A week with business developers…

I’ve spent the vast majority of my working week so far surrounded by “business developers.” Their mission in life seems to be hanging about being overly cheerful and engaging while trying to drive their hand into Uncle’s pocket as deeply as possible.

That’s fine. In theory at least. Everyone has a job to do and I don’t begrudge them for it. On the other hand, it puts me squarely in the middle of a room full of committed extroverts. The roar of them chattering during every break, the rush to the front in hopes of getting 2 or 3 minutes of face time with the most recent presenter, and their rank indifference to any civilized concept of personal space makes it an appalling experience.

In fact, the whole spectacle is exactly what I imagine my own personal hell would be like – loud, full of people, and entirely undignified. It’s exactly the kind of day I’d design if the intent was to set every nerve I’ve got on edge. Surely I’d starve if it were how I was forced to earn my salt.

At no time of year do I long for the dulcet tones of a dog snoring, or of reverential quiet of the region’s great antiquarian book shops, or the pop of the tonic cap before mixing it with a quality gin, more so than I do right now. The world of endless noise, grasping, and circular small talk is one for which I am constitutionally unsuited.

This is how it ends for me (probably)…

I’ve managed to avoid the Great Plague for the last three years. Staying home and avoiding crowded places wasn’t exactly a radical departure from my normal lifestyle. Still, I’m sure that was the secret to my success at entirely missing a dread virus that ripped around the world leaving millions dead in its wake.

If I’m going to at long last be brought low by whatever COVID variant is now quietly circulating out there, I’m entirely sure I’m now deeply ensconced in the petri dish that will give it to me. I’m sitting here with up to 700 assholes who just couldn’t wait to show up and hang out in an auditorium breathing stagnant air while some other bunch of assholes reads them slides word for word for 8 hours a day across three successive days.

What reptilian brain fuckery drives people to want to show up and sit around when the information could be entirely available on a basic website or, gods forbid, through an online meeting, I will never, ever understand. As far as I’m concerned, the “human element” is entirely overrated.

This is the classic meeting that could have been an email writ extraordinarily large.

Rehearsal week…

If it’s possible, rehearsal week can be more awful than the actual production. It’s the week when everyone realizes they haven’t been paying enough attention as the big muscle movements take place during the planning process. They find, to their surprise, that all the major decisions have already been taken.

Rehearsals are for refining the concept – not for building something new from whole cloth. I’ll spend a large portion of this week digging in my heels, denying what would have been simple requests a month ago, and generally being an obstinate asshole. Sure, there are some who could, by applying enough pressure among the right people, force me to shift… but very few are going to be willing to exert that kind of effort.

One of the most important lessons of how to be a successful bureaucrat is learning how to say no. Sometimes you have to say it with honey dipped words. Other times you have to say it with claws out. Still, you have to learn to say it to friend and foe alike – and you have to learn how to make it stick.

This will be my annual week of saying no to almost everyone. It won’t win me any new friends, but I’ll drag this rank, festering boondoggle across the finish line. Once that’s done, no one much cares how often you had to tell then no.

Two week warning…

We’re two weeks out. It’s the time of year when I should be approaching caffeine poisoning or have my blood pressure trending towards stroke territory. And yet as I sit here, I’m feeling mostly swaddled in a calm indifference.

By the time this week ends, I’ll have done 80% of everything that’s doable within my span of control to attempt pulling this circus off without too many problems. By the time next week ends, I’ll have spooled out 90% of my effort. The final 10% will burn off across three days from the 25th through the 27th. Very little of what happens during those three days will have anything at all to do with me.

By that point, I’ve given you the stage, gotten people ticketed, fought with dozens of people about getting their presentations delivered in something like a timely manner, and attended to all manner of details both petty and large. What I can’t do, though, is make everyone happy. Attendees will be mad that they’re not getting coffee and cookies, briefers will be mad that we don’t have the mic they really like, senior leaders of every stripe will be visited by the good idea fairy a few hours before show time and want to change everything.

But next week, this ponderous beast begins taking on a life of its own. As the clock runs down, the series of events begins that we’re all individually unable to stop. By then the best we can do is attempt to nudge events back towards the right path and let them flow through to their illogical end.

At this point, stepping out one more time to the edge of the precipice, all I know for certain is that in two weeks the circus will be in town. Some of it will go well. Some of it will not. And then it will be over. After that we’ll all spend six months forgetting that we have to do it all again for 2024.

A blow against the forces of chaos…

A few days ago, I was requested and required to provide an update on the current status of the annual spring event that I find both loathsome and obnoxious. Historically these sessions have always been fraught with danger. Gotcha questions, deep diving irrelevant details, adding requirements to no real advantage, and generally just busting my balls was the order of the day.

Not so this time around. We passed on the relevant information. Provided a broad overview of progress, the expected way ahead, and our proposed timeline and milestones. There were several clarifying questions and then approval to proceed as planned.

I walked into the room planning on needing every bit of bureaucratic arms and armor I could carry along. Not a bit of it was called for. In fact, the whole thing felt so unnatural that I’ve spent the last 48 hours expecting the other shoe to come hurtling out of the sky and land directly on my head.

This dog and pony show is still the bane of my existence, but it’s nice to be dealing with someone who doesn’t seem determined to make the slog harder than it needs to be “just because.” Is it possible that I’ve encountered a rare supporter in trying to stave off unnecessary chaos?

I was not expecting that to happen right square in the middle of the week, but here we are. It’s a brave new world.

It’s dog and pony season…

I spent most of my productive time today working on details of two separate events. I use the word “events” here purposefully instead of “projects.” It’s intentional, because these two items are absolutely events – occasions if you will. So, break out the floral arrangements and reserve your best rented tux, because it’s dog and pony season.

The first, a three-day series of informational briefings to contractors about how we plan on spending our cut of the defense budget over the next two years, is, as ever, the bane of my existence. This will be my 9th year though this particular wicket. For a while I had a series of supervisors who’d always promise that “next year we’ll get someone else on this.” Nine years on, my various supervisors don’t even bother saying the words. Death, resignation, or retirement seem to be the only path away from this particular bit of fuckery.

The other, decidedly less labor intensive event, is what amounts to an overgrown trade show hosted in northern Alabama every spring. Laying out who should attend, if we want to nominate some special bit of equipment or process for a demonstration, and reminding everyone to get their hotel rooms booked early or they’ll be staying in 50 miles away from the conference center is the regular drumbeat of my life in January and February.

I’ve said it before, and it bears repeating, that none of this is especially hard work. Like most of my projects, I’m more a facilitator than a doer. I try to make sure the right people have the right conversations and nudge them back into alignment when they wander too far afield. None of it is hard, but every bit of it is a time consuming pain in the ass.

Almost every day, I ponder what one must be thinking to decide that I am the one who should be draped in the glory of planning conferences, events, and all manner of dog and pony related activities. My well-noted misanthropic opinions alone should make me uniquely unsuited for any assignment in which the goal is to engage and entertain large groups of people. But here we are. Again.

I’ll do it. Everything will exceed the baseline standard of “good enough.” If, however, you think I won’t bitch and complain about the process, the attendees, the inability of our own bosses to get documentation approved on time, and my general disdain for in person boondoggles and the utterly unnecessary logistics tail that accompanies them, you must not know me at all.

Keeping up appearances…

I had to host a meeting today. Those of you who have been following along for a while will know how I feel about meetings. In my 20 years of government service, I’d estimate that no more than five meetings I’ve attended couldn’t have been an email instead. All the information would have been conveyed and everyone would have saved big swaths of their day. Nevertheless, the powers that be demand that there be meetings, so meetings we shall have.

Today I hosted a meeting about the annual conference / boondoggle / waste of time that for reasons that defy any kind of human logic has lain on my desk for the last nine years. This meeting absolutely could have been an email. I talked about three schedule changes and a few administrative notes, asked for questions, and called a halt all within 16 minutes. It was still 16 minutes too many. 

The only reason I even scheduled this meeting was because there’s another meeting next week where my senior rater’s senior rater might possibly ask when we had the last working level meeting for this project. If this happens, I can say without any purpose of evasion that yes, we met just last week on this topic and all is well. 

The real work on this questionable exercise won’t start for about two months yet. Then the occasional meeting might be almost justified. For now, it’s mostly a function of keeping up appearances… and as we all know, in the belly of the bureaucracy, the appearance of productivity and accomplishment is far, far more important than actually achieving either those things. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Virtually in person. Monday was one of those days where I was in the office fulfilling the (in my opinion) questionable requirement that our little team must always have a warm body in the building. Like the ravens at the Tower of London, the whole enterprise would collapse should we all simultaneously be doing the work from anywhere other than our assigned badly lit, gray-toned workstations. The only meeting I had that day involved seven or eight people… half of whom were also physically in the office. It’s awfully telling that despite so many people being on site, the whole meeting was held over Teams with everyone participating from their desk. If we’re all going to be meeting virtually from our own section of cubicle hell, I’d really love a non-corporate speak explanation of why there’s even a push to have more and more people in the office? You’ll never convince me it doesn’t defy logic and plain common sense.

2. Pulling rank. This week, as I may have mentioned, was the yearly spectacle where I attempt to stage manage / executive produce a three-day series of presentations. This year there were 9 organizations and 21 separate presentations across three days. This event rated permanent support from me, three guys who managed the IT infrastructure from soup to nuts, and a handful of rotating support personnel from each of the participating organizations that fell in for their portion of the event and then buggered off. By way of contrast, there was another event on Tuesday morning. This one lasted 90 minutes. It rated support from a staff director, six subject matter experts, three guys to manage IT, and another half dozen aides, support staff, and various strap hangers. If it sounds like I’m in any way angry and a little bitter, I like to think it’s justified hostility and just one of the many reasons why I hate the last week of April.

3. Choices. At the princely cost of $4.25 per gallon, I filled up the truck this morning from about a quarter tank and spent $77.60. I didn’t jump online to “Thank Brandon” or scream “Orange Man Bad” because I know the American president has next to no direct control over setting global commodity prices. I paid my bill without much comment, because paying his way in this endlessly beshitted world is a man’s job. Well, that and because no one twisted my arm 12 years ago in west Tennessee when I bought a big V8 powered pickup truck knowing full well that on its best day, I might get a little more than 16 miles per gallon. Brandon didn’t do that. I did… and so did everyone else who opted for size and power over efficiency. Want to find someone to blame? Take a hard look in the mirror.

Dull and duller…

There are any number of things I’m reasonably interested in. Some of those things I may even have a limited amount of talent for pursuing. I’m a passible amateur historian. I’m a tolerable planner… even though no one ever seems to make a differentiation between the strategic kind of planning and the weddings and events kind. I’ve managed to make a decent enough living from doing “operations stuff” in all its sundry forms.

What I am not, and have no interest in ever being, is a “contracts person.” Having wrapped up my second straight day of listening to people talk about contracts in all their glory, it’s hard to imagine something in which I could ever be less interested. I’m sorry, it makes paint drying or grass growing look downright engaging.

I know, at least intellectually, that getting the contract stuff right is important. This Big Green Machine of ours needs stuff and there are whole industries built around making sure we get it while they pocket a comfortable profit for their troubles. I’m never going to be the guy who makes it sound in any way engaging, though. It’s simply a fact of life… something to be endured… like dentistry. 

You could be forgiven for wondering why a whole week of contracting stuff isn’t actually run by the contracting people rather than by some random guy from a different office whose dog isn’t even in the same county as the fight. I actually know the wildly bureaucratic reason why it’s the way it is, but don’t for one single minute think knowing the reason means I’m ever going to like it.

On the first day…

Day one of my Very Important Event is in the books. Nothing seemed to slide completely off the rails… although I couldn’t connect to the network there for a few hours so I honestly have no idea how well anything outside the room I was sitting in really went. That it went at all is pretty much a giant assumption on my part. I guess I’ll find out tomorrow if there are a shit ton of angry emails in my inbox or 1001 complaints that someone could use their eyes to find the right link. That’s a tomorrow problem, of course.

For tonight, I don’t want to talk. I don’t want to think. I don’t want to cook. I want to sit here in this mostly dark room nursing another gin and tonic and scratching the dog’s ears while the cat sheds on me. Anything else feels like it requires way more brainpower than I want to allocate… so I’m not going to.

I’ve done more than enough things I’d rather not do today as it is. These last couple of hours are mine and everything else can bugger directly off.