I started working in my little corner of this big, faceless bureaucracy almost seven years ago. In that time, I’ve had nine different direct line bosses. With a bit of rounding that means I can expect to see a new boss approving my leave requests and fussing over my use of passive voice every nine and one third months on average. Breaking in a new boss is something of a process. Personally, I strongly oppose asking anyone to do that consistently every nine months.
Because life in the bureaucracy resembles farce almost as much as it does tragedy, it’s not all bad news. The new boss that I found out about having this morning has been my new boss on three other separate occasions during these last seven years. At least he’s a known quantity to me and me to him. It smooths the rough edges of the transition a bit.
Still, when the powers that be are making a big pitch for “earning back the trust of the employees,” a surprise reorganization first thing on Monday morning doesn’t exactly instill confidence. With Communications with a Capital C right there in the name on the sign, you might think that would be a skill we’d try to practice from time to time.
1. Over sensitive douchenozzels. Many documents we pass around require some kind of specific coversheet. For years now, hanging on the back wall of all the cubes I’ve inhabited are fictitious versions of these covers, identifying them as coversheets for information that is Stupid, Futile, Bullshit, etc. In the wake of morale hitting rock bottom and starting to dig, it seems that those little bits of paper have now been adjudicated as being “not funny and inappropriate.” I wish more people understood sarcasm. I also wish people were less thin-skinned. Most of all, I wish I didn’t spend five days a week in the company of at least one cowardly douchnozzle whose identity is unknown, because as of this week I know there’s at least one person in that room who can’t be trusted.
2. Cicadas. I found the first evidence of cicadas on the back porch this very morning. The two things that stick with me from the last round of these little beasts being above ground is the unholy amount of noise they generate and a particular chocolate lab who thought they were treats in the wing called forth just for her indulgence. Of course I deny these dogs almost nothing, but watching them chow down on a yard full of bugs is just a bridge too far. I wonder if somewhere on the dark web someone is selling a can of DDT. It would be awfully tempting if I thought that would do the trick.
3. Shopping for clothing. I don’t know that there’s a word in the English language strong enough to describe just how much I hate clothes shopping for myself. It ranks well below tagging along while other people shop for clothes, if that tells you anything about where it falls on the list. There was a time when I would just force myself to physically go to the store and do it. Now, mostly I just go to the closet, find the brand and size of something I have and already like and then order the exact same thing (or as close to it as is currently available) in three or four different colors. I don’t suppose I’ll ever need to wonder why my basic wardrobe hasn’t much evolved since the late 1990s. Still, it’s better than leaving the house for clothing.
I found out this week that one of my oldest friends was going to be in the area over the weekend. Of course I’m using “in the area” here in the broadest possible sense of the word to mean somewhere within a three hour radius. There are precious few things that might tempt me out of the house, but the chance to nosh on steaks, have a few cold beverages, and shoot the shit telling stories about the olden days is just too good an opportunity to pass up.
From that long ago day – almost fourteen years past now – when we met as interns at a Shoney’s in Petersburg, Virginia to a few golden years in the District to the misadventure that was life in west Tennessee to our continued years in service to the great green machine there’s plenty of ground to cover. He’s one of the very few people from back there at the dawn of time who I’ve managed to stay in contact with. Even more important, he’s one of the few living human beings who I’ve learned to trust implicitly.
When we last parted company, I remarked that I always counted myself fortunate to play the role of Sherman to his Grant. I still do… and just now I can’t think of anything I’d rather do than sit down and rehash our war stories. Think of it as a mid-career assessment of just what the hell we’re doing and the long strange road that got us here. It’s a hell of a long way from where the story started.
1. Big Pharma Guy. Despite the public outcry it’s actually not the physical embodiment of Big Pharma that bothers me about someone who ramps up the price of their product from $13 to $750. The dude might be an MBA, but he clearly wasn’t paying attention in the “shaping public opinion” part of class. Sure, it was a douche move, but hey, I’m going to tell you to go out there and charge whatever the market will tolerate for your product. The fact that he’s been so quick to backpedal gives me a pretty strong indication that he didn’t think things through all the way to their logical conclusion. What annoys me more than anything though, is that I’ve never had the foresight to buy the patent on some widget I can make for less than a dollar and turn around and sell to a willing marketplace for thousands of percentage points in mark up.
2. Volkswagen. Someone established tough standards and then someone else found a way to lie in order to beat the standard. That’s how it works. That’s how it’s always worked. While I agree that Volkswagen did a very bad thing, I’m not sure why anyone is reacting with surprise. People, almost as if by nature, look for the loophole that lets them do whatever they wanted to do with the least amount of trouble. In this case, jiggering with the onboard computer was the path of least resistance. A test is only as good as the way it’s validated, or as a wise old Warrant Officer once told me, “You don’t do what the boss don’t check.” If you’re going to insist on having regulations, at least then insist that someone is responsible for making sure the testing mechanism works. I don’t blame Volkswagen for following their own self interest so much as I blame a system that was put in place that let them get away with it for the better part of a decade.
3. Delayed interest. When I’ve been working on something for months, there is no conceivable way I can bring you up to speed on the intricacies of each bit and piece of the puzzle 37 seconds before that particular thing is done. Thirty seven seconds may be an exaggeration, but only a minor one. At some point when I tell you something needs signed it’s going to have to be ok in believing that I know what I’m doing. At least we can put that dirty rumor that we’re trusted professionals to rest now.
General George Washington stayed in contact with the Continental Congress by means of fast dispatch riders.
General U.S. Grant send word of his victories to Lincoln across the wire.
General Dwight Eisenhower stayed in contact with Allied HQ in London by radio (and through the occasional, and often troublesome visits from elements of the Combined Staff).
Today, we have the ability for the people who dwell within the five-sided insane asylum in Arlington to count every nut and bolt in the inventory. We can do it. We have the technology. As is often the case, though, no one has pondered if it’s something we should do just because we can.
Situational awareness is a beautiful thing… but at what point do you trust the people on the scene to violently execute the mission without further “assistance” from higher headquarters? Eventually, the ability to become an Everlasting Know-It-All just makes everything more difficult. I know everyone wants to think their little piece is indispensable, but history shows me that our greatest commanders have moved the world with a hell of a lot less data and a hell of a lot more faith in their subordinates.
My little part of Uncle’s vast army of minions has been plagued with morale issues for what feels like as long as I can remember. As usual, there’s no one root cause. There is a conglomeration of issues that beset and bespoil any engendered feelings of goodwill. Maybe that’s just the natural state of things in an enormous bureaucracy – the unhappy rabble fester in a simmering cauldron of discontent while the gods on Olympus conduct studies, launch pilot programs, dither, and tune their fiddles. They may well be trying to do something corrective, but either they’re too far removed to really understand the fine points, bad choices are being foisted upon them from still higher up the mountain, or they’re simply living embodiments of the Peter Principle. Not altogether rarely, you’ll find a combination of all three – an Unholy Trinity of Bureaucracy if you will.
The latest trend-of-the-moment is making everyone refers to themselves as “Trusted Professionals.” I’m sure someone came up with it as a means of improving the esprit de corps, of conveying the privilege of being part of something greater than any one individual, but seriously the phrase just begs for mockery. Crusted Professionals. Rusted Professionals. Busted Professionals. Take your pick. Insert the adjective of your choice and you, my friend, are now well on your way to being as jaded and cynical as the rest of us.
As a writer, I firmly believe that words are important. Words can change the course of history. Words only do that, though, when they’re back up by deeds. When they’re not, words are just words – more flotsam and jetsam on the mighty sea of brainstorms that fizzled before they ever really got started. If you want someone to be a trusted professional, then start trusting them to be professionals. Set the standard and then hold them accountable for results. The rest will follow.
Or just make them repeat an otherwise meaningless catch phrase at the end of meetings and hope it catches on. At least that way it will be fodder for the interwebs.
1. Trust. I’ve always been very open about the fact that I’m a cynical bastard. Even so, I’m always amazed at the level of trust people have in others that they really don’t know all that well outside a very narrowly defined context. Anyone can open their mouth at any time and tell you any manner of thing you want to hear… which is why I get immediately suspicious when they’re pitch is something akin to “Oh no, don’t worry about a thing.” There are a few exceptions to this rule, but it only applies to a select few who I’ve known for a decade or two.
2. Capitalism. I’m developing a rather intense hatred of capitalism, in which I’m throughly annoyed at the whole idea of getting up five days a week, slogging through traffic to arrive at work, spending 8.5 hours there, slogging through traffic to get home, going to bed, and then doing it all over again. Unfortunately, I have this insatiable appetite for “stuff,” which requires cash, which requires work. This is the 21st century. Why don’t we have robots doing all the grunt work leaving us free to not be bothered by such petty details as needing to trade time for money?
3. Seeing the bright side. Some people are hopelessly optimistic. They’d see the bright lining in a mushroom cloud. Sometimes, I don’t want to see the bright side. I want to sulk. I want to be annoyed. I want to be angry. and I want that feeling to spur me to action in a way that no amount of good feeling ever could. I’ve made plenty of bad decisions in haste and anger, but most of my best have also come from the same place. Even if it’s a mixed bag of results, it’s the spark that keeps things moving.