The utter soul of indifference…

My opinions on some certain topics are considered, in some circles, subject matter expert level by virtue of long and painfully won experience.

When we’re talking about issues in one of these area, life becomes much easier for everyone in one of two ways: 1) Accept that I do, in fact, know what the fuck I’m talking about and stop asking for more data and analysis or 2) Tell me the answer you want and I’ll find a way back the data into it.

I’m the utter soul of indifference with regard to what the answer is and how we get there… as long as we can bloody well stop revisiting the same three or four data points multiple times a week with no end in sight.

I’m like the Queen…

As I’ve said countless times before, I’m not a decision maker.

I can present information. I can counsel. I can advise. In more dire moments I can even warn.

What I am not empowered by policy, regulation, or law to do, however, is make any actual decisions.

After almost 18 years in harness, I feel strongly the right and a duty to express my views on matters of interest. I’ve reached the period of my working life where there’s not much particularly new under the sun. I may not have seen it all before, but laying eyes on a truly unique situation is becoming an increasingly rare event.

Someday, perhaps, there will be those on Olympus who look down upon my pleas and decide that fiddling about for four months before paying any attention may not be the best idea. It turns out, as usual, that today isn’t that day.

Anyway, it turns out I’m almost exactly like the Queen. I can tell the great and the good that they’re about to do something dumb, but there’s not a thing in this great wide world I can really do to stop it happening.

The black hole of the bureaucracy…

Any big bureaucratic organization worth its salt has a process covering just about everything you might need to accomplish during your regularly scheduled work period. If you’re lucky, some of those processes might even actually work despite inevitably being antiquated, creaking relics left over from the Eisenhower Administration.

More often, in my experience, the process that exists simply stops working at a certain point. Somewhere along the workflow there’s either a person or an individual who is the organizational equivalent of a super-massive black hole. Everything that crosses into the jurisdiction of this office or individual passes across some kind of bureaucratic event horizon from which not even light itself has the velocity to escape.

These places are, in the simplest terms possible, where projects, paperwork, and hope go to be extinguished. These are the places where the process, no matter how well intentioned or neatly diagramed, simply break down and prevent actual work from happening. They’re the very core essence of what it is to live and work in the bureaucracy.

If a staff officer is worth a damn, he’ll find ways to work around these dangerous sectors – identifying people who will play ball and allow him to navigate around the gravitational pull of broken processes. Eventually, though, the bureaucracy catches on to the fact that it’s being subverted. It lashes out with renewed fury to suck in all the paperwork that has heretofore managed to escape its grasping maw.

With no way around and faced with failing timelines if work is pushed through the process to its illogical conclusion, sometimes all even a seasoned bureaucrat can do is shrug, accept that nothing will ever be completed in a timely manner, and prepare for the inevitable, quasar-like explosion once the black hole has consumed more work product than it could possibly hope to process.

Look, I’m paid for the same eight hours whether shit gets done or not, so if you’d prefer the “or not” option, just let me know up front so I’ll know how much effort to apply to any given issue. That could have saved us all a whole bunch of time. In the meantime, if anyone needs me, I’ll be over here heaving products over the event horizon expecting to never see them again.

A day of general fuckery…

Some days fly by not so much because you’re busy and gainfully engaged in doing important and productive work, but because you’ve got an endless rain of ridiculous questions, halfassed ideas, and general fuckery waiting on you around every turn.

I’d dearly like to say that such days are a rarity, but a cardinal rule of this blog is that we don’t lie, exagerate, or make misleading claims. Maybe days like this aren’t arriving often enough to be the rule, but they aren’t rare enough to be the exception, either. It’s more like a certain level of fuckery has been normalized. It’s just what you come to expect on any given day.

After all these years, you’d think that I’d have dialed in my level of expectation accordingly, but every now and then it really does jump up and catch me by surprise. No matter how jaded or cynical I manage to be, a day always comes along that leaves my eyes wide and head shaking in wonder at the business of “business as usual.”

Sigh. Sometimes the only good thing you can say about a day is “it’s over.”

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Counting. Look, I’m about as math challenged as any adult human being can be. I avoid dealing with numbers whenever possible, but there are some moments when it just can’t be avoided. Taking a quick look around and finding out how many people should be in a room, how many are in that room, and then figuring out where the balance of the people actually are shouldn’t not create the most difficult task known to man. It shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes. And it definitely shouldn’t take six hours to arrive at an “inconclusive” answer. Being able to find your people in the event bad shit happens is kind of a hallmark of supervision – or it least it was back a million years ago when I had that particular rose pinned on me. Being forced to admit in public that you can’t count up your people should be a source of great shame to you and your family.

2. Layers. You know what would make an already pretty top heavy organization even more frustrating to deal with? Yeah, adding another layer of management on top of the five already in place between the working level and decision makers. For all of the vaunted effort put in to “right sizing” and “workforce shaping” it’s like no one can get past doing it the same way we’ve been doing it since George Washington was a private… because additional layers of management are exactly the cure for anything that ails a big, bureaucratic organization.

3. Patience. Some greybeard long ago said that patience is a virtue. I can only assume that this individual didn’t actually have anything he was looking forward to. So polite society says we’re supposed to be demure and pretend that the waiting around doesn’t bother us. It’s not something we’re supposed to admit, but in my humble estimation, the very notion that we should be happily patient reeks of utter bullshit.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

What annoys Jeff this week? Shit. I could write a book on that. There’s one thing, though, that stands out in my mind this week. It’s the mother of annoyances. The one that if it didn’t happen day in and day out with a steady drum beat, so many of the other, smaller annoyances wouldn’t exist at all.

I don’t know exactly if it’s human nature or just SOP in our little part of the world, but the propensity for people to ignore things right up until the movement when it needs to be finished drives me directly around the bend. It makes me into an absolute mental case.

When you’ve known for weeks (or months) something needs to happen, but only start looking at it a day before it’s needed – or even better – two days after it was supposed to be finished, what exactly am I supposed to think? Well, first, your time management skills blow, but that’s just the baseline. If you procrastinate everything until the last possible moment all you guarantee is that everything in your wheelhouse is a self inflicted crisis. There’s no planning, no strategic vision, and certainly no sense that some ideas require time and attention to mature into final products. If you do happen to scrape something together to meet a “surprise” requirement, it’s a giant flaming shit sandwich. As often as not it’s not even a sandwich – just the various component ingredients for making one.

At that point why bother? Just admit that you’re a enormous waste of resources who exists purely to convert oxygen to carbon dioxide and draw a salary. I’d at least appreciate the honesty of admitting that someone doesn’t give a good goddamn. Hell, it would be refreshing. I’d almost respect you for it.

As it is, at least I know why every day is an exercise in jumping though my own ass to get even the simplest of projects done – because expecting people to pay attention is our own personal bridge too far.

A late lunch…

I went to lunch at 2:30 this afternoon. Because reasons. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong about that other than the fact I usually try to snag lunch around 11. That’s reasonably close to the mid-point of my normal work day and it’s when you can run out and back without returning to find the closest parking somewhere in south Uzbekistan.

Mostly I don’t like eating that late in the afternoon because I stick to a fairly early dinner schedule. Even of weekdays, dinner is made, eaten, and cleaned up before 6:00. A late lunch throws that schedule out of whack, which nudges other bits of the nightly routine our of order. It’s all minor stuff that conspires to create a big mood by the time the day is done.

I still went to lunch at 2:30 today… not so much because I wanted to eat at that point, but because not going to lunch at all has the potential to create a precedent that I have no intention of adhering to in the future. In the absence of direct threats to life or property, lunch is a thing that’s going to happen, as much my time and inviolable as the small hours of the morning.

Long experience tells me that doing something for nothing only ratchets up the expectation that you’ll do a lot more somethings for the same amount of nothing. Even when that’s not the intention, it’s an idea that I’m determined not to allow to take root even by accident… although getting back at 3:00 and leaving at 4:00 does have a certain charm.