Friday, January 05, 2007

The blind leading the blonde

I don't usually write about work for two reasons. One, I keep my work and non-work life separate. Two, I'm not keen on the idea of the sort of argument I will have if someone I should consider my boss discovered that I have a blog and then decided to try and tell me what I can and cannot write on it. But today I'd like to share just one story because it relates to what this blog is essentially about – the battle between rationality and irrationality, smart and stupid, fact and faith.

I work in one of those companies that is full of upper management that pride themselves on being progressive and forward thinking by using and promoting terms such as these:

  • Think outside the box

  • Innovative, creative problem solving.

  • Solution focussed

  • Proactive attitude.

Blah, blah, blah.

I really don't mean to be disdainful as I actually completely agree with promoting these ideas. What I object to is the blindness displayed by these people by expecting innovative and creative problem solving ideas and thoughts from out side of the box to fit within the constraints on thinking that they are not even aware they have. It's absurd – and they are about as proactive and solution focussed when it comes to expanding their own thinking as the average potato has been in the field of aeronautical engineering.

Let's take an example. Right now I am facing some friction because I am pointing out that some of the people we employ within our company are not just utterly useless but are so unskilled in the skill sets required to fulfil their responsibilities that they are actually a significant liability resulting in consistent revenue reduction and reduction in our flexibility as an organisation. The people I am talking with completely agree with me on this point.

What I am also trying to point out is that the methodology of solving this problem that has been unsuccessfully applied for the past three years is what we need to change. They just don't get it.

Despite constant failure to make any improvement in three years, several managers, directors and efficiency experts having been thrown at the problem, people still refuse to think outside the box by considering that maybe they are still in a box that they just can't see. I can see the box pretty clearly and the funny thing about it is that it is a box made of good intentions. I shall try to explain.

Regardless of the other solutions suggested and implemented to resolve the problem of a ridiculously inefficient and costly microenvironment of utterly unskilled parasites having formed within the company absolutely nobody wants to go against the company ethos of being "nice". Nobody can believe that the problem might actually be the people and not some other facet of process or company structure. Even though I work for a very large multinational we are a very informal company and everybody is on first name terms. This is good, but it is also costly because the greatest crime within the company is not being a useless slack-jawed, error-pone, unskilled, consistently wrong, half-witted, revenue leaking parasite. No. The most serious of all crimes within the company is the failure to apply the "positive" attitude of an out-of-box-thinking, creative, informal, first names only please, innovator to everyone around you – regardless of whether or not they deserve it - even if the people around you are clearly idiots, utterly lacking the skills or intelligence required to do their job.

It's an odd situation. It's perfectly alright, and totally accurate, to point out that there exist a group of people with a key responsibility who are utterly unskilled in the areas of expertise required to fulfil their responsibilities. It's perfectly okay to point out the massive effect this has had on revenues, the incredible inefficiencies and general slow down this inflicts upon the rest of the company. Everybody agrees. But the instant that you point out that for three years these people have not only resisted every single attempt to educate them usefully but have consistently demonstrated absolutely none of the solution focused, proactive, think out side the box sort of creative, innovative approach to work that has become the company religion (like so many) then suddenly you have committed the ultimate sin and you are not being a team player. You're not respecting your co-workers!

Does this remind anybody else of multiculturalism?

So think outside the box people by all means. And be creative! Be innovators! But for fuck's sake, don't have the audacity to point out that in some cases it is the person that is the problem and not the box they've currently got their head stuck in, blocking out the joyous light of creative intelligence!

The "be nice to everybody" box, for some inexplicable reason, is the one box we are supposed to constrain our thinking well within. And the situation is so bad now that you can't actually criticise anybody. You have to criticise a process. It's ridiculous and it reminds me of the apologetics so common in religion and other irrational, baseless, evidence avoiding belief systems.

So for three years I have been saying that we have a microenvironment formed within our business that is responsible for a service we depend upon and yet is utterly unable to fulfil that responsibility. The problem is literally due to the fact that the people in that microenvironment do not have the specific technical skills required to perform the tasks required of them and for three years they have been hidden and protected by the "think out side the box" box that has lead everyone to believe that nothing is anybodies fault anymore but just a consequence of thinking about things in the wrong terms. For three years I have provided irrefutable evidence backing up every single claim I have made and for three years I have watched and argued with those that come in attempting to apply a solution that doesn't address the source of the problem – which is that we have people employed to do something that they have absolutely no idea how to do.

I try to illustrate this with metaphor about employing drivers who don't know how to drive or surgeons that know nothing at all about anatomy but it is utterly lost on them. They agree what the problem is, they understand the severe costs and yet they are utterly incapable of seeing that the solution to the problem lies just outside the walls of the feel good factor box. Sack the bastards and employ replacements with the right skills or move the unit under the control of someone that already has the right skills (me) and let them drag the others up to a workable standard.

It'll never happen. Apparently it's not an option as their previous management might feel that they were in some way being singled out for the absolute failure of the unit they allegedly controlled! Thinking obviously still stuck firmly in the stupid box!

In the meantime I am consistently told how I need to work on my communications style. I'm told how I have offended someone or how someone else doesn't like the idea that it might be considered somehow their fault that this unit is underperforming and that I need to approach the issue more constructively. Apparently my communication style and me learning not to have the indecency to point out gapiung wounds in our revenue stream incae I offend anyone is far more important than company performance.

Truly staggering! Yet, I have seen just this sort of madness so many times before.

Oh well, at least it's good for a laugh.

Please feel free to share your stories of work place absurdities. It is indeed a beautiful aspect of the natural universe that it so often provides comedy that makes Douglas Adams' efforts seem as much documentary as fantasy.


Ironically, two minutes after posting my first blog post about my work I have received an email from my employers, who have finally caught onto the idea that blogging can be good for business, inviting me to start a blog related to my work.

Hehehehe, they know not for what they ask, but they shall have it anyway ;)

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