accept that they cannot have something just because it’s shiny.

Likewise, if you grew up in a household where you could not have everything you wanted the moment you saw it then you learn that doing without is actually ok and that deferred gratification is in fact more gratifying.

This came to mind in a discussion with a friend about his frustrations at work.  He has spent the last 18 months trying to introduce working practices which senior management say are worthwhile; for simplicity’s sake we’ll call them ‘weeding the garden’.  However his senior managers won’t back up their verbal support with actions and won’t order their their minions to stop doing other things which are either more exciting such as building the patio or more familiar such as mowing the grass.  As a result, none of them are putting any time weeding the garden.  My friend is going spare with frustration and he said to me “I don’t mind if the bosses back it or kill it, I just want them to make a bloody decision.  I wouldn’t mind but times are hard and getting harder and it’s pissing money away to go off half-cocked like this”.

It is this attempt to have the cake and eat it, this failure to make the choice and abide by the consequences, which I think may be the result of too much prosperity.  If you live on a budget then you learn to make choices and abide by them. You learn to think about and understand consequences.  You learn that you have to live with trade-offs.  You learn to choose between laying a patio, mowing the grass and weeding the garden because you haven’t got enough people to do all three.

You learn other skills and attitudes too.  You learn that lowering your sights may not mean lowering your standards and clean your carpets instead of replacing them.  You learn to make trade-offs and how to communicate them when you tell your kids it’s a balloon or an ice-cream but not both.  You learn to prioritise what you want because you cannot have it all.

You learn, in fact, to do what senior executives are paid to do which is to make choices and follow them through.  So you make the tough choices and announce that we’ll all have to live with grass that’s mown once a fortnight instead of once a week, you decide to put in decking instead of a patio, and then you use the money you’d have spent on sand and cement to train a couple of super-weeders who can then train the others on the days when they would have been mowing the lawn.  And you face up to the unpleasant discussions afterwards and actually deal with the complaints of the patio-buidlers and those that like bowling-green lawns.  But if you’re not used to making trade-offs and getting your family to live with that reality then you tell everyone who comes by that their particular activity is ‘very important’ and that you ‘support it at the highest level’ and feel nice and powerful when they go away.  But you don’t actually make the changes necessary to turn your words into truths.

This isn’t an argument for reducing the pay of senior executives because this isn’t some parallel universe prescribed by the Daily Express and the Daily Mail.  It isn’t even a rose-tinted re-write of the issues of real poverty.  It’s an awareness that the tough times that are on their way for most of us will, as tough times always do, very rapidly sort out the lean from the fat.

Religion, women and politics

Tag CloudMy Dad said that he and his fellow army officers were not allowed to discuss religion, women or politics, because those topics were the most likely to spark real antagonism between colleagues.  It’s advice I’ve always followed at work.  From god, sex and politics, good lord deliver us.

This rattled to the top of my mind today because once again I was aware that there is stuff here I’d like to share with colleagues, in particular the Fantasy CEO posts and the Questions series, but that I don’t want to invite colleagues in to read the rest of my blog.

As the tag cloud at the start of this post shows, this site includes a lot of obsessing about politics, and is better not shared with colleagues on that count alone.  (Incidentally, I’m amused to observe that my dislike of Patricia Hewitt is so great that I cannot bring myself to spell her name correctly. Who’d have thought.)

Word CloudSome influential bloggers such as Scoble impugn the integrity of those who blog and post anonymously.  I can understand his contempt for those who aren’t willing to own the words they insult him with, but anonymity is not just a matter of deceit or shame.  I am not ashamed of anything I’ve written here.  The word cloud on the right is built up naturally out of the words I’ve used here, not artificially by the tags or categories I choose to promote.  It shows a mind that’s interested in people, questions, words and thinking.  And not a swearie word among them which is rather surprising since,the cussometer tells me that 35%  of the pages in this blog ‘include cussing’.  You have been warned.

Category CloudIt’s a matter of what’s appropriate where, and of nuance and complexity, not of shame and duplicity.  I obey my employer’s dress code and don’t drink or swear on my employer’s time.  On the other hand, I don’t waste the time of the one I spend my weekends with by working through the puzzles and problems I encounter at work.  Call it  professionalism, call it compartmentalisation, call it good manners, it’s part and parcel of how grown-ups behave.  But there’s no shame there.

The category cloud on the left shows how I categorise the posts here.  It seems fair enough to me.  I am certainly interested in Society, I take a lot of photographs, I have written a lot about MMC and MTAS.  But lurking in there is also  stuff which I don’t take to work.  Some of the topics aren’t mine to take to work with me and others, like religion, sex and politics, may cause entirely unnecessary rifts with colleagues.  Quite apart from anything else, I don’t want my respect for people I work with undermined by my dislike of their religion or politics.  The sex I couldn’t really give a damn about.

I started this blog as an experiment to see where it would take me.  Now I know.  I could of course simply strip out the posts on the subjects that aren’t appropriate and welcome colleagues here but I dislike revisionists, I cannot be bothered to run several blogs on several subjects, and I’d miss the eclectic mix of visitors my free-range subject-matter brings.

So I’ll bide by my lack of forward planning, blog here on subjects that interest or affect me and not promote my blog at work.

Choosing art

I had the interesting experience of selecting paintings for an exhibition the other day.  I work for a Great Big Company and the local council contacted various Groups in the Community to ask for volunteers to pick paintings for a Peoples’ Choice exhibition.  (It’s Blairite, but is it Art?)  So I said “that’ll be me then” and volunteered.

There were seven or so of us, and we were given an enormous catalogue of the paintings in public ownership in the county, and told to pick three each and state our reasons.  (The catalogue turned out to be fascinating and desirable in its own right and, since it’s available from Amazon, I’ve just bought myself a copy.  Damn.) The chap was a curator at one of the local museums or art galleries and he encouraged us to be simple and direct in our reasons, giving examples of things that other groups such as school children had said.



It would have been easy to consult with others and pick a whole exhibition of social history, or local faces, or even specifically non-local work, but it was much, much harder to pick just three.

I resisted choosing damaged pictures just because they were damaged which gives them an added layer of meaning in my pretentious world.  I resisted picking the local views because that was all a bit too obvious.  I resisted two enormous and gloomy portraits of a grimly smug victorian couple which I wanted to pick on the ground that – hey look, these people are so freaking different from people today.

I discovered that when push came to shove I preferred portraits, which was rather depressing.  My brow is higher than that, surely?   I did steer myself away from just picking portraits and resisted the option to show off by going entirely for abstracts.

It was an interesting insight into the world of the curator and the choices involved in putting together an exhibition.  I’ve bought myself a copy of the catalogue of the county’s art collection, and I’m looking forward to the exhibition.  I should love it.  What better way could there be to arrive at an eclectic mix?

Just going outside

In what world does someone who dies of illness or in an accident leave their job “voluntarily”?  Suicides yes, if you push the logic that far.  But if I choke on a carrot in the canteen I haven’t left this vale of tears of my own free will, now have I?

However, I’d be classed as a “voluntary leaver” by most HR statisticians.


Large employers like to keep track of all sorts of things including the number of people they hire, the number of people who “don’t work out” in the first year, and the number of people who leave even though the company would prefer to keep them.  The “involuntary leavers” represent errors of judgement on the part of the people hiring them, and you can see the sense of tracking those numbers.  “Voluntary leavers” on the other hand are the people the employer will be put to the inconvenience of replacing because they have been offered a better job elsewhere, decided to return to full-time education, or left to set up in business for themselves.  Or selfishly gone and died.  Without giving notice.  Where’s their team spirit? (I exaggerate for cheap effect).

What the employer is tracking with these figures is the employer’s wish or intention (volition) not that of the employee.  But HR being the sweet and fluffy discipline it is, it doesn’t spell it out as crudely as that.  Ho no. How much nicer to pretend that what you are measuring is what your employees want.  The caring face of statistics.

War is peace.  Love is hate.  People are our greatest asset. The dead are voluntary leavers.

Who needs thought when you’ve got jargon

A friend of mine who knows my weakness for jargon and my aspirations to critical thinking sent me a couple of texts the other day which he’d garnered from his work.

The WhizzyDooDad is designed to provide customers with a variety of resources that, when used as part of a learning program that incorporates learning courses, will effectively apply professional competencies and reinforce learning content from those courses.

Desired Outcomes

  • Application of e-learning to real business situations and needs
  • Increased competency and productivity through the application of new skills and knowledge
  • Leveraged investment made in learning and classroom training
  • Increased use of learning/training programs
  • Projects or initiatives can be related to and/or integrated with a blended solution.
  • Learners have increased potential for actualizing new skills and behaviours “on the job”.
  • Learners take on new roles as facilitators and/or observers of skill transfer
  • Promotion of a learning environment/culture.

I’ll spare you the rest; I’ll even spare you my sarcastic analysis.  You’re intelligent.  You can supply your own.

My friend rewrote the thing entirely, without any reference to the original. Here’s an excerpt from the new version:

The introduction of WhizyyDooDad means that those of us who work in the department can easily find someone to give practical advice on whether or not an app [ie a software application – AB] is the best choice for a particular task. It also makes it  easy to find out what apps we already use and save money by choosing the ones we already have licenses for, instead of going out and buying something entirely new which does the same thing. We are no longer limited by what we know as individuals and in our local teams – we all share our knowledge.

The second paragraph isn’t particularly elegant, it still includes jargon and the last sentence is fluff, but it is at least clear fluff.

When I pointed out that the two texts say completely different things – the first talks about customers and training courses and the second talks about finding experts and reducing license costs – he shrugged, so far as you can shrug on Instant Messenger. “That’s what happens when you substitute jargon for thought”, he said. Which is a fair point well made. It is still one hell of a leap from Text A to Text B.

Knee deep in chicken-shit

Mr RedHere’s one I didn’t publish at the time for fairly obvious reasons.  I’ve no recollection now, five years later, whether whatever it was did pan out as I predicted, partly because my memories of 2008 mainly comprise the banking crisis.  I am making this post public in 2013, but backdating it to its original date in March 2008.

Schadenfreude, or taking pleasure in others’ pain, isn’t pretty, but by god it can feel good.

It was inappropriate of me to snigger at the end of last week when the system that went live last month fell over. It was wrong of me to be amused that the patronising assurances we’d been fed for months that it could never happen here were embarrassingly and publicly falsified. It was nasty of me to find it funny when the centrifugal force of the spin doctoring failed to deliver on the promises that any problems would be treated as a Type 1 incident.

Oh dearie me, dearie me, dearie me. It was wrongest of all for me not to give a flying f*** if the system as a whole ends up pulled as a result of going belly up last week.

You see, I can be a judgemental and vindictive cow, and I find professional sloppiness unnecessary and disgusting. I have spent months feeling uncomfortable, watching corners being cut, political games being played, a lack of progress being spun into news of progress and a sense of “them” and “us” being created.  I also have a strong sense of cause and effect. I believe in consequences. So it was grimly satisfying to know that the clucking and squawking last week was the sound of a whole flock of headless chickens coming home to roost.

We’ll be knee deep in chicken-shit next week, but by god it’s going to be worth it.

The good, the bad and the ugly – part 3

Having been off work for a week, I’ve forgotten what it was like.  Here are a few of the folks I’m going back to.  But I’m not of course.  These are figments of my imagination, and all similarities to individuals living or deadly are entirely coincidental.

The graduate

One word. Plastics. The Graduate gets it. Instantly. He’s used to being the brightest person in the room, and is frustrated by what he sees as stupidity, arrogance and bullshit all around him. Everywhere. All the time. The fascinating thing about working with the Graduate is how someone so bright can be so stupid. The Graduate fails to contextualise his knowledge and he cannot read between lines or see shades of grey. He has no concept of experience, and dismisses other peoples’ caution as stupidity. He’s vastly impressed by himself, and is in denial about the fact that no-one else is. Female Graduates tend to be very pretty, and the brighter ones end up either as super-bitches or netball players.

The super-bitch

This woman has balls of steel. She delivers the goods and does not care who or what gets in the way. She’s Ms Perfection, so she’s physically attractive in photographs. In person, the combination of perfection and focus can be  off-putting. You’d rather not imagine her having sex: the thought is frankly frightening. On the other hand, if you do hear her talking to her beloved on the phone she often sounds like a completely different human being. Make that “like a human being”. She’s nowhere near as resentful of men as the Netball Player. Why bother? She’s overtaking them effortlessly anyway.

The dull boy

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. He’s probably a really nice bloke, and if he’s senior enough to send out updates to entire mailing lists then he’ll be all laddish and matey and finish up with a comment on the football. The thing is, he’s not a lad and you’re certainly not his mate. In his world, work’s for work, home’s for home, friends and colleagues never mix.  This ability to compartmentalise means that he’s may well run a discreet mistress for years, though whether he bores the pants off her or charms them off varies from dull boy to dull boy. At work, though, he shows no sense of humour. He doesn’t see why thanking people or upbraiding them in public is any different from doing so in private. He’s effective at what he does, but comes across as a teutonic version of Mr Spock.

The good, the bad and the ugly – part 2

Here are a few more corporate and business characters:

The Underminer

The Underminer seems to be the most helpful person in the room: they understand things quickly, they ask pertinent and clever questions, they contribute, smile and make the odd joke. However if you need them to do anything for you, at best they will do nothing and at worst they will sabotage you. To add insult to injury they won’t even bother to hide what they’re doing. They’ll criticise you for incorrect spelling but blithely fail to hand in their own homework, ever. Watch this failure to deliver: the underminer gets their greatest kick from humiliating you in public by letting you assume that the promises they made in private were true.

The proto-tycoons

Still at the stage of two porsches and a secretary, these young men live fast, drive fast, talk fast and pay slow. Your importance to them can be measured by the amount of attention they pay to you. If you are a minion in their world you won’t merit eye contact, if you can withhold something they need then you get their undivided attention. They are bright enough to stay within the law most of the time, but this is because they believe that only fools get caught, actually they think speeding fines, taxes and 30 day credit terms are for other people. Satisfyingly, a sub-set of them will spend their 60th birthday, and a dozen or so others, behind bars.

The working-class hero

It’s not a chip on his shoulder, it’s an entire timber-yard. In many ways he’s like the Netball Player, but he’s fighting the class war rather than the battle of the sexes. If you are more southern, more northern, older, younger or in any other way different, then you are – obviously – out to get him. He’s determined and will thirstily soak up new information and you will get loyalty for so long as you can teach him things. The moment he thinks he knows as much as you do, you’ll become “moody, unpredictable and impossible to work with”. Of course you will. On the other hand, if he sets himself a task, he’ll do it, no matter who or what lines up to prevent him. He’s a difficult but oddly likeable chap, life actually has dealt him some bum hands and he can be surprisingly supportive when women show vulnerability.

As before, these are of course entirely fictional.  I have a very active imagination.