Meat, hunting, and home decoration…

A few months ago, I kicked around the idea of starting up a weekly limited feature focused on topics that some people might consider controversial, unpopular, or otherwise not appropriate for polite company. Nothing much came of the idea then, but it has stewed in my head ever since. This is the next of what I like to think will be a recurring series of Friday evening contemplations. If you’re easily offended, or for some reason have gotten the impression that your friends or family members have to agree with you on every conceivable topic, this might be a good time to look away. While it’s not my intention to be blatantly offensive, I only control the words I use, not how they’re received or interpreted.

It’s hard to go out for groceries without seeing another brand that’s introduced a new variety of plant-based ham or some other all natural, vegan certified, socially responsible food product. That’s fine. Some of these products aren’t half bad tasting and I’m happy to allow the substitution where it makes sense. 

Even so, you’d be hard pressed to fully break me of a lifetime of omnivorous eating. If I haven’t been shown satisfactory evidence that bacon can be made from turkey, there’s really very little chance I’m going to suddenly be convinced it can be made from pressed plants. In some cases, taste really is king.

I go through all that to demonstrate that I’m an unashamed meat eater.

I grew up in a place where hunting and fishing were a regular method of supplementing what ended up on the dinner table. Even though my days of wanting to sit in the cold waiting for a deer are long gone, I respect the hell out of people who are out there doing it for the right reasons. Despite what PETA tells you, taking game for sustenance or to control nuisance species are perfectly valid things to do and is considered a wildlife management best practice.

Trophy hunting, by contrast, pretty much makes you a douche. Yeah, I’m looking directly at whoever out there cuts off the antlers and leaves the carcass laying on the side of the road. Look, I love duck and goose hunting – but I don’t enjoy the taste of duck or goose, so I settle for taking clays and staying out of the blind. Going out just for the thrill of the kill or because you need a stuffed and mounted giraffe is about as asinine reason to hunt as I can imagine. 

That’s not the kind of statement that will endear me to some of my gun toting brethren, who would be perfectly happy to keep blasting a hundred ducks at a time with a skiff-mounted punt gun until they empty the river.

To enjoy any kind of legitimacy, hunting has to be about conserving the resource today and for the future. The most dedicated hunters I’ve ever known have approached the whole process with a reverence for the animal and full understanding that an animal was losing its life so that the hunter could eat. If your hunt is all about home décor choices, then honestly, I don’t even want to know you.

Now is the spring of my discontent…

And so it begins. The two weeks a year when I’m forced to put on a brave face and transform into a cheerleader, a producer, a confessor, a circus roustabout, a tyrant, and a Chatty Cathy all in the name of passing along some information that could just as easily be set loose into the world by putting it on a website.

“But that misses the personal touch,” they cry. Knowing how much money you’re going to spend and how isn’t enough. We can’t do without the networking, the back slapping, the crab puffs, and little finger sandwiches. Though they’ll howl just as loudly when we go back to charging $700 a head instead of giving the information away for free online.

COVID and the Plague Era has given me a great respite in that at least the last few iterations of this great dog and pony show have been online. No vast sea of party tents, no outdoor equipment displays, no tickets, no 700 extra people jammed elbow to asshole in an auditorium to listen to presentations they could have heard just as easily from home. Next year might be back to “normal”… and that’s a threat that hangs over me like a goddamned death sentence.

My philosophy of meetings…

A big part of my philosophy of project management can be distilled down to one simple rule: Never have a meeting when an email will do. I conservatively estimate that on any given project that eliminates approximately 95% of meetings that otherwise would have taken place. 

There’s a catch, of course. Periodically, the Gods on Olympus sneak into their questions about the status of whatever project interests them in the moment an inquiry like “When was the last meeting on this?” I can tell you from experience that the answer they’re not looking for is, “Uh, I think we had a meeting about three months ago.” 

It won’t matter to them that you’ve got full command of all the pertinent information. It won’t matter that you’ve checked in weekly or even more often with all the people developing content and know that everything is on track. The only thing that will matter is that you haven’t had a meeting. You’ll never convince me that this minor obsession with meetings isn’t one of the big driving influences of why so many bosses are still hellbent on putting asses in cubes. Then, not only can they ask if meetings are happening, they can walk past and see people crowded into a conference room – pure management bliss.

Even though it’s not strictly necessary, I’ve been running a meeting once a month since before the new year. At least that way I can say with a straight face we’ve had meetings. Now that we’re closing in on the curtain going up, I’ve switched it to weekly meetings – because inside the 30-day window Olympian interest can become intense. At least I can tell them that, yes sir, of course we met on that just a few days ago and be 100% honest.

What I won’t mention, of course, is that these weekly meetings never take more than 20 minutes. In fact, today’s lasted a grand total of 21 minutes and conveyed exactly three new bits of information that I’d already sent out this morning by email. We’d have put up a better time but there were one or two technical snags that cost precious seconds.

But, by God, now we’ve had a meeting about it and nothing makes officialdom happier than knowing there was a meeting. I’ll shoot to get next week’s down to sub-15 minutes times. I feel like that level of success is really within my reach.

An awful lot of time…

Sitting in the office all day gives you time to think.

It gives you time to think about smelling other people’s meals, and listening to their phone conversations, and their wandering around from cube to cube looking for an ear to bend, and the hour wasted traveling to and then another hour wasted going from that monument to early 20th century management philosophy.

Yes, sir, sitting in the office gives you an awful lot of time to think.

I’m quite sure there are people out there who are dying to get back to the office full time. God knows there will be plenty of senior leaders who can’t wait to get back to preening in front of town hall meetings and capacity crowds conferences – and seeing their toiling minions stacked elbow to asshole across whole floors filled with cubicles.

More than anything, though, sitting in the office is full of time to think about how utterly ridiculous it is to sit in an office when every single touch point of your day involves email, phone calls, and shuffling electronic information from one place to another. If you’re heart doesn’t seeth with just a little bit of rage knowing it could all be accomplished from any place on the globe with a reliable internet connection and a cell phone, well, I’m not entirely sure you’re thinking about work as a product and not as some kind of half-assed social activity.

As long as those running the show put as much or more premium on the quasi-social elements like maintaining a “corporate culture” and the farcical notion that “real” communication can only happen face to face, no amount of real world evidence seems likely to move the needle away from 1950s ideas of what working looks like.

There’s still no formal guidance on what the new and improved “return to work” plan will look like here in the belly of the bureaucracy. I’m told they’re working on an updated plan at echelons higher than reality. If precedent is prologue, I’ll expect this new plan to cleave as close as humanly possible to exactly how things were done in the Before Times and ignore as much as possible the last two years happened at all.

The way we used to…

My Facebook feed has been flooded over the last week or two with “promoted” articles heralding the end of the Great Plague… notwithstanding the fact that the case rate remains 2/3 of what it was at the peak of the “second wave” in the fall of 2021. Admittedly, we’re well off the highs seen at the peak of the omicron variant, so that’s something. 

The articles I’ve seen have a few things in common. They all want everything to go “back to normal.” Like New York’s new mayor, they want to see office buildings filled to the rafters and busy hot dog carts on every corner. I get it. There’s intense pressure from politicians, landlords, and service sector business owners that have seen taxes and profits slashed over the last two years while information workers realized they can conduct business from anywhere.

Mayor Adams argues that by not working from the office, people are not going to the drycleaner, or restaurants, or spending money on other services. That feels like a bit of a specious argument. I’m still doing most of those things, but I’m doing them and spending that money in the community where I live rather than at places that are in geographic proximity to a random office building. It sounds a lot like the arguments of “back to work” proponents like Mayor Adams boil down to wanting to get back to treating office workers as cash cows versus presenting an argument for why it’s in any way beneficial for them to go back to spending 40 or more hours a week sitting in a cubicle. 

A million years ago when I was boss, I had team members all over the damned country. While I sat in west Tennessee, others sat in Texas, Illinois, and Virginia. For all practical purposes we were all “working remotely” from each other even if we happened to be working in an office building. The trick was, as long as the work got done, I didn’t care where they were physically sitting, or if they took a two-hour lunch, or if they knocked off early on a Friday afternoon. In my mind, it’s about the work, not about taking attendance like some kind of 19th century schoolmarm. 

When politicians, business leaders, and managers, tell me they want everything to be normal again, they’ve obviously got their own axe to grind. I suspect they’re missing the larger point, though. There’s a pretty large subset of high value employees who are no longer going to be satisfied schlepping into an office every day just because that’s what used to be normal… and management is going to run an unanticipated risk in trying to jam that recently squared peg back into a round hole. 

To put in another way, there’s no reason to expect “normal again” will mean we’ll do everything the way we used to. The sooner that sinks in, the better.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Sleep. I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a fan of sleep. I’ve never been able to shake the feeling that its hours of the day being utterly wasted laying around when I’d rather have my nose in a book, or honestly be doing almost anything else. The only virtue sleep seems to have, apart from it being a physiological necessity, is that at least I’m not consciously aware of the hours passing. I at least appreciate that the time from closing my eyes to them popping open again feels nearly instantaneous… so it doesn’t feel like totally wasted hours in the moment. That would just be adding insult to injury.

2. Communication. One of the constants across my career has been the frequency with which we fail to communicate. Vertically, laterally, inside, outside – where the communication is supposed to be happening doesn’t make much difference. The only thing consistent is that the left and right hand are almost universally unaware about what the other is up to. It would almost be fun to watch if it wasn’t so often just a enormous pain in the ass leading to endlessly repeating the same thing to 47 different people.

3. The “working lunch.” At the risk of reinforcing my reputation as generally incorrigible about such things, let me go on record as saying I don’t believe in the concept of the working lunch. There’s work and then there’s non-work (like lunch). I know this is true because my regularly scheduled weekday is 8.5 hours in length. That extra on half hour is tacked on because of the expectation that somewhere in the middle of the day, we’re supposed to “take lunch.” If that weren’t the case, I’d be happy to forgo the break and end the day 30 minutes earlier. No matter how much the powers that be wish it was otherwise, throwing some lukewarm pizza in a conference room while having a full-on meeting will never count in my mind as taking lunch – otherwise known as a pause to let your mind reset and take a breath before diving in for the last half of the day. If you’re going to do it, at least have the personal courage to call it what it is – a meeting where we’ll give you a slice of pizza in hopes that you won’t realize we’ve snuck an extra 30 minutes of work into your day. Personally, I’ll always recognize it for what it is.

Cubicles aren’t the problem…

Even back in spring 2020, in the early days when the Great Plague raged unchecked, some of us were still coming to the office. Often it wasn’t many – and certainly some came more than others, but on the average day there may have been five or six people spread out in a room built out to hold around thirty. For good, bad, or otherwise, those who make decisions were determined that the place was going to have at least the loose appearance of conducting business as usual. They were determined to keep the lights on.

I only mention it, because I had a bit of a unique career experience today. For most of this day before Thanksgiving, I was the last man standing… or maybe the only one without the foresight to drop a leave request for today and Friday. In any case, I spent most of the day with the place entirely to myself. The only time I’ve had an even similar experience was a million years ago when I was a fresh, young GS-7 working in DC who wasn’t banking enough vacation time to be extravagant about taking the Friday after Thanksgiving. Even then, there were a few other people knocking around the far reaches of the GAO Building’s 3rd floor, so I wasn’t completely on my own there.

Today was a real Time Enough at Last moment, which is to say it was kind of ideal. As it turns out, just being stuck in a room full of cubicles and awful fluorescents for the day isn’t necessarily the problem with the modern office. It wasn’t quite as good as a day working from home, but without all the people, I mean it didn’t particularly suck.

It looks like I’ve learned my one new thing for today, so I’m feeling pretty good about that.

Time, distance, and the laws of men…

It’s that special time of year again when the gods on Olympus like to pretend that they are not in any way constrained by time, distance, or the laws of men. It’s a few days before Thanksgiving and those high and mighty gods have, right on schedule, realized that the minions on whom they depend to work their will will increasingly be unavailable thanks to end of the year leave taking.

Now what someone with a modicum of common sense might do, is prioritize whatever effort or efforts are legitimately “most important” and concentrate on getting those through the gate first. What we’ll actually be doing, of course, is piling on increasing levels of stuff to do and then watching as “leaders” gnash their teeth and rend their garments because it’s not getting done.

The pool of available people to keep up with whatever wild-ass new ideas the bosses dream up will get a little smaller every day between now and the end of the year. It would be comical if it weren’t absolutely predictable. I’ve watched this spectacle first hand since 2003 and can only assume this great green machine has been up to the same kind of pre-holiday fuckery since Washington was a Lieutenant.

Look, I really am sorry… but if you’re looking for a guy who’s going to jump through his own ass, moan, and wail, because your failure to plan has become an “emergency,” I’m just not your huckleberry. Never have been. Never will be. You have my word on it.

On making a difference (or not)…

The number of people who call my phone thinking they can steamroll me with some variation of the phrase, “My boss said…” would honestly blow your mind. I’m sure whatever their boss said carries some relative weight… with them. Since their boss is almost never anywhere on the list of people who sign my yearly performance evaluation, what we generally have is them passing along information that could, in a certain light, be considered interesting to me, but that is also almost entirely irrelevant.

I promise, I’m not out here making shit up as I go along. If I’ve done something, it’s because someone who does figure into my rating chain has either told me to do it or will support my interpretation of whatever led me to take a specific action.

After nearly twenty years at this, I don’t get impressed or intimidated by titles or shrill voices. But feel free to call and raise your complaint. I may even smile and nod sympathetically right before I proceed with doing whatever I was about before you called.

Follow my advice. Don’t. Either way, it honestly makes absolutely no difference to me. But good luck when someone higher up the pecking order asks your boss why it didn’t get done.

We don’t really do consistency here…

One of the great joys of working for my employer is that we’re absolutely comfortable delivering mixed messages. It’s such a regular part of business that I doubt most people even notice. I notice, of course, because it’s exactly the kind of random foible that I enjoy writing about. 

I present the following by way of example:

On one hand, the message from the very top is that COVID-19 remains an existential threat to our ability to contest and not lose the nation’s wars. In light of that, every one and all of us must stay masked, be vaccinated, maintain social distance, and keep working from home because it’s dangerous out there.

On the other hand, the same organization is holding its last frenzied meetings about piling people from around the country into a large convention center for three days next week. I’m sure it will be a glittering affair with everyone fully following all published best practices and risk reduction strategies. You just can’t beat the synergistic effects of breathing all over each other to enhance lethality and multi-domain readiness… because it’s not so dangerous out there.

One of the great lessons I’ve learned during my career is that we are very serious about following rules and procedures, unless, of course, those rules and procedures are in any way inconvenient or interfere with what the gods on Olympus want to do. Then, it helps if you just think of them as suggestions and don’t take them seriously in any way. If you came looking for consistency, boy did you come to the wrong place.