Well, it’s Tuesday. I spent a small shit ton of money and burned off eight hours of vacation time.
I also learned an important thing. Usually I think of Tuesday as Monday Part 2. Usually it is annoying and I return home in something of a foul mood. Today there wasn’t a foul mood to be seen… and that despite the cash outflow and “wasted” time off.
The lesson here is that the issue really isn’t Tuesday. Turns out the foul mood isn’t generated by the day of the week, but rather what I’d normally spend that day of the week doing.
That’s good information to have… but begs the bigger question of what the hell I’m going to do about it.
There’s a tendency in the bureaucracy for days to run late into the afternoon and then on into the evening – as if those running the show didn’t have a home to go to and had no interest in being anywhere else. If I’m honest, by the time we’ve rolled past the usual and customary close of business, my loudest voice in my inner dialog is screaming “Why won’t they just shut the fuck up?” loudly enough to drown out most everything else. By that point, how interesting or important a topic might otherwise be is utterly irrelevant to the way my brain processes the information. It’s one of the many reasons I know I should never angle to restart my rise through the ranks. I just don’t have the interest in putting in the hours required and it’s never, ever going to be the place I’d rather be than anywhere else.
A sure and certain end of the work day is the only thing that makes some of them even tolerable. Take that away and, well, you’ve put me to sea without a compass or any way to find my North Star. It’s not lost on me that no one is looking for information or wanting to have meetings at 7am before they drag themselves in. What makes those same people think the rest of us are any more interested in staying on in the other direction is beyond me. Of course rank has it’s inevitable privileges. That truth is as old as our species, I’m sure.
Things would be different, of course, in the World According to Jeff. No meeting would last longer than 30 minutes and none would start after 4PM… because unlike others I have other shit to do and don’t live life searching for the adulation of those who dwell in offices.
I’ve mostly accepted that aside from making a quick stop to top off groceries or for fuel, weekdays are going to be mostly consumed by going to, being at, and returning from work. By the time I get home, tend the herd, and have a bit of dinner, my brain has pretty much turned to mush. All I’m good for after that is mixing a decent drink and maybe a passingly interesting blog post.
The weekends, for their part, aren’t much better with their time eaten up with errands, cleaning, yard work, and generally keeping the homestead from falling down around my ears. By the time that all gets knocked out, it’s usually already late Sunday afternoon.
What perplexes me, and in fact makes me a little bit jealous, is how other people seem to carve out time to actually go do things for recreation. Of course I’m not likely to show up in a stadium full of people, but I wouldn’t mind so much getting out to stomp around the high ground at Gettysburg or take the tour at Independence Hall. Those things take time, though, and I know the minute I pull out of the driveway my mind is already going to ticking off the things that are lurking around not getting done.
I’m telling you folks, inside my head is a damned strange place to live sometimes.
PowerPoint is a tool of the devil. This is apparently obvious to the casual observer after a long week of slogging through slides changing “happy” to “glad” and making sure that every bullet is lined up within +/- one micron. Apparently there’s nothing that makes a senior manager feistier than an ever-so-slightly misaligned bullet. Better for key content to be left out than to risk it violating the sanctity of the holy format. I’ve been doing this a long time now and I don’t think I’ll ever fully understand the hours of obsession that some men can pour into finessing their slides so they’re juuuusssssssst right. I remember reading somewhere that perfect is the enemy of the good. In an imperfect world, I’ve always been happy when I find myself in the neighborhood of good. Apparently that is a very lonesome neighborhood.
I like to think that if we lived in some bizarro universe and I were a senior leader, I’d be more concerned with the content over how it happens to be displayed as long as it was in some semblance of logical order. Then again, maybe that’s the part of the brain you give up upon being elevated to echelons above reality. There’s not much chance of my ever finding out for myself, so I’m left once again to ponder the importance of issues of style over substance.
I’m reminded of the Army colonel who was relieved because of this epic rant against PowerPoint. As it turns out, the Army would probably have been better served to promote the guy rather than tossing him out.
Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of posts previously available on a now defunct website. They are appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.
I feel sure that somewhere in these pages I’ve told the story of a supervisor who worked in the same organization I did many years ago. One of her standard responses to things that were anything beyond easy to do was, “Well, don’t expect too much.” That was the better part of fifteen years ago, but I’m beginning to see the virtue of low expectations.
Today, for instance, a “hot” information requested landed on my desk around lunch time. That’s not unusual in and of itself. What gets problematic is when someone wants a complex issue distilled down and answers provided within 48 hours. As I tell anyone who will listen, I’m a facilitator, not a subject matter expert. My specialty is in putting people who need information together with the people who have the information. Doing that right takes time. It takes even more time when whatever answer they come up with needs to be approved back through four additional levels of the bureaucracy sometime within the next 36 hours.
Look, I’ll get you to the right answer. That’s what I do. It could just come sailing back through the ether with no problems. Stranger things have happened… but not often. I think the most important thing here is that you don’t expect too much. It’s the only sure way to avoid disappointment.
1. The Obvious. Headlines screaming “America in Deep Freeze,” or “Arctic Blast Cripples East Coast,” or “The Big Chill,” seem a bit superfluous at the moment. It’s mid-December here in the northern hemisphere. We’re right up against the winter solstice. For those who need it spelled out, that means for the next three months or so, cold is perfectly normal and should, generally, be expected. If for some reason the arrival of winter and cold weather have caught you off guard and unprepared, well, you’re an idiot. The fact that so many people are idiots, however, still does not make “it’s cold in the winter” a breaking news story.
2. Election Meddling. It’s cute that we’ve collectively decided that foreign powers meddling in a US election has raised the collective hackles of the press. Anyone familiar with their history over the last 200 years will tell you that we meddle every bit as much as the Russians. Ask the Iranians who ousted the Shah. Ask the Vietnamese about the Diem brothers. Ask any number of Latin American countries about our “helpful” deployment of Marines to ensure their elections turned out the way we wanted them. Don’t get me wrong, I’m as angry about Russian interference as anyone, but for us to pretend we don’t do the exact same thing everywhere else on the planet is the height of hypocrisy.
3. Competing priorities. Given the lack of guidance I currently operate under, I’m put in a position where I have to make decisions about what problems get my attention and which ones don’t. I imagine I get it right more often than not (but that’s a complete guess since feedback is also something we don’t do). So when you stop me in the hall at the end of the day and wonder why I wasn’t in some meeting I was “supposed” to be in, there’s fair chance that time got allocated to one of the competing priorities that appeared to be more pressing. I’d be more than happy to work the issues in any order leadership sees fit if they’d just bother to tell me the flavor of the day. If they are going to leave me to my own devices, I’d mostly appreciate not getting blind sided in those rare moments when they choose to care.