Another pot luck pot luck…

“Sooooo… not many people have signed up for the pot luck next week.” Because I somehow managed to be anointed Keeper of the Pot Luck Sign Up Sheet, this fact wasn’t a surprise to me. The fact that a week before this kind of officially designated team building mandatory fun event, almost no one had signed up to participate shouldn’t have surprised anyone, really… but it does, time after time.

You understand going in to this line of work that it’s not Silicon Valley. We’re never going to have a water slide in the lobby and a full bar in the break room. Our bosses aren’t going to rent out a beach house or ski lodge. What we end up with, then, are events planned to “make do” with whatever minor leeway we do have in terms of building team spirit and morale. Of those, the pot luck lunch is the staple.

Maybe there was a time when this kind of thing was popular – make a dish, bring it in, pass it around. Smoke, joke, and relax for an hour or two. Now that we can’t smoke, no one can take a joke, and a long lunch is looked on as the ultimate form of slacking, I just can’t imagine why it’s not drawing a bigger crowd. Face it, I cook for myself in the evenings out of necessity – making another dish to carry along on the commute is just another layer of hassle I’m ok with avoiding.

The only thing I can tell you is that my morale has never been significantly improved because of a plate full of lukewarm and/or over crock-potted food offered up in some drab, windowless conference room. I’m willing to stipulate that the intentions here are probably good, but the execution is something between bland and ineffective. Sure, if it makes anyone feel better, I’ll send out another reminder, but you can go ahead and mark me down as a hard no.

When dentistry is the lesser evil…

I’m not a fan of the dentist. Being a responsible adult I try not to let time drag out too long between visits… but given half an excuse, I’ll almost always opt to kick my appointment down the road for a few weeks before showing up.

Today I had ample opportunity to dodge my scheduled time in the chair. I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Give the tenor of the week so far dentistry felt like the lesser of the two awful ways to spend an afternoon.

The fact that I’d rather face the drill than another afternoon of meetings probably says a lot about the head space I’m occupying currently. When days have a tendency to roll on with a grinding certainty, any deviation towards something different is a relative bright point. That fact that it’s true even with that “something different” is a couple people jamming sharp objects in your mouth should probably be more alarming than it currently feels.

Reliability and predictability…

Yesterday was an eight hour shitshow. There are more polite ways to phrase it, but there are none more accurate so I’ll leave it at that. Don’t let it ever be said, though, that the gods lack a sense of humor. Where yesterday was a colossal effort to make me lose my ever-loving mind, today I found myself wandering through back rooms and hallways verifying that emergency lighting and exit signs were operating in good order during a mock power outage.

I’ve worked in a number of places where the ebb and flow of days was predictable. Whether it was food service with the regular rushes for lunch and dinner to offices that lived by the tempo of weekly reporting they all had some kind of identifiable heartbeat underlying the day to day activities. Personally I’m a fan of that kind of predictability in life. You can count on one hand the number of “good” surprises I’ve ever been party to in my professional life. Come to think of it, I’d be hard pressed to show more than a like number of good surprises in my personal life either. Suffice to say, I’m not really a fan of the unexpected.

I’ve long suspect that at least in part the utter lack of predictability in what the powers that be are going to choose to care about on any given day is one of the fundamental problems we face. Get a little reliability and predictability baked into the system, trash a bunch of archaic process and procedures that don’t make sense in the 21st century, slash half of the management layers off the org chart, and hey, who knows, we might get a little productivity and morale going around here.

Ha. Yeah. Like any of that going to happen.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The value of time, or lack thereof. I’m a largely self-directed kind of guy. Give me a task and the day you want it completed and it’ll be on your desk, usually with a few minutes to spare. I prefer operating free from micromanagement. It’s usually when I do my best work. Sometimes, though, additional guidance is necessary, or perhaps one of my five bosses has asked for an update. I’m good with that. They need to know (or at least should know) what’s going on… but what chaps my ass to no end is when they schedule the meeting and then don’t bother showing up for their own update. Things happen, I know, but when you’ve done it six consecutive times, it shows a monumental disregard for anyone who isn’t you. Sooner or later a guy just might start taking that kind of insult a little personally. Thank God we don’t worry about little things like morale.

2. Buying essentials. Shopping for new tires is sucks. It’s a necessary evil, of course, but that doesn’t in any way make it as fun and exciting as say looking for a new puppy. I’ve got a laundry list of widgets I want to add to the Jeep for summer driving enjoyment, but instead of ordering a fancy new head unit or LED headlights I’m spending the week price checking local tire shops and looking at product reviews so I can buy four tires and a new battery for Big Red. Making responsible adult decisions is lame.

3. Any internet site that offers “127 things you didn’t know about Some Random Topic.” Of course I know 99.98% of these sites are pure click bait, but every once in a while one looks interesting enough to make the slog through the land of Click For Next Page feel worth it. The real problem is I read a lot of books, watch a lot of documentaries, pay attention to details, and have a genuinely curious mind. So if you could divide your click bait into separate “general knowledge” and “advanced” categories I’d find it extremely helpful. It would save me a great deal of time muttering “who the hell doesn’t know that?”

Lost productivity…

The good news is that a scathing, but entirely accurate comment card submitted to the Enterprise Help Desk gets a bit of attention. That’s basically where the good news stops – unless you count my diagnosis of imminent hard drive failure being proven correct as good news. I feel like that one could go in either column.

The bad news, because of course there’s bad news, is that as of the this afternoon, the local help desk has been tinkering with computer for 10 hours. When I left today there was no sign or signal that I’ll be getting it back any time soon. That basically means I spent the day staring at the ceiling, doing some long delayed shredding, and throwing away post it notes I no longer need. It doesn’t exactly fall into the productive work category.

By my rough math if they hang on to the damned infernal machine until at least noon tomorrow the cost just in lost productive time would be sufficient to purchase a new replacement computer. That of course isn’t how we do things. Uncle, as is his way, has a completely nonsensical way to measure costs and benefits.

I forecast that getting my computer back tomorrow is probably wildly optimistic. Wednesday is slightly more likely, but far from guaranteed. It’s infuriating that this is the standard way of running the business. It’s disheartening in the extreme. I know I do good work… when the damned policies, procedures, and relentless pursuit of mediocrity don’t try to trip me up at every available opportunity. I’m sure I’ve had days where I’ve been more dispirited about the state of my chosen profession, but they’ve been few and far between.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Driver’s Ed. Was I seriously the only person why learned anything from Driver’s Education when I took it way back in caveman days? The way I understand it, when you come to a controlled intersection in which the traffic light is out (not functioning at all), that intersection is treated as a 4-way stop. Given the car behind me that was doing a good job of trying to crawl into the engine through my tailpipe and the guy in the next lane who fishtailed two feet into my lane, apparently I’m the only one who remembers that little tidbit. I’m assuming the rules are the same on a road two lanes in each direction divided by a median as they are for any “normal” four lane intersection. If I’m wrong and the vehicles on said divided highway in fact have uncontested right-of-way, then consider this my apology for being so badly informed. Still, I’m pretty sure I’m right and other people are morons.

2. Sensing sessions. Yeah, look, I’ve sat through at least of dozen of these in a career that’s lasted as many years. The thing about “sensing sessions” is that you bitch and complain to someone who can’t do anything about your problems, they write it up in a nice report and then nothing happens. They might give the barest of illusions that someone is trying to do something but the reality is they’re about as useful as the portholes on a ’77 Continental.

3. The telephone. This month we’re apparently cracking down on unauthorized, unofficial phone calls. There’s a stiffly worded group chastisement email and a spreadsheet and everything to damn our collective useless hides. As usual, instead of singling out the perpetrators, which would be easy enough to do, we prefer the passive aggressive approach of making sweeping general announcements and indicting everyone across the board. Damn me, but doesn’t it feel good to be a trusted professional.

The last half of the week…

48 hours is how long it took me to coordinate, fix, spindle, mutilate, and otherwise jump through my ass to accommodate an out-of-nowhere demand to move an event that’s been on the calendar for months. Upon getting that finished and then getting back to doing actual productive work towards making this event a reality, I hope I’ll be forgiven if I seem less than thankful when told minds have been changed and to go ahead and plan for the original dates. There’s no morale building activity quite like being directed to spend the last half of your week undoing what you were directed to do at the week’s beginning. It’s absolutely stupefying that this is how any organization actually tries to operate.

Want to know why I feel like it’s a job instead of a career or a calling, well this would be a prime example. For an organization that prides itself on being committed to “decisive action,” I have very serious doubts that we could decide to leave the room if someone set the damned thing on fire. I’m just a cog in the machine. I’m a tool – and a particularly blunt and ineffectual one – under circumstances where planning and logic find no purchase. I’ve recovered the same ground so often that I couldn’t tell you definitively the last time I made something that might accidentally be considered progress. While I might catch hell for it, my planning isn’t to blame. If you’re interested in finding fault took to the great and the good at echelons higher than reality who for some unknown reason have been allowed to imagine, unchallenged, that the sun both rises and sets directly into their 4th point of contact.

I’m a simple guy and I’ll do my best with whatever ash and trash I’ve been told to work with. Know this, though: Even though you can technically polish a turd, all you’ve got at the end of the experience is a shiny turd and really dirty hands. If the gods on Olympus can’t figure out what in the hell they want, I have no idea why they think we mere mortals will be able to divine the secret meaning behind their endless grunts and fluttering eyebrows.