Sunday, July 15, 2018

Bullshit Jobs

I had to laugh. An article appeared in the "Weekend Australian" supplement magazine about "bullshit jobs". It was an extract from "Bullshit Jobs - A Theory" by David Graeber (Allen Lane Pub)

Graeber categorizes employees into "flunkies, goons, duct tapers, box tickers, and taskmasters." He spoke about those jobs where occupants don't seem, to outsiders, to do much of anything eg, HR consultants, communications co-ordinators, financial strategists, corporate lawyers, and middle managers who seem to spend their time staffing committees.

It reminded me of three things:

  1. The occasional quips I had made to my wife who was a registered nurse and midwife for 40 plus years
  2. HR and other middle management jobs I had held during my 51 years in the workforce
  3. The job titles of people that were ridiculously overspecified for what they did
Once every few years, simply to get a laugh, I'd ask my wife why she "doesn't get a real job" based on my claim that childbirth is a natural event that has been going on for millions of years and why would you need several years of university education to do the job. She always bit and assured me that it was far more complicated than I could imagine. I knew that was the truth, but it was always good to get a reaction when things were going quiet.

As a human resources specialist, I knew that people thought we sat on our hands warming our seats, only doing something when someone had to be retrenched or recruited.  Obviously, the author knew nothing about the multi-functional role of human resources staffs that includes:  recruitment, induction, training and development, performance management, occupational health and safety, worker's compensation, salary administration, interpretation of employment contracts and awards, succession planning, and HR planning and budgeting. 

As an employee within an Australian Government agency, you were also expected to do things not strictly within your role, like standing in for managers from other disciplines when they were on leave or otherwise absent; representing the agency at various fora.

So, as you would imagine, I disagreed with many of the author's suggestions. Even corporate lawyers do have a real job, all one has to do is watch the numerous series of "Suits" to see that.

During my various careers, I did come across people whose job title was absolutely ridiculous for what they did. For example, in the sales field (selling almost anything), staffs are given ridiculously grand titles to make them and their products seem better - something everyone needs.

There were the bank clerks whose offices were embellished with the title, "Accountant" although they held no actual accounting qualifications. The Lifesavers sweets sales representative called a "Sales Manager" along with several other colleagues all of whom had the same grand title.

Then there was the "Mortgage Enhancement Officer" whose role was to move your mortgage from another bank to theirs. 

I recall my dear father scolding me one day for laughing at a labourer digging a hole who had dirt all over him.  He correctly told me that if the job didn't need doing, nobody would be doing it, therefore his job (the labourer's) was as important as anyone else's (including my father's who was a mechanical and electrical engineer). Since then, I have always valued the work done by people.

My view is that if you feel your job is a bullshit job, that you aren't contributing anything to your organisation and society, then you need to move on. Find something else where you are contributing because at the end of the day, when you come home from work you want to know that you have made a difference.


Wednesday, June 20, 2018

What we can learn from golf

The Gap from Alice Springs Golf Fairway
In January I moved from Central Australia to a southern location 1,500 km away. In doing so, I had to join a new golf club.

I'd played at the Alice Springs Golf Club for around a decade. The club is in a beautiful location with a view of the majestic MacDonnell Ranges, part of which are visible in the photo.

Strolling around the fairways chasing that elusive little ball was an excellent way for me to meet my exercise goals and the clear blue sky, beautiful ranges were good for the soul. I always felt physically invigorated and spiritually enhanced after a game of golf. But wait, there's more ...

One thing I love about golf is that you get up to 17 chances to improve your performance. No other sport has that benefit. Let me explain. You start from fairway one (where you tee off) and in 10 or under hits, you must work your way from the starting point to the end point where there is a flag in a hole in what's known as a putting green. The lower the score, the better you have played.

When you have completed fairway one, (hole one), you continue to hole two and so it goes until you get to hole 18. Every hole is a new challenge - you get 17 additional opportunities to improve your performance from hole one.

Of course, if your performance in hole one is perfect, your challenge is to continue that for each of the other 17 holes.

Robin at Al Ain, UAE
So what can we learn from golf?

Training is Useful

If you want to play golf and you get some training from a professional, it should help you perform better. Things like how to hold your golf clubs, how to swing your club etc can all make a difference.

Practice Makes Perfect

If you practise, practise, practise, you'll probably get better at golf. This is the same in any field of endeavour, especially those requiring motor skills development.

Knowledge is Essential

In any activity in which we are involved, we need some type of knowledge. Golf is no different. Not only do you need to know which club to use for which hit, you need to know the rules and etiquette.

Losing your Cool Doesn't Help

Golf can be very frustrating; missing hits, slicing balls that disappear into the scrub, topping balls that only move a short distance, hitting the ground below the ball and not getting a clean shot, a ball that hovers on the side of the hole in the putting area - there's plenty of opportunity to lose one's cool. I've seen an adult player intentionally destroy a golf club after several bad shots.

Golf can be excellent for learning anger management.

No Challenge is too Difficult to Overcome

When your golf ball lands in a waterway or a sand pit intentionally designed to make it difficult to get out of, you know that you will be able to rectify your position. It might help increase your score, but you'll eventually get out of the sand pit or recover your ball from the water (or perhaps place a new ball instead).

There is always Someone Better

Golf reminds you that no matter how good you are at it, there is always someone better. You need to celebrate what you are good at but not get disheartened because you aren't the best.

If you are in fact the best at something, then you are indeed fortunate.

Exercising can be Fun!

While I find it difficult to go for a long walk just for the sake of walking, I find golf enjoyable and finish up walking quite a few kilometres. It takes the pain out of exercising because the exercise becomes a consequence of playing golf.

It's a bit like having friends with benefits.

When you consider the above topics, it's evident that there is a lot to learn from golf. Unfortunately, it's a relatively expensive sport and something that not everyone can afford, but if you can afford it and it appeals to you to chase a silly little dappled ball around a beautiful fairway, then I highly recommend it to you.

Do you play golf? Is it something you'd like to do? Tell me what you think about golf and what you can learn from it.


Sunday, June 10, 2018

The "We Fix It " Company

My father, much loved and now long gone was a professional electrical and mechanical engineer who spent most of his post-WWII life working in metalliferous mines.

Others said he was a 'brilliant engineer'. To me, he was just a very good father and a good friend.

One of the things I admired most about him - there were many - was that he never did less than a top job of everything he did. Much to my astonishment, he appeared to be able to do almost anything.

Unlike him, I survived mathematics but was nowhere as gifted or I would have probably been an engineer too.

One of the things we spoke of often in our short 26 years together was the poor design that pops up everywhere we'd look.

Later I spent several years working in an Organisation and Methods Department (solving problems by finding solutions). Although it was in an administrative/policing field and not in engineering, I always have had an eye for design flaws and it continues today.

If I was perhaps 30 years younger and an engineer, I'd start a company called, "We fix it!" I would take existing products that were poorly designed or unsuitable for the role for which they were intended and improve them.

One of my pet hates is garden hose connections. In Australia, there is a variety of brands, but inevitably most of them will leak, blow off the end of a tap or break at a joint and spread litres of water all over the place. I've tried everything between cheap and nasty and ridiculously overpriced only to have them eventually do the same. With a small redesign, they could stay attached forever!

Today my beef is with electrical and internet plug connectors.

Take a look at the photo above. Electrical and telecommunications sockets are often installed just above the floor in most rooms in Australian houses. These are at the level where beds, cupboards, desks, chairs and other furniture are placed.

Particularly in the case of the fine plastic telecommunications plugs (not shown here), if you bump into them while moving a chair, table etc, they snap off like a carrot. So, why are they designed to stick out at 90 degrees from the wall? Why aren't they designed in an 'L' configuration so that less of the plug and attached wire protrudes from the socket? Good question.

Why are the electrical plugs designed to stick at an angle of 45 degrees when plugged into a socket? While the L shaped plug shown in the above image is better than a protruding plug, the 45 degree shape often stops another plug being plugged in at the adjoining plug on a two socket wall unit or a power board.

In the above case, I've attached a power surge protector which protrudes sufficiently to allow the second socket to be used by the black USB connector.

Do you think the electrical plug would still work okay if the cable coming from it was vertical instead of off to the side? So do I. So why is it at an angle?

If you know, tell us - please, please, because they are all the same.


In Memoriam - AE (Joe) Henry, 26 Jan 1918 - 9 April 1973