Archive for the 'Jerk at Work' Category

Can they truly change?

Strange this morning… I work up with a rhyme from my childhood in my head.

I’ll stay here not budging,

I can and I will… if make you and me and the whole world stand still.

Well, of course,  the world didn’t stand still…

The world grew.

Recently, I watched a Frontline episode online. There was an interview with a spokesperson from GM. The interviewer asked her why GM didn’t act earlier on developing hybrid technology. The woman admitted that the company didn’t see and immediate investment return for such an effort. Now, GM’s fate is in the balance and they expect the American tax payer to bail them out of the woes that stem from their inability to think and build towards the future.

PLEASE! This is an example conservative and unimaginative thinking worthy only of those executives who only want to ‘hang in there’ until they can cash their retirement and haul their golf-shoed feet to Scottsdale, AZ or some other place where they put ineffective executives out to pasture.

The American auto industry, if any should be the ones who take advantage of this leadership position in helping the world handle the threat of climate change. I’ll be very blunt. I don’t think there’s any place in this world anymore for leaders who think the ‘old way.’ Caring only about immediate profit margins isn’t going to cut it when we have to think about 10, 20, even 50 year plans for turning the effects of Global Warming around.  We’re about to find out how much so much complacency and lack of imagination can cost.  I’m placing my faith in the younger generations of corporate leaders. Hopefully, they haven’t taken their cues from the old guard.

Here’s what they have going for them:

  • For them it’s not always about self-achievement and individual rewards.
  • They are beginning to understand that there is such thing as a bigger picture.
  • They can see the world and it’s environment changing (and not necessarily for the better).
  • They have children who will inherit this world.

Does Everything Microsoft Touches Turn to Suck?

I can name a few things that come to mind….the “Ipod Killer,” attempts at Voice recognition software, their MSN web, Vista….

I know they have a few good things (at least from appearance) like the “Surface” project. Though I have never actually interacted the with device, so I can’t give a personal assessment of the tool.

This whole takeover of Yahoo by Microsoft worries and annoys me. Maybe it’s because MS is just again throwing their muscle around rather than focusing on creating new and innovative tools that people will like. Maybe I just don’t like the idea of large, looming bodies of companies that swallow up smaller businesses and then pass them through like refuse. Didn’t these Microsoft executives read the “NEW RULES” for running a corporation? I suppose you could just say that this is ‘normal’ behavior for a large predatory company and we should just write off these actions as expected. But as a consumer, I just want to make sure the products that I have available to me are “usable” from my perspective as a user, not a software engineer’s idea of ‘usable.’

Maybe it’s because I’ve worked in a very dysfunctional corporate environment similar to Microsoft’s, and I’m just assuming that most large corporations operate the same way (with very little imagination and too much politics). The are so fat and lard ridden that they have no choice but to throw their weight around like a corpulent bully, who must rely on manipulative and predatory tactics to maintain his position.

I also know that large companies use their patent attorneys to search out new and innovative processes developed by smaller companies. These patent attorneys work around the clock to develop broad patents so that once they find instances of small businesses and individuals actually developing something that works, they claim the right to the patent. Evil, huh?

I realize that History shows that Microsoft has given us products in the past that have pushed computing forward. Also, so many companies and people have become dependent on their software and tools. They’re big so they have better resources for offering technical support* Gee, I’m starting to sound like that bit in the film Life of Brian where the group of Judean Peoples front (or Peoples’s Front of Judea) asks…. “What have the Romans done for us?!” I just take issue with the way Microsoft does business, and before anyone points out that their behavior as a company is natural for their size and position, it seems that their way of doing business doesn’t meet everyone’s (the end users) needs. Therefore it’s in all of our interests to have other companies large and small who can fill these niches for us.

But when it comes to this recent takeover, I really can’t see them improving tools like the photo sharing tool Flickr. Also, having had a great deal of experience using Microsoft tools like MS Project and Sharepoint. I really don’t get the feeling that Microsoft really has a cultural appreciation of usability. Maybe Microsoft also suffers from the innovation drain, or their execution of new products just stinks. I could be wrong, but my intuition tells me that companies who are innovative and dynamic usually draw the right types of people who can think, create and implement dynamically. Maybe the combination of the doldrum suburban location and the restrictive politics and culture hurts some companies who can’t draw ideal teams of innovators and star project developers, I don’t know.

*Though one might argue with a well designed product you need less support.

What have the Romans done for us?


Professional Jealousy Among Educators


Sometimes sniping just gets people down

At the conference we were sitting in a lecture. One part of the lecture had us break into groups and analyze four different types of SME. One of the case studies describe an SME/Faculty Member who was highly dedicated to her students. She was extremely prepared, she had her exercises and activities organized and she would often have an activity or lesson plan at her fingertips when the Instructional Designer and the team would say… we need an activity that is like this… When asked to describe the SME one of the the participants in the room described her as “kind of annoying and a show off.”

I thought – what the !@#? I like working with people like that.

Then I thought… she really is revealing how insecure she is by making a comment like that. It actually reminded me of an attitude I’d seen among teachers. There really was this feeling that spread in the faculty lounge that it was not okay to be a “Show Off.” “Show Offs” included people who used new and different teaching styles and approaches or people who “stood out” as teachers. “Show offs” were not to be trusted and often there were political struggles within the school where the “show offs” were involved. In particular, I remember this struggle at one school between teachers who wanted an extra planning period by sending their classes to ‘play educational games’ in the computer lab for one hour vs. the teachers who wanted to break up the lab and actually put the computers in their classrooms and integrate writing, math and science activities using software already installed on the computers. Being the idealistic person I was/am, I assumed that I was just imagining these bad feelings from my peers. Maybe I was channeling June Cleaver, but I really thought I could work around these people and just do things on my own. Honestly, I think this was one of the reasons why I left teaching. The hosing and the sniping could be dealt with if you could find a group of people whom you could identify with and unite with against the snipers, but otherwise it was tiresome to deal with to say the least. I liked the kids and working with kids, I liked their enthusiasm, but even after a while, that wasn’t enough to induce me to remain in the teaching field.

I did some research online and found that were discussion threads and articles and an actual study about professional jealously among educators. It’s been about eight years since I set foot in a public school classroom. I hope things might have changed since then, but I suspect that in a profession where there is no upward mobility there’s no where to snipe, but on the horizontal field of play and your peers are the easiest targets. I’m not saying that all educators are like this, only that in every group, society or culture there will always be people who engage in this kind of behavior. Maybe we should look to Bob Sutton and Slow Leadership to help us figure out how to combat this type of behavior.


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Sizing up an individual: Example Yoshitsune


I was watching an episode of Yoshitsune the other day and I was reminded of the importance of reading people well as well as being able to determine what people’s true skills are despite what they say. In this episode the young Samurai lord Yoshitsune must face the challenge of the enemy to shoot down a fan on a small boat floating at least a quarter of a mile off the coast. Yoshitsune surveys the archers who volunteer for the task. Several older and presumably more skilled archers confidently boast that they will definitely be able to shoot the arrow; however, when asked one of the archers expresses his doubt in his ability to do so.

Naso no Yoichi’s reply sounded something like this:

I doubt that I can hit the target. The angle of the wind is unpredictable and the boat is bobbing up and down.

Yoshitsune chose Naso no Yoichi for the job simply because he was the one who seemed to assess the situation clearly. More, what I find admirable is he looked past the swaggering and boasting (translation in corporate culture – the PowerPoint pitch and ‘Pimped up’ progress reports). Oh, yeah… Yoichi hit the target on the first go.

It took me a while to realize this, but Yoshitsune (if the legend is true) was exhibiting signs of a truly good leader because he was listening to the “intuitive guy” rather than the “glib guy.” (See my post which references Kathy Sierra’s definition of the glib and inarticulate parts of our brain). It’s important to see and hear beyond what’s ‘obvious’ when you are a leader because you may miss some underpinnings of either behavior or trends that may set your project and work environment awry. But don’t go to the darkside of believing that you can directly control people’s behavior… other wise you become like this…


Survival of the Fattest Egos – Just a Thought

I was browsing through the tag “Corporate Culture” and I came upon this post from Antonis Hontzeas. I thought that this was an excellent reflection on the prevalence of “group-think” and “manager-kiss-up” that happens in larger corporations:

Nicely, put! But even more thought-provoking is the notion that there’s probably a reason for the sluggishness that results from “group think” and “a _ _ kissing:”

However, this may be considered part of corporate natural selection. If large companies didn’t have this kind of weakness, then smaller companies wouldn’t be able to survive and eventually grow.

Wouldn’t that be great! It just makes me warm inside to think of all the people in start up or blossoming companies who have the hunger in their gut to rush past the gigantic tortoise of the large corporation. Now if they could only gob up the patent attorneys that work for big companies. If I could write a superhero comic book farce it would probably be about the “little-guy” (I’m thinking he’s an impish otaku-like character) socking it to the “big man.”

Confession: about swearing at work

Funny I can swear all I want in my office since I work at home. But reading something on Bob Sutton’s blog today triggered a memory about my old workplace. On the first day of my last job I came into my new office. Naturally, being located in overly-PC corporate suburbia usually the safest bet in behaving appropriately is to remain low-key and just observe. It seemed that acting any differently might get you noticed in a bad way. At least this is how I felt about working in a leviathan of suburban-based corporate environment.

But on that first day… I walked pass my neighbor’s cubicle and suddenly heard a flurry of expletives come from his mouth while he was on the phone (with some one he was familiar with, I assume). Suddenly I felt a good deal of tension melt away from my shoulders… I let my gut relax. Why did I suddenly feel like I was okay with this and immediately felt okay with working there?

Maybe because here was someone actually just being himself. If he felt comfortable, more then likely I could too. That and it gave me the first laugh I’d had in a few months while working there.

I’m not saying that all people would be familiar with hearing bleep-bleep-bleep, but I have to say sometimes it’s the only way to express how you’re feeling at the time.

As Bob Sutton notes:

We teach our Ph.D. students at Stanford in the Center for Work, Technology and Organization who do ethnographies of the workplace that using foul language is sometimes necessary for providing accurate and realistic descriptions of what people say and how they feel.

No it’s not appropriate to swear all the time. And one person’s observation that it’s kind of funny or cool doesn’t mean that it’s okay for everyone to start using foul-language. But then again I think that’s what we have problems with in general as humans who are always looking for rules and guidance systems. Some of us (maybe most of us) think we always need to stay strict to them no matter what. Loosen up, try to set the expectation that people should behave appropriately to each other. If someone’s uncomfortable with language or behavior the environment should be set up where they feel comfortable enough to state this without being abrasive.

You’re not typing FAST enough! Look like you’re typing!

I no longer work for Corporate Amerika… I no longer hear Darth Vader’s Death March as I enter the bowels of purgatory through revolving doors. So you may ask, why do you still write about corporate culture? Well I could take the smarty-pants route and say:

  • I’m still recovering and experiencing PTSD from working on projects for months just to figure out that they were poorly conceived (probably by some twonk in a strategic role who just liked coming up with ideas instead of making products) and therefore being end of lifed before we actually got to do anything.
  • Or experiencing meetings with people higher up who yell and berate you for no reason what so ever rather than to put you in your place, when you were only asking for their help and support on a particularly touchy matter. You wouldn’t have asked for their support unless they hadn’t openly made a good show in a meeting of how they “were there to help us with such matters” in a project update meeting. Blame it on my naivete.
  • I’m still recovering from the impulse to fill out project management PERT analysis and MS Project time-sheets (Spreadsheet Monkeyism).

But I think if i still write about the Corporate Life every now and then it’s because I see something or read about a study or theory that just vindicates the hunch I had that Corporate Life in its perverse form is only a few steps from living in an asylum. Every now and then I run across and article or post that makes my heart warm up like my hands around a mug of hot chocolate with real marshmallows in it.

In his post Jim McGee asserts that in large organizations like the military (or corporations). Officers who are dumb and hard-working (say like Frank Burns from MASH) usually cause the most problems. I’d add to that if you get an A-hole boss (ala. Bob Sutton’s classification) running an organization of Frank Burns-like individuals them you have some serious problems.

Now who would you rather have as your boss? Frank Burns or Lou Grant?

frank2.jpg lougrant.jpg

It didn’t happen in my last job, but I have worked in jobs where management types walk by your cubicle and give you a look-over when you don’t appear to by doing something at your computer. “I’m thinking… damn-it!” I wanted to say. Maybe I needed to wear a dorky baseball cap with a flashing light bulb on top for these numb-nuts to get it. McGee in his post suggests the use of mind-maps for thinking and looking productive.

More, I agree that it’s much better to engineer smarter ways of doing things than just looking busy filling out things. Or just looking busy. I began my corporate life as an administrative assistant and I’m quite proud to admit this because I believe that good admin are the backbone of any truly high-functioning administration. I spent a great deal of time trying to use and apply the magic of macros to much of my work. Figuring out these things was what made my job quite fun.

McGee asks a very good question: “What barriers to innovation, if any, does a bias toward diligence create?” Looking “Busy” is an addiction that Weberian corporate culture has quite a difficult time overcoming. But I say, in order to stop being an alcoholic one must first admit that they are one.



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