Meeting notes…

I wish I could tell you that I make some of this up just to have something to post, but the fact is most of it is “ripped from the headlines” of day to day life. Today’s post, for instance, comes directly from a meeting I happened to be stuck in for two hours last week.
Without exercising anything other than the most basic editorial control to allow for spelling, here’s what crosses my mind while I’m doing my best to look like an attentive and responsible adult:
– “We’re on your calendar to talk more about the calendar.” WTF? Really?
– Oh look, another meeting where the only output was lost time. Glad we didn’t accidentally do anything productive.

– Yeah, we have plenty of “management ‘tools'” around here already.

– It’s apparently time to play an exciting game of “Who the Fuck is on First?”

– Yes please, let’s add more training requirements because I’ve got nothing but free time.

– “We have a plan.” Yep. Been hearing that phrase for the last six months… still no plan.

– Yay! Let’s schedule another recurring meeting!!!!!1!

Seriously, folks, these are the only notes I took during that entire meeting. I’d have been happy to make note of anything that might have somehow been relevant to doing my job more effectively or efficiently, but that’s really not the purpose of these meetings. If you’re still trying to guage my level of my boredom, it’s best to imagine every other inch of the page filled with doodles… and then multiply how bored you think I was by a factor of three or four and then you’ll be in the neighborhood.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

The One Network that Rules Them All. When I got back to the office on Monday my computer didn’t work. Well, it worked, but the network didn’t. After 30 hours we stretched a Ethernet cable halfway to Baltimore so I could at least check email, but so far the official response has been “we have a help ticket in.” If you want an employee to be productive it feels like the minimum they should do is make sure you have basic office equipment that works. But alas, that seems to be a bridge too far.

National security. Apparently the cell phone storage area at the office presents a clear and present danger to the national security of the United States. The solution to this was to move the unlocked cabinet that contains 20-30 personally owned cell phones at any given time out into an open hallway. Perhaps we have served national security, but it feels like all we’ve really done is encourage property theft in the process. Call me crazy, but leaving an $800 phone unsecured in a building where people steal pie from the fridge feels just a little bit stupid. Net result, instead of being able to check my phone periodically during the day when I’m on my way to to meetings or go take a whiz, I’ll now be adopting a smoker’s schedule and schlepping out to my car once an hour. If only there were an easier way to be compliant and not try to pretend your employees live in 1983. Sigh.

Blaming others for bad personal decisions. Two douchebags were cornered in a cheap motel room by the police earlier this week in my adopted home town. Then they decided that being on the run from felony charges in another state wasn’t the only bad decision they wanted to make. One after another they raised their very realistic looking BB guns and very quickly paid the price for that level of stupidity. There are a couple of lessons here: 1) If you’re planning on making a last stand, try to have something with a bit more kick than a kid’s toy and 2) If you’re wanted on a felony warrant and the tactical unit shows up, all of your options from that point forward are bad for you… but some are worse than others. Now to the people who say it should have been ended peacefully, that they should have starved them out, all I can say that the only people to blame for these deaths are the ones that ended up getting killed. They committed a violent crime, they fled the jurisdiction, and when the police caught up with them they threatened the officers. I’m sure they were someone’s son and daughter, after all someone loves even the most useless of human beings, but as for me, well, sometimes I think it’s nice when the gene pool cleans itself a bit.

The deciders…

When you’re sitting in a meeting with the great, good, and mighty, and one of them asks “Who approved that,” the correct answer is never “I did.” It results in a collection of blank stares, curled lips, angsty glances, and general twitchiness among the host assembled.

Yes, Virginia, I had the audacity to make a decision or two all on my own. I do it more often than they want to know, because it’s the only possible way to keep everything anywhere even close to on schedule. If we want to fall into the mode where the shading and font of every slide needs executive approval, you might as well fire my ass right now. Some decisions need made on the spot and unless someone directs me not to, I’m going to make them. I’m going to do it not so much based on any written authority, but based on the fact that I’ve got half a damned brain in my head and I’m reasonably good at what I do. If you feel that I need that kind of hand holding at every decision point, I’m serious, you really should replace me with someone more competent.

Look, I’m not vetoing bills and sending them back to the Hill. I’m not negotiating treaties with hostile powers. I’m not offering to cut entire weapons systems out of our portfolio. I’m deciding what slide template looks best when projected on a 50-foot screen and how many reserved seats we’re going to need. It’s the operative definition of nug work. It’s the sort of thing that should be well below the notice of those wielding profound executive authority.

I didn’t want to be the point man on this team, but someone gave me a task and told me to get it done. I’ll do exactly that, but it would be one hell of a lot easier if we could stop tripping all over ourselves. Believe me when I say if I hit a snag, or when the decisions needed are truly above my pay grade, I’ll be the very first to go screaming for help.

Who you want running the apocalypse…

I’ve taken a couple days to sleep on it and have concluded that the hard truth many Walking Dead fans need to face is that a year or two after civilization has collapsed, it’s guys like Negan who are most likely going to be running the show. Rick and his crew, our main protagonists, are nice enough folks, always thinking that their key to safety and survival is joining up with the next group of survivors, fortifying a prison, negotiating, and hoping for the best. Every time their hopes get dashed when someone proves to be dishonest, there’s a little bit of cannibalism, or their neighbor drives a tank through Negan.jpgtheir front door. Through it all, despite what they say, Rick’s crew seems desperate to want to believe the best about people. It’s constantly their undoing – and precisely why guys like Negan will triumph in the post-apocalypse.

Like any number of tribal chieftains of old, Negan maintains his rule and the stability of his followers through brutally enforced discipline. While this may seem abhorrent to us sitting comfortably in our homes tonight, it’s nothing new for most of human history. In fact, under the circumstances, it’s probably the group of survivors most likely to thrive in the face of the brave new world we’ve met yet in the Walking Dead universe.

Ponder for a moment if you will that Negan’s followers are highly organized and able to defend and expand their territory through better communications and tactics than those employed by Rick’s group. They’re well fed, clothed, and supplied, which indicates a relatively sophisticated economy based on the imperial model of commodity goods flowing towards the “mother country,” and finished goods and protection being furnished to the colonies. Unlike Rick, Negan doesn’t seem to shy away from his role as leader. As a result the command and control structure of his organization is very clear. He’s at the top, but he also indicated in this week’s premier that he has trusted lieutenants who he depends on. He may delight in dispensing rough justice, but his actions shouldn’t be a surprise – after all, he told our friends from Alexandria that bad behavior would be punished and then when they behaved badly he responded exactly as he said he would in order to establish a clear correlation between cause and effect.

I wouldn’t vote for Negan if he were running for president, but as a post-apocalyptic warlord, I think I’d quickly see the value of joining a group like his. This world they’ve created full of walking dead and the even more dangerous living is a violent place. The fact that violent men rise up to establish some kind of order shouldn’t surprise anyone. It was done like that in this world for a lot longer than we’ve been trying to master such societal niceties as peaceful transfers of power.

Hard and fast rules…

I came across this post as a stray draft a few days ago. I have no idea if I published it before or if it’s something I wrote that has been sitting in electronic purgatory for months or years. If I have posted it previously, it’s something that bears repeating. If I haven’t, it’s a post that’s deserves its moment in the sun.

In any case, here I present the following few hard and fast rules to live by that I’ve learned while serving as a cog in the vast recesses of the bureaucracy:

1. You can do it all.

2. You can’t do it all at the same time.

3. Timelines are meaningless and largely serve just to take up additional space in a PowerPoint slide deck.

4. Planning is, at best, a work of educated fiction.

5. At that moment when things seem to be working well, the wheels are about to fall off, the engine to catch fire, and the transmission explode, so don’t get cocky, kid.

6. There’s no such thing as “idiot-proof.” The world strives to always produce bigger and better idiots.

7. There’s no good work you can do that a general officer can’t undo with an offhand remark.

8. People rarely get the justice they deserve.

9. All projects can be a combination of fast, cheap, and good… but you can only have two at any given time, so choose wisely.

10. When all else fails, when you think the situation can’t possibly go any further downhill, when not even the third reorganization in eighteen months gets the results you hoped for, look out, because things can always, always get worse.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Throughput. I’ve said it before, but it bears saying again: When you have X amount of time and Y amount of work, unless you’re managing things pretty closely the sum is almost never going to be zero. There will always be more work than time. The best most of us can manage is to prioritize the effort and try to get to the important stuff. If there’s important stuff that’s not being tended, it’s probably a good idea to tell someone it’s important rather than relying on them to read you bloody mind.

2. Scheduling. It’s Thursday night. The list of things to get done between now and Sunday evening is already twice what I should reasonably expect to get done. I shouldn’t complain since I make my own list, but still, I’d love to at some point have one of these nice restful weekends I hear people talking about. At least there’s a hard stop at about 8:30 Sunday night. The Dead are back and a man has to know where his limits are.

3. Election. Oh dear god how is this election not over yet? Please make it stop.

Flexible and transparent…

I wish I could tell you that I was about to launch into a sales pitch for the newest cell phone by telling you how it’s improved screen was flexible and transparent, but I’m not going to do that. Instead, I’m going to lament that I sat in a meeting today where we were told that things are changing rapidly and that we should smile more because that makes things better. We were also told on three separate occasions that it’s really, really important to “be flexible,” and that the powers at echelons higher than reality want to make the whole experience “transparent” for everyone.

Honest to God I don’t know how anyone is expected to sit through that kind of putting-lipstick-on-a-pig banality without fierce eye rolling. Worse yet I don’t know if it’s what people say because they don’t know what else to say or if they say it because they believe it. Frankly neither option is particularly palatable.

After the 100 minutes of my life sacrificed today that I’ll never be able to get back, I wish I could tell you that I have a warm fuzzy that anyone has some kind of clue what’s going on, but again that would probably induce another massive eye roll. The truth is, I haven’t had a clue what’s happening in six months or more. What I do know is that now “everything we do” has to somehow be tied in to the newest overlord’s three main priorities… Which, of course, addresses a couple of big showy ideas, but does precious little to address the everyday issues of running an organization of 70,000+ people.

I guess as long as we’re ever smiling, flexible, and endlessly transparent, it doesn’t make a damned bit of difference whether we know what the end state is actually supposed to look like… since when you don’t know where you’re going anyplace can be a destination.

Just to be on the safe side, if anyone needs me I’ll just be taking another shot at rearranging these deck chairs, because slamming directly into an iceberg feels every bit (if not more) likely than anything good happening at this point.