There’s a classic scene in Seinfeld that delightfully illustrates the divide between declarations of virtue and delivering on them:
I’d like to think that decorating your walls with values would be an elegant reminder of what a company genuinely represents.
But it’s just wallpaper . . .
To put company credos in comical terms, there’s that vintage My Cousin Vinny scene where he says, “You were serious about dat?” — in response to the judge reprimanding him once again for not looking lawyerly in his courtroom.
It’s not so funny when companies have that same look on their face when I hold them accountable to their claims:
What? You thought we actually meant all that stuff about higher standards, accountability, integrity, and iron sharpens iron?
I made this word cloud while writing this site, and while I’m well aware that company credos are almost invariably empty claims — is rising up to one really too much to ask?
Adhering to any virtue below (or from any list you like) — would not only have averted what happened, but it also would have been a building block for improved communication and better relationships (as you open the door for others to build on that same foundation).
Just roll it around is all I ask!
You never hear that anymore — and this great line from one of the finest of modern westerns, is at the heart of all that I’m trying to say.
A culture with a willingness to “roll it around” would be a sight to see
By late summer of 1756 Adams had made up his mind about the future. . . . Beholding the night sky, “the amazing concave of Heaven sprinkled and glittering with stars,” he was “thrown into a kind of transport” and knew such wonders to be the gifts of God, expressions of God’s love. But greatest of all, he wrote, was the gift of an inquiring mind.
“But all the provisions that He has [made] for the gratification of our senses . . . are much inferior to the provision, the wonderful provision that He has made for the gratification of our nobler powers of intelligence and reason. He has given us reason to find out the truth, and the real design and true end of our existence.”
To a friend Adams wrote, “It will be hard work, but the more difficult and dangerous the enterprise, a higher crown of laurel is bestowed on the conqueror. . . . But the point is now determined, and I shall have the liberty to think for myself.”
. . . The following day thirty-four-year-old John Adams was asked to defend the soldiers and their captain, when they came to trial. No one else would take the case, he was informed. Hesitating no more than he had over Jonathan Sewall’s offer of royal appointment, Adams accepted, firm in the belief, as he said, that no man in a free country should be denied the right to counsel and a fair trial, and convinced, on principle, that the case was of utmost importance.
As a lawyer, his duty was clear. That he would be hazarding his hard-earned reputation and, in his words, “incurring a clamor and popular suspicions and prejudices” against him, was obvious . . .
I have to wonder, what are you discussing in a performance review — if you’re not addressing the most glaringly obvious problem?
Every company claims to care about “good communication skills” — and yet time after time, poor communication poisons their culture. It boggles the mind how intelligent people act as though they’re paralyzed from even approaching such issues.
I’d love to work for a leader who lays down the law like this:
If you come here, you are going to need to want to be pushed, to be challenged, to work. If you are here to collect a paycheck, or to show up, don’t come.
— Ric Elias, CEO of Red Ventures
What a wonderful world that would be. It’s so much easier to solve problems when you don’t hire people who carelessly create them.
It astounds me how big shots are so capable of the complex, but miserably fail on the fundamentals.
Instead of inspiring people for more, you’ve made it policy to settle for less. In your endless efforts to comfort the few, you’ve made the many uncomfortable.
Socrates also said, “Wisdom Begins In Wonder” — and whad’ya know, curiosity is linked to everything I advocate. I’ve been writing a book on the subject for years, so I’m always delighted to discover that I’m in good company with concepts that I came up with through my own experiences — a journey with a long line of immeasurable influences.
I’m no scholar on Socrates — I found that “wisdom” quote on a bookmark. But you need not be even an armchair philosopher to adopt a philosophy of fundamentals — and a breach of the basics is at the root of most problems in the first place. I’ve worked for some pretty amazing people over the years, and in each case what comes to mind the most is the caliber of their character.
They weren’t quoting Greek philosophers, but their actions were most certainly in sync with what Socrates said about “strengthening virtues through practice and experience.”
Below is a book called Multipliers and the following is one of my favorite passages:
Throughout this site and others of mine, is the theme of connecting the dots and correlating how one issue impacts another.
My story did not happen in a vacuum . . .
Undeniably, the exponential increase in self-righteous certitude is tied to technology. Instead of becoming more worldly with our exceptional tools — our conveniences are eroding our ability to think things through. In our brave new world, we delight in being dismissive, distracted, distant, and shortsighted.
After all — who has time to be thoughtful anymore?
That there’s something more to see is what this site is all about . . .
Shown here is a somewhat dehumanized, life-size bronze figure of a human being of no particular sex, age, race, culture, or environment. Compressed between the two wheels, it seems to present humanity as the victim of its own complicated inventions. The wheels also symbolize the blind ups and downs of fortune.
The date 1965 is inscribed on the base, and the whole sad assemblage seems to say that human history and civilization have not exactly turned out as was once more hopefully expected.
I absolutely love The Martian — and this line ranks with the all-time greatest (there should be an Oscar for such memorable moments).
That you could capture the essence of an entire movie in 10 words (and make it funny to boot) — is off-the-charts magnificence.
At some point, everything’s gonna go south on you . . . everything’s going to go south and you’re going to say, this is it. This is how I end. Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work.
That’s all it is. You just begin. You do the math. You solve one problem . . . then you solve the next one . . . and then the next. And If you solve enough problems, you get to come home.
“You just begin” . . .
How you respond to one text, one social-media post, one email, one comment of criticism, or one conflict — can be “one small step” in making a “contribution to knowledge” or “moving the human race a little farther forward.”
It’s just like what The Martian said — “you solve one problem . . . then you solve the next one,” and eventually it becomes a habit.
And I’m hardly alone on this:
“Michael Strong launching a network of entrepreneurial high schools”
I just happened to get a mass email today from that author about his new Academy of Thought and Industry schools. I like that name — a lot!
Each Academy of Thought and Industry high school is a high-accountability, high-autonomy learning community focused on personal, academic, and professional excellence.
Late last year I started writing an email and the opening line was as follows:
Part of the audience of this email are those I didn’t do right by in one way or another over the last couple of years. I took some jobs I shouldn’t have, turned down a job I should have taken, and didn’t wait for a decision on the one I wanted most — all because I let my past cloud my decisions.
I’m sorry that my vicious cycle came at a cost to the good people who put some faith in me.
While it wasn’t a letter, it was written the sincerity and effort of such — and in that spirit I found the imagery below to be quite fitting. A few years ago I found some errors in a company’s reporting, and the BA was so helpful in heeding to my request for a review of the business codes in question. She got out her system manual and wrote up a spec so that we could be certain that we had it all covered.
I was so appreciative of her efforts, but it struck me that she felt the need to apologize for the length of her email. There was a time when you could send something with bullet points followed by substance — and such diligence was valued.
Now we just want the bullet points — and it shows
Then one day at the end of my thirty-seventh year, while taking a spring Sunday walk, I happened upon a neighbor in the process of repairing a lawn mower. After greeting him I remarked, “Boy, I sure admire you. I’ve never been able to fix those kind of things or do anything like that.”
My neighbor, without a moment’s hesitation, shot back, “That’s because you don’t take the time.” I resumed my walk, somehow disquieted by the gurulike simplicity, spontaneity and definitiveness of his response.
“You don’t suppose he could be right, do you?” I asked myself.
“‘Could he be right?’ . . . I asked myself.”
Surely you’d like people to show you that same courtesy.
Peck didn’t just ask himself “Could he be right?” — he acted on it (and the result is proof positive of how the even the smallest consideration can change the dynamic of your thinking).
Somehow it registered, and the next time the opportunity presented itself to make a minor repair I was able to remind myself to take my time. The parking brake was stuck on a patient’s car, and she knew that there was something one could do under the dashboard to release it, but she didn’t know what. I lay down on the floor below the front seat of her car.
Then I took the time to make myself comfortable. Once I was comfortable, I then took the time to look at the situation. . . .
At first all I saw was a confusing jumble of wires and tubes and rods, whose meaning I did not know.
But gradually, in no hurry, I was able to focus my sight . . . I slowly studied this latch until it became clear to me . . . One single motion, one ounce of pressure from a fingertip, and the problem was solved.
Clearing the clutter can be quite revealing . . .
That didn’t make Peck mechanically inclined any more than reading his books will make you a psychiatrist. But even a guy who dedicated his life to helping others through his insight into the human condition — allowed another to help him see something that was hidden.
Once I was comfortable, I then took the time to look at the situation. . . .
Last fall I left a contract in San Francisco and I’ll never forget what someone wrote in response:
Rick walked out of the project on us.
I didn’t leave for another job — I just left, and regardless of my reasons, I’ll always carry guilt over that (and for the couple others I bailed on who did no wrong by me). I’m not seeking sympathy or forgiveness, I just want to be understood.
But my ultimate hope is for people to recognize that how you treat your fellow man shapes the world around you.
At the core of all my sites is accountability, which is why I must acknowledge how I failed to live up to my end of the bargain. That companies will thoughtlessly throw you out on the street over nothing is immaterial to me — as their bottom-of-the-barrel standards have no bearing on mine.
And yet I started slipping . . .
Outside of my certification studies, I wasn’t moving forward the way I wanted — and age was catching up to me. To borrow from Loretta Lynn’s line:
I’m explainin’, not excusin’
Taking initiative and doing the right thing has cost me a great deal over the years, so I guess that punishment’s taken its toll. I’ve spent what seems like a lifetime paying for my principles, but no matter how much I adjust to accommodate the ridiculous, it’s never enough.
In a culture that defends the indefensible as a call of duty, it’s nearly impossible to cut through the crap to get the compelling. To me, there’s a nobility in changing your mind in the face of evidence that warrants it. Recognizing you’re wrong is an illuminating experience that can be the ultimate gift that keeps on giving.
In Ford: Rebuilding an American Icon, the documentary tells of the company’s comeback after its largest-ever loss of $12.7 billion in 2006. At the helm of its turnaround was Alan Mulally — who faced quality concerns by embracing criticism from Consumer Reports. When he says the following, it’s not some fancy quote to float — it’s a mindset that can make all the difference in the world:
We’re gonna seek to understand before we seek to be understood
This 2:20 scene shows what serious-minded leaders look like (and not just Mulally). Ya gotta hand it to the great-grandson of Henry Ford for having the humility to see what was best for the company by putting the right person in place:
Use empathetic listening to be genuinely influenced by a person, which compels them to reciprocate the listening and take an open mind to being influenced by you. This creates an atmosphere of caring, and positive problem solving.
It just over a minute, this scene from A League of Their Own perfectly captures the story that started this site.
Nobody threw a ball at me . . . but the effect is the same
Kit wanted to have her cake and eat it too: She wanted to be treated like a professional for all that good that goes with it, but not the bad.
Even in the last 3 seconds of that scene, there’s educational gold to glean, as a fan shows a form of support that entirely escapes one-dimensional decision makers:
Shake it off, Kit!
To qualify as a genuine conversation, at the bare minimum there must some trace of taking into account what the other person is saying. The idea is that I say something, then you get your turn, but good-faith dialogue means that you actually consider what I said — and that your response indicates that to some degree.
Then I do the same for you — and this give-and-take goes back and forth in an imperfect manner until an understanding is hashed out.
Of all the great principles that foster fruitful conversation, this one is paramount:
You Improvise, You Overcome, You Adapt
I adapt to you and you adapt to me . . .
And somewhere in the middle or on the way to it, maybe we come to a meeting of the minds.
Even after all that, you still have the option to totally disagree with your interlocutor, but at least you’ve heard them out with some sincerity.
There’s no finer example of “I adapt to you and you adapt to me” than these classic scenes from the all-time “Everyman” master.
The coach is coming from a different place — and his attitude from the start was:
I don’t have ballplayers, I’ve got girls!
But little by little, he came around — and once he saw them as ballplayers, he treated them as such.
And that’s what this first scene is all about:
But in the second scene, as much as he’d like to treat them the same as any player, he adapts to find some way of communicating his concerns without being too harsh.
You’re still missing the cutoff man. Now that’s . . . . that’s something I’d like you to work on . . . before next season.
And whad’ya know, she responds in kind! She recognizes that’s he’s trying really hard to get something important through to her, and that’s he’s adjusting his approach from last time — and she appreciates that.
[A] sense of outrage over being falsely accused never left him. “I learned you can’t always judge a person or a situation by the way it appears on the surface,” he remembered. “You have to look deeply into things before you’re in a position to make a proper decision.”
Between the asterisks below is the email I sent to the target audience of this page:
Part of the audience of this email are those I didn’t do right by in one way or another over the last couple of years. I took some jobs I shouldn’t have, turned down a job I should have taken, and didn’t wait for a decision on the one I wanted most—all because I let my past cloud my decisions.
I’m sorry that my vicious cycle came at a cost to the good people who put some faith in me.
It’s fine if you don’t care, what matters to me is that you know that I do. But I hope you’ll bear with me, as my mea culpa has far-reaching value.
I’ve always had the nerve to say we could be more, and with rare exception, there was always someone in the way who said we could be less. I’ve spent my life continually building on my abilities in pursuit of the next goal (absorbing all that I could from everyone around me). I don’t understand the lack of thirst for knowledge in an industry of endless possibilities.
Over time I’ve come to accept it. But that wasn’t enough. I had to rein in my passion and share ideas fully expecting that no one will care. But that wasn’t enough. I stopped asking questions about the absurdity that surrounds me. But that wasn’t enough. Some companies oversold themselves and I bought it. To a degree, I was willing to accommodate their lack of authenticity. But that wasn’t enough.
Due to my “training” above, I had gotten pretty good at ignoring a colleague’s erratic ways, but after seeing a project manager blow a gasket over the same knee-jerk impulsiveness — I had second thoughts. She went on and on venting to my manager about the BA’s behavior in how she abruptly left our meeting, and I just sat there in silence — continually telling myself:
Don’t get involved — you’ve got it made here. If this company’s okay with being dysfunctional, let ’em . . . they’ll be in my rear view come July.
“One Small Step” is the rest of this letter on the site that tells my story. I started this letter late last year, but I waited on finishing it because I thought it might mean more when I had things turned around. It was not to be. But even if I had my dream job now, I’d never get past that I did anyone wrong in the pursuit of it.
The people throughout these stories have no such notion, and they’ll spend their lives never knowing what the courage of “one small step” can do.
A long time ago, a teacher’s admonishment struck my spine in a way that forever altered how I would see things.
I think of conversation as a journey — where even the tiniest kernel of truth can alter your course. No matter how much I disagree with another’s view, I’ll look for anything that’s true and work backwards from there. What I find might not change a thing or might change everything, but either way it’s a worthy endeavor. As I wrote 12 years ago:
There’s nothing more edifying than taking a trip to another point of view
Most people fixate over an offense and never get past it — totally missing out on the value of what was being offered. If they had just paused to think it through, they might even find that it wasn’t offensive after all.
My Cousin Vinny is maybe the most hilariously educational movie ever, and this scene is at the core of our culture’s communication divide.
Don’t shake your head. I’m not done yet. Wait till you hear the whole thing so you can . . . understand this now . . .
How can we possibly solve serious problems when we refuse to adhere to some semblance of the fundamentals of making sense? And to do that you need to be willing to entertain information that doesn’t conform to your view.
If you’ve got the goods to back up your beliefs, shouldn’t they be able to withstand scrutiny?
I know all too well what it feels like when nobody backs you up, even when you’re clearly in the right — and they damn well know it. It was wearing on me, so I chimed in on my own dealings with the culprit in question. It turned into a bonding experience, as we had a little post-meeting pow-wow to pick up where we left off.
I helped calm her concerns (even pointing out the positive features of our mutual irritation) — but something she said just stuck with me:
Well that’s how this behavior becomes accepted in the first place!
I’ve only been saying the same thing my entire adult life — and yet here I was trying to convince her of something I don’t believe: That we should just be more tolerant of what should be unacceptable.
The next day I got an email that embodies the flighty nature of this BA (whose behavior I had recently described to a colleague as “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah“). I was really just thinking about how she zips through every discussion. I didn’t know at the time just how true to form the moniker would become.
Putting the angelic nature of it aside, the song is simply a caricature of complacency that syncs with the self-absorbed culture we’ve created.
My, oh, my, what a wonderful day
Plenty of sunshine headin’ my way
Mister Bluebird’s on my shoulder
It’s the truth, it’s “actch’ll”
Everything is “satisfactch’ll”
I was 25 ft. away. I’m the one who made the request — with a clear path in mind for what I wanted (and the DBA had already approved it). And lo and beyond, I explained it to Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah step-by-step the week before. But whenever an idea doesn’t fit her frenetic pace — she abandons it with ease and reverts back to what she knows.
And then turns around to broadcast questions on a settled matter that she’d understand if she paid any attention in the first place.
Once or twice, no big deal — but when it’s your M.O., that’s a whole other matter . . .
After all, THIS is her job:
A little of this goes a long way:
In and of itself, the email wasn’t that big of deal — but in light of what the PM said, it was the last straw. When someone sends out an email like that, it looks like we don’t have our act together — and guess what, we didn’t!
That shop is a rudderless ship, and it was no small feat for me to handle such absurdity in silence.
Week after week went by while my project was repeatedly delayed — giving me 6 weeks of “study hall” in a renaissance of knowledge. The personal side of me was thrilled, but the professional side was appalled by the sheer sloppiness and apathy around me.
I had helped out a couple of colleagues under the radar, and somewhat inspired by that, I guess I thought it might be possible to talk to the BA about my concerns.
Unlike the Project Manager — I was never upset at Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah, I was just chronically annoyed. But in my situation, I was gonna be extra careful in how I approached her. Moreover, I was having a great time studying all day and didn’t really care that much about her or AutoNation. I was there to do whatever they asked, keep my head down, don’t ask any questions outside of my role, make my money and move on.
But what that PM said reminded me of who I am. Expecting me not to question is like asking me not to breathe, and I’ve been suffocating for far too long.
And besides, what harm could come from a little casual conversation over coffee?
If she takes my advice, great — if not, I won’t lose one minute of sleep over it.
But long gone are the “good ol’ days” when people just blew you off to protect their petty pride — now they’ll go out of their way to ruin you.
I started out sincerely complimenting her, and then politely segued into her problematic ways. Even after all that I’ve seen over the years, I didn’t realize that the language below is now off limits for constructive criticism:
Slow down a little bit . . .
Take the time to breathe . . .
Listen and digest what someone is trying to say . . .
Had I just been blown off, that would not have surprised me one bit — but for a colleague to pull this stunt is a level of ludicrous that aligns with what America has become:
Why are you attacking me?
That’s a boilerplate ploy on social media — but face to face, I thought people would have a little more self-respect. Under the cloud of #MeToo run amok, one whiff of “attack” to the powers that be, and mere accusation was all it took. Nobody even talked to me.
As our culture has gone totally off the rails of reason, the IT industry played right along — becoming daycare centers to act as a fortress to wall off any form of narcissistic injury.
In the Apollo 13 feature commentary, Ron Howard talks about NASA’s culture. I recorded that clip below and added in a couple of others to further the point:
It was explained to me that, outside the Mission Control room, it could get downright heated . . . that it was allowed . . . that the NASA etiquette, allowed for screaming matches when it was about the work, when it was about solving the problem . . .
How could ya have a heartbeat and not be inspired by that?
I’m not advocating for heated discussions to hash out our concerns, but at least NASA’s argument-etiquette provided the freedom to tell people what you think. And hey, they did go to the moon multiple times and brought Apollo 13 home — so there’s that.
For tactfully suggesting that she has a few things she could work on . . . this is the attitude I got in return. This is not the mark of an adult, let alone a professional:
When she walked away with her “talk to the hand” haughtiness, I casually followed and said:
You see that “Excellence” on the wall — we’re supposed to be better than this!
In today’s world, “attack” is a tried-and-true tactic of the “malignantly narcissistic [who] insist upon ‘affirmation independent of all findings’” (borrowing from M. Scott Peck’s masterpiece below).
Mental health is an ongoing process of dedication to reality at all costs . . .
Our capacity to choose changes constantly with our practice of life. The longer we continue to make the wrong decisions, the more our heart hardens; the more often we make the right decision, the more our heart softens — or better perhaps, comes alive. . . .
- We have extensively examined the ways in which evil individuals will flee self-examination and guilt by blaming and attempting to destroy whatever or whoever highlights their deficiencies
- Actually, the lie is designed not so much to deceive others as to deceive themselves. They cannot or will not tolerate the pain of self-reproach. The decorum with which they lead their lives is maintained as a mirror in which they can see themselves reflected righteously.
- It is not their sins per se that characterize evil people, rather it is the subtlety and persistence and consistency of their sins. This is because the central defect of the evil is not the sin but the refusal to acknowledge it.
She fabricated this fiction for a pity-party and to push me out. Anyone with an inkling of objectivity could see that a mile away.
Crank out some tears and go running to report the “assault” — and conquest complete, self-delusion cemented.
In her efforts to preserve the image of how she sees herself, it’s impossible for that colleague to comprehend that I was doing her a favor — in telling her the truth that no one else has the guts to. She’ll spend the rest of her life never knowing that “one small step” of courage can be the catalyst for a whole new way of seeing things.
Same goes for those who mindlessly march to the cavalier cadence of phoning it in . . . who follow their formula to everlasting folly.
Their “management” style is completely in line with the times (sanctioned as if time-honored traditions of leadership did not exist for reference).
That they decorate their walls with company credos and have handbooks that spell out the very virtues I espouse — matters not in the world of window dressing.
All that counts is what you claim — who cares if it’s true?
Real leaders take pride in dealing with the difficult, uncomfortable, and inconvenient — because they share Einstein’s spirit in the same way I do:
To borrow from Tom Hanks one more time:
It’s not a miracle, we just decided to go
Like The Martian, the clip below embodies the possibilities in problem solving — especially when you’re forced to find a way to make things work that don’t go together.
Our technological advances aside, what we have become as a species flies in the face of the history of human achievement. When I wrote the bit below about Arrival, it was in December while I was waiting for this job at AutoNation to start. I was really excited about the opportunity, and it was wonderful hanging with family knowing I had this great gig coming up. They were pretty happy too!
Who knew that AutoNation would treat me with the same absurdity I had in mind when I wrote of Arrival.
At least the aliens and protagonists were willing to put out a little effort to learn from each other
Their efforts to develop a conduit of communication is in striking contrast to how we talk to each other today.
With the word “HUMAN” written on a whiteboard, they were able to build on that by seeing patterns in seemingly-indecipherable symbols.
The internet and the cable clans paved the way for the onslaught of the utterly absurd — and with that came loose language designed to deflect and manipulate anything to your liking.
So terms like “attack” that used to have some measure of meaning, could be contorted into a claim without even a molecule of weight to it.
We don’t solve problems in America — we perpetuate them by ceaselessly jockeying for the upper hand . . . shamelessly betraying some of the very values you supposedly hold so dear.
If we can’t even agree on the most demonstrably provable, how on Earth can we responsibly address issues that aren’t so clear-cut?
I’ve always thought that there’s something wildly out of whack with pursuing values in a manner devoid of virtue. In one form or another, inevitably there are consequences for convictions unguided by conscience.
Humans are hardwired to want some degree of attention, and forums like Facebook are phenomenal for sharing what matters to us. But the ever-rising ocean of partisan pettiness is gluttony under the guise of concern.
Another former Facebook executive has spoken out about the harm the social network is doing to civil society around the world. Chamath Palihapitiya . . . said he feels “tremendous guilt” about the company he helped make. “I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works,” he told an audience at Stanford Graduate School of Business. . . .
Palihapitiya’s criticisms were aimed not only at Facebook, but the wider online ecosystem. “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we’ve created are destroying how society works,” he said, referring to online interactions driven by “hearts, likes, thumbs-up.”
“No civil discourse, no cooperation; misinformation, mistruth. And it’s not an American problem — this is not about Russians ads. This is a global problem.”
At the heart of why we fail to live up to our potential as a society is because we excel at polluting even the purist form of fact.
Even in a debate where fractions of a millimeter matter — the dead certain tap dance to talking points in doubt-free delight. America has become a free-for-all for whatever you wanna believe, no matter how dumb, dishonest, or delusional.
Never-ending battles to claim Victory for Values has become trench warfare between armies of unreachables. Raising questions that simply cross paths with a worldview is seen as a challenge to entirely undo it, so the good soldier pooh-poohs any effort that could tarnish their utopian image.
The United States is now a country obsessed with the worship of its own ignorance. . . . [T]he bigger problem is that we’re proud of not knowing things. Americans have reached a point where ignorance, especially of anything related to public policy, is an actual virtue.
To reject the advice of experts is to assert autonomy, a way for Americans to insulate their increasingly fragile egos from ever being told they’re wrong about anything. It is a new Declaration of Independence: no longer do we hold these truths to be self-evident, we hold all truths to be self-evident, even the ones that aren’t true. All things are knowable and every opinion on any subject is as good as any other. . . .
People don’t just believe dumb things; they actively resist further learning rather than let go of those beliefs. I was not alive in the Middle Ages, so I cannot say it is unprecedented, but within my living memory I’ve never seen anything like it. . . .
I don’t spend my life adding to the bunk-filled barrage of rapid-file ridicule that has taken over the times. If browbeating for sport is your game, so be it — but perhaps you could take a break once in a while when you see someone who doesn’t fit the mold?
I’m not sure which is worse though, those people or the “respectable” types — the shoot-from-the-hip, half-assed “insight” slingers. The pseudo-statesmen who pride themselves in putting out a modicum of effort, but it’s all spin in the end — driven by ulterior or misguided motives at best.
These are the people who have no scrutiny for the elephant in the room, but no shortage of it for those who dare to ask:
Wouldn’t we be able to move around far more freely without this elephant in the way?
These people don’t do jack to solve any of these problems (which they helped create) — but when someone does, they’ve got all the wisdom in the world for how it should have been handled.
There’s a name for their kind — and it’s called The Critic:
However I went wrong over the last few years, that pales in comparison to the how my career has been severely damaged by the dereliction of duty of others — the shirking of inherent responsibility and flagrant disregard of company claims.
But even after all that I have lost, what bothers me most is the lie of it all (upheld by a brand of self-delusion that’s become fashionable). They didn’t create the culture of the unconcerned, they just further calcified it.
In April 2011 I was robbed of my dream job on day one. The Fraudulent 5 tells the story of this shop so close to the heavens, and how they were too pure for their own good.
While I have hoped to find such a sanctuary again, even some semblance of it would be satisfying — but the dead certain derailed even those designs.
Despite it all, I have benefited enormously by my many trials. People I’ve met, places I’ve been, things I’ve learned, and eyes on sights I never would have seen without the inhumanity of man.
You cannot be, I know, nor do I wish to see you, an inactive spectator. . . . We have too many high sounding words, and too few actions that correspond with them. ― Abigail Adams (October 16, 1774)
You never fully appreciate your First Amendment rights until you have no other recourse for the truth to see the light of day.
No way in hell would I allow anyone to railroad me like that and get off scot-free
But just like this site is about something so much bigger, so was my protest back then. As I pointed out on The Fraudulent 5:
We need to realize that something very wrong is going on here, and it goes much deeper than Bank of America and 5 guys on a sign.
By the way, the banks built my career — and I’m forever grateful to Bank of America and First Union / Wachovia / Wells Fargo (as well as other companies like Cryogenic Tank Restoration (CTR), International Game Technology (IGT) and Hannover Re).
I’ve been in and out the banks in Charlotte since 1998 (10 times in total at BofA for a cumulative 7 years) — almost all of which was contracting. Tack on another 4 years from First Union to Wells.
However much I have to say about how the banks fell far short of their own standards, I owe my career to them for the multitude of times they delivered in full — and then some!
I’ll never forget this one morning outside the scene of the crime at Bank of America’s Gateway Village — where a well-dressed gentleman walked up to my chair and said:
I just wanted to let you know that I really respect the way you’re doing this
Occupy Wall Street was all the rage at the time, but my aims were not connected to that movement — and he was just saying how he appreciated my style.
There is a message in the manner — and he got it
My prime directive was that I would not engage unless engaged first. I just sat there reading a book unless someone came up to talk to me.
And the setup itself says so much about how I operate. I had never protested anything prior to that, and like so many other things I’ve done — it became a project with all kinds of creative opportunity. The A-frame was a natural fit for a sidewalk setting, and once I had that foundation — it became about making the most of my surface area from every angle.
Then I let the signs and my site do the talking for me — while I got to utilize my time by reading.
Understanding that mindset is a window into why I abhor systemic stupidity and the institutionalized dishonesty that enables it
I didn’t come up with that A-frame rig out of thin air — it came from a lifetime of looking at things in a different light and getting a thrill out of problem solving. And whenever I needed it most, there was always someone who injected just what was needed to help propel my purpose.
I’m not inspired by people who tell me what I wanna hear — I like to be elevated by those who challenge me, who have a better idea, or offers some criticism that makes me think.
Is it true? Does it have merit? Does it make sense? Is it faster, sharper, smarter?
These are the things that concern me — not my “feelings” to protect my precious pride.
In 1995, I set out to make the most unique CD storage mechanism on the planet — and without the participation of a long list of people, it wouldn’t have come close to what it became.
So when you see these pictures below, it’s not about “look at this cool thing I came up with” — it’s about what you can accomplish with a genuine exchange of ideas. And it’s so much more fascinating & fun when you get other people involved.
It’s also about how a design blunder can turn into a beautiful thing when you figure it out to fix it.
And that mistakes can be blessings in disguise. When you’re aware of the tools & materials available to you, solutions have a way of just materializing. And lo and behold, my methods just happen to be exactly in line with The Martian’s:
Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work. That’s all it is. You just begin. You do the math. You solve one problem . . . then you solve the next one . . . and then the next. And If you solve enough problems . . .
We Will Cut The Wheel Down The Middle!
But instead of a Solomon/Seinfeld solution where both sides get to keep half, I’m gonna split Humpty Dumpty in two, and put him all back together again. Note: The Seinfeld reference is to the episode where Newman suggests they cut a bicycle in half to share between Kramer and Elaine.
Anyway, inside of 60 seconds I had the whole problem solved, and it all goes back to that visit with Ned at his CNC shop. I was only looking at plastics at the time, but obviously his machine cuts both plastic and wood.
The problem was that the maximum router bit length on his machine was 1.5”, but that was perfectly fine by me. I had enough excess where I could cut the beast in half, chew it up somewhat in the process, and then plane both sides down to exactly 1.5” — and then put the pieces back together with dowel rods.
The beautiful part of all of this is that not only was I going to drop some excess weight, but it opened the door for new design feature as well.
In the beginning, I was so FOOLISHLY fixated on having the CD slide through a solid slot, that it never dawned on me how cool it would be to have an open face on the side (allowing for the CD artwork to be seen). This made it very exciting knowing that after going through all this trouble, I was going to get something far greater in the end. The only problem now was that I needed a reallybig chainsaw . ;o)
That Michigan clock below started it all in 8th grade. Having just moved from Indiana, I was in uncharted waters. I needed something to connect to (beyond the fantastic new friends I found) — and woodshop was it. The next year I made that school desk — nothin’ fancy, but it was another stepping stone.
The rocking chair came next — and that’s not all
While I was a sophomore working on my Boston Rocker, a junior named John was using a grinder to carve out his roll-top desk — sculpting oak into a masterpiece.
32 years later and I can still see where I was standing there in awe — and from that moment on I was never the same.
Without the inspiration above, there’s no possible way I could have pulled this off below. Large projects typically spanned the final 2 years of advanced shop class. So when I told my teacher what I was making — I’ll never forget the stunned look on his face in the following exchange:
Is this gonna be a 2-year project?
No, it’s gonna be done in one — and it will be done by competition!
In over 60 years of Industrial Arts competition in Michigan, nobody had ever built a table & chairs set (or a set of anything, for that matter). It’s September and I gotta be ready for regionals in April — there was no time to spare.
Halfway through the basketball season, I turned in my uniform. Then I passed on a free trip to Florida for spring break. I was a machine.
As you can imagine by now, there’s a lot of layers to that story, and how it’s the foundation for all that followed. But I’d ask you to just imagine for a moment what it would feel like to accomplish something of that magnitude, and then have the State judges refuse to believe that it was done by a single student.
They also thought the turnings were too precise to have been done freehand (they figured I used a tool called a copy-crafter — which is against the rules).
I even ran into roadblocks just trying to enter it into both Regionals and State. The concept of a set was so foreign to them that they didn’t know what category to place my project into.
Incredibly, even though I was within my allotted floor space — they wanted me to bring just the table and one chair (and put a Polaroid on the table to “represent” the set). I think anyone in my shoes would have wanted to say:
Are you out of your %#&@$!^ mind?
We said, “Screw ’em!” and brought it all anyway. At that age, I didn’t know it was possible that a sane person could seriously suggest something so absurd, but it’s all part of the pattern of never-ending nonsense that I’ve seen since then.
Nevertheless, I’m glad I got screwed . . .
It’s the best blessing in disguise I’ve ever had. The roll-top master won the coveted Grand Champion award (the best project across all categories in your grade level). I wanted that award more than anything — and we all knew that there was no chance of me not winning it.
While I was took first at both Regionals and State — in the latter I lost the prize I so pursued. Adding insult to injury, the judges gave my award to a roll-top that was an exact copy that someone from the same school had built the year before.
It was a beautiful piece, but without the judges being so myopic about my work, there’s no way in the world that kid could have won (or anyone else).
He won recognition while I found illumination . . .
But it would take time for me to figure that out. After high school, never again would I set my sights on ribbons, trinkets mounted on plaques, or any award as a seal of success. My self-discovery is not a knock against recognition, but rather that you should be clear about what you are after and why. Whether your goal is in sports, scholastics, occupation, or political aspirations, the same principles of pursuit should apply.
It wasn’t just John the Sculptor who inspired me — I was part of a crew of kids who gelled in our collective passion & purpose. There was an energy in the air that made it seem like anything was possible. Feeding off of that was our teacher, a man who went so far out of his way to facilitate our goals that he should have been nationally recognized for it.
He would sometimes stay in the shop all night or come in on weekends, bringing hotdogs and other goodies to get us by — doing whatever it took to help make the deadline. And once he became a believer in my dream — he even secretly loaned me a lathe (seen above next to the barrels). By Christmas break I had every turning block ready to go — but we hadn’t found a used lathe yet, and I had to have one at home to make every minute of that break matter.
Prior to that point and after, at night I’d borrow tools from the shop and bring ’em back in the morning. But a lathe is a whole other matter — and even in those days, there’d be a liability issue to loan that out. He didn’t ask for permission, and I’ll never forget how far that look on his face had come from just a few months before. We stood there looking at the stack of blocks so proudly piled high, and he said:
Bring your dad in tomorrow night with the pickup truck and you can take the old lathe home for as long as you need it.
I don’t recall ever seeing the old-timer in operation, but it was about to be brought back to life, and would define my future with every revolution. I had no idea that my quest would turn into a lifetime of stories that all tie back to those times.
It was magical — and as our teacher would attest to, it never happened before and it never happened again.
I doubt it dawned on the judges that I approached my project in a manufacturing manner. Everything I did was systematic (which was the only way it could be done in that timeframe — and the only smart way to do it).
I’ve been facing the same narrow-mindedness of those people ever since — a sense of blankness about what can be accomplished when you approach things intelligently. Not only that, but you also need to treat people as individuals instead of boxing them into the norm. Because here’s the thing — it was impossible, for anyone except those who have a mission in mind that consumes them.
You can see the crack of a forced smile on my face — for inside I’m enraged (not yet knowing that in being robbed I had received the gift of a lifetime).
Sitting next to me is Mr. Nixon — and no matter how many times I tell him, he’ll never fully grasp the life of possibility he provided. It was his admonishment of me the next year that inspired the moment of truth for all those that followed.
The bigger picture is a beautiful thing — if you’ve got the guts to see it
Ever since I was little, I loved looked up at this mural in the Monticello Post Office. People genuinely working together is a beautiful thing, don’t ya think?
One of the things I love so much about working with others and sharing ideas with sincerity — is how the best idea for one person is a wall ornament, but for the other — it’s a coffee table.
I needed to do a test run on the CNC router — and my had the brilliant idea of using his high-school woodshop table and turning it into a wall ornament. The table had been up in the rafters forever, so it was a wonderful way to get some use out of it and tie the past to the present.
My grandmother had other ideas. The particle board test piece that was cut on a Flow WaterJet (similar to the one in the pictures) — she turned it into a coffee table with a smoked-glass top.
Due to a knot, one of the center slots broke on the walnut piece (which didn’t really matter because it wasn’t holding CDs anyway). But my mom came up with the wonderful idea of putting something in the center (and a holiday item when the time was right).
While I’ve never worked in government, I’ve done A LOT of government work — and I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have owners, managers, technicians, engineers, teachers and so on — always step up in my time of need (granting me access to buildings, equipment, tools, sharing ideas, CAD assistance, and whatever else I needed).
I’ve always been lucky that way . . .
Why do we learn anything? The answer is simply that it is far better — both more fulfilling and constructive — to have some glimmer of understanding of what we are than to flounder around in total darkness. We can neither comprehend nor control it all, but as J.R.R Tolkien said:
“It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years when we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.”
“Uprooting the evil in the fields that we know”
We cannot begin to hope to heal human evil until we are able to look at it directly. It is not a pleasant sight. Many observed that my previous book, The Road Less Traveled, was a nice book. This is not a nice book.
You can see how important my word is to me, and yet once I left a contract early for what I thought might be my last chance for something special — the next time was easier, and the time after that was even more so.
Each time I had all kinds of reasons, but never again — I’m done rationalizing my decisions that cost companies time and money.
That I could say such a thing (and mean it) — after getting railroaded (again), should speak volumes for what this story is all about:
The Demands of Integrity
If the degree of freedom to choose the good is great, it takes less effort to choose the good. If it is small, it takes great effort, help from others, and favorable circumstances. . . .
Most people fail in the art of living not because they are inherently bad or so without will that they cannot lead a better life; they fail because they do not wake up and see when they stand at a fork in the road and have to decide. They are not aware when life asks them a question, and when they still have alternative answers.
Then with each step along the wrong road it becomes increasingly difficult for them to admit that they are on the wrong road, often only because they have to admit that they must go back to the first wrong turn, and must accept the fact that they have wasted energy and time.
A song that speaks to the heart of it all — no pun indended
Dad took the wheels off of my bike and he pushed me down a hill
But speed got the best of me and I took my first spill
That was back when alcohol was only used on cuts
It stung like hell so I jerked my leg and mama said it would give me guts
I imagine a lot of companies became callous because of frivolous lawsuits. Vizcaino v. Microsoft “permatemp” case is a great example that impacted the IT industry (in both good and bad ways).
Below is a snapshot of the case, but this line stands out the most:
“These are the same people that collectively screwed every happy permatemp out of decent work” . . .
The practice of “pay-rolling” long-term, onsite employees through temp agencies expanded rapidly during the 1990s, after the Internal Revenue Service cracked down on employers who were treating workers as “independent contractors.”
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of long-term Microsoft contractors who plaintiffs attorneys say were mislabeled as employees of temporary staffing firms or deemed “independent contractors”, but who were in fact “common law” employees of Microsoft. The lawsuit sought to recover benefits, including the right to participate in the Microsoft Employee Stock Purchase Plan, for permatemps at Microsoft.
One contract software engineer, who has worked at Microsoft for nearly three years, blamed the Vizcaino case for ruining a good situation for him and thousands of other Microsoft contractors.
“These are the same people that collectively screwed every happy permatemp out of decent work,” he said, explaining that he had been perfectly content working as a long-term contract tester on the Exchange 2000 team, with an “outstanding manager”, when Microsoft first instituted its mandatory break-in-service policy in 1999.
“All of this,” he adds, “and good pay and none of the BS of being a Microsoft FTE [full-time employee].”
The policy, instituted largely in response to the Vizcaino case, now mandates that agency contractors leave Microsoft for 100 days after working for one consecutive year at the company.
This software tester feels there has been “quite a bit of backlash” directed at contractors at Microsoft in recent years due, in part, to the Vizcaino lawsuit. “Various phrases like ‘dash trash’ (a reference to the ‘a-‘ that is appended to the front of all contractor email addresses) are more common than Microsoft likes to admit.”
What I take issue with is that the plaintiffs were disingenuous in the extreme — retroactively claiming something that they damn well knew they were not.
Companies commonly follow Microsoft’s lead, and sure enough — Bank of America and others eventually enacted their own break-in-service policies. Interestingly, Wachovia didn’t have one — Wells Fargo brought it with them when they took over. Not only that, but Wachovia had its own internal hiring agency called First Place (for 17 years if I recall correctly — going back to the First Union days).
First Place was a great deal for all parties involved (the company saved money and the contractors got a higher cut — even got holidays paid to boot). And while getting holiday pay was wonderful, what mattered to me even more was a feeling of connection — that I wasn’t “just a contractor.”
And I tell ya — there were damn fine people in that shop at Wachovia.
The manager even invited the contractors to the Christmas party at his house (and the department’s party as well). It’s all the more special when you consider that I pushed some buttons a time or two there (just as I’ve spent most of my life pushing the envelope).
But those guys understood me — and there was a human side to them that I rarely see anymore.
I’ve not always been in the right in my pursuit of excellence (and my methods could have been better at times) — but my heart & intentions were always in the right place. In my defense (for the fatigue factor that played a part): I’ve spent most my career exhausted, because in contracting you have a limited timeframe to learn as much as possible, and I tried to make the most of it.
And my God, that gig was one helluva great turning point in my career
Except for one big problem — Wells Fargo took over and that ridiculous policy came with ’em. My contract would have gone to 18 months but got cut 12 (due to the timing of the takeover). That left 6 months of eligibility (which was worthless — because nobody’s gonna hire you there if they think the contract might get extended).
Bank of America’s policy is 18 months with a 3-month “waiting period” before you can return (whereas Wells is 18 with 6 out).
It’s all so arbitrary — and that pisses me off all by itself
The entire purpose of this policy is to avoid being sued — all part of the program in the minority-rules madness of America (where you’ll screw the dedicated to cater to the careless & coddle the crybabies).
I refuse to believe that intelligent people can’t find a way to be smart about their business and address legal concerns at the same time. And outside of Microsoft way back in the day, has there ever been another lawsuit like Vizcaino? Maybe there were some others back then, but that was a lifetime ago in IT. The lines are pretty well drawn now, so I would love for someone to point out a single instance of a company being sued in such a way in the modern era.
Even if you could find a few examples, I simply do not believe that lawsuits like this pose a serious enough risk to warrant such a silly policy (which creates totally unnecessary problems for all parties involved).
And I imagine most companies don’t have such policies — so if they’re not worried, why are you?
What I’m ultimately getting at is the overreacting & overcompensating nature of our nation.
And boy have I ever paid for this poppycock
If not for the break-in-service policy at Wells in 2010, I could have gotten a better gig there — so I had to take a lesser job at Bank of America instead. It actually turned into a pretty good opportunity — except for the part about being treated with disdain for anticipating a problem and solving it.
This BA was actually pretty good. We all worked our asses off to get that project done on time — and we did! The BA even sent out some kind of “official” recognition of my performance. 6 weeks or so left on the contract and we just doing ad-hoc stuff at that point.
One day he asked me to put together a report extract with SSIS — and as part of that exchange he incorrectly informed the users on their options. I very politely pointed out in a chat that what he told them wasn’t true (as he was basing his view on a long-outdated version of Excel).
I could not believe my eyes when I saw this (especially because I respected this guy’s work):
It doesn’t matter since the users already accepted it.
Never mind that he incorrectly informed them in the first place, and that I had a way around the problem. And for crying out loud, how does a seasoned analyst not know that they only accepted it because they weren’t thinking it through?
They went with what they were comfortable with and didn’t realize the ramifications of it (and I’m not blaming them for that — it was an honest oversight).
What he did was dishonest and dumb — withholding new information to protect his pride (or whatever the hell he was up to). It wasn’t even that big of deal — so what if you send out a second email saying, “Actually, I take that back — we can provide what you want.” He could even take the credit for figuring it out — I don’t care!
That’s how certain I was that they would rightly complain about their report once they realized what they agreed to.
So I took the initiative to follow up on my concerns, and when I submitted my unsanctioned solution, I was immediately rebuffed by the BA without so much as a “thanks anyway.”
At that point I felt that had done everything I could do to look out for our customers, so I dropped it. I was “evolving” to become more “accepting” of what’s out of my control. A week later the users came out citing what I predicted. I figured I had some backing now that they were unhappy, so I tried one last time to offer up my solution (in a polite manner without a hint of “I told you so”).
And this is what I got in return
This issue was NOT assigned to you. . . . I do not care if your point was correct.
The all-capped “not” should speak volumes all by itself.
About a week later I took a couple of colleagues to lunch. The team leader seemed strangely intent on getting money from an ATM to pay me back for the lunch (though I had made it clear that I was treating them).
It turns out that he was doing that because he knew I was being fired by the manager who’s tight with the BA.
And that night I got the call from the agency . . .
Granted, the contract was over soon anyway — but that’s all the more reason you’d think your services would trump a spat over nothing (so just ride it out instead of opting to damage my career). To be sure, my response to his rebuke could have been better, but expressing reasonable frustration with a colleague’s irresponsible and obnoxious behavior is not grounds for termination — not by anyone with an inkling of objectivity and fairness.
Most maddening of all is that this bullshit goes on all the time behind the scenes — and yet the moment it comes to the forefront, companies act like they’re a bastion of virtue.
They pretend it’s about professionalism while flagrantly ignoring the egregious breaches of it by their own employees.
It’s nothing short of a disgrace that contractors are casually booted for things that that they wouldn’t even be reprimanded for as employees. Of course they can be bounced for any reason, but it’s not about what you can do, it’s about what you should do — showing some semblance of measuring right and wrong through the prism of what you decorate your walls with.
This is not about contractors getting “equality” or even anything close to it. It’s nothing more than demanding enough of yourself to have the humanity for a degree of discernment and proportionality in how you act on the uncomfortable & inconvenient.
But forget about my welfare — it’s not in your best interests (or the company’s) to make decisions in a one-dimensional manner.
First and foremost, subordinates should be seen as resources to be intelligently utilized, not as “contractors” vs. “employees.” There’s a time and place to factor for the latter, but how you handle your people reflects on who you and your company are — and what both of you will become.
There’s something of a myth in IT that this is entirely about protecting the company legally (as if you’re so crippled you can’t use your authority to demand better from your employees).
Um, they do work for you, right?
Sorry, I get a little confused sometimes — since it seems like the dead weight’s runnin’ the show. You own the place, you pay the bills, you pay their salaries, you are in charge, and yet THEY dictate how things are done.
Without question, the legal facet is central to such folly — so much so that I put it on my sign (a quote I explain on The Fraudulent 5):
Last summer I was watching James Woods on Piers Morgan Tonight, and he was talking about playing the CEO of Lehman Brothers in the movie Too Big To Fail, and said the following:
“Here’s the problem with what’s happened to our culture: You’re not required to be ethical — as long as you’re legal.”
I was floored that somebody could so perfectly capture the essence of both that story and mine in so few words.
But there’s another reality behind this saga of absurdity:
Most of ’em aren’t good managers in the first place . . .
And they use the “legal” line as a crutch that allows them to get away with it.
And by the way, a year later I lost my dream job on day one because some servile soul heard a lunchtime story then bolted from the table to tattle — over a spat from the year before that indirectly involved his friends (the ones I took to lunch that last day).
In making polite conversation, I “implicated” myself in the “crime” of once again looking out for the customer.
Someone very close to me passed away that morning — an amazing lady who impacted all those who knew her. I had known her since I was 5 years old, and from that time until the end, she was a light unlike any other. Her daughter called me when it happened, so I got very little sleep that night.
So when you combine the loss of a loved one, little sleep, and the height of joy in my new job — I’m sure you can understand how I had let my guard down a bit.
Inside of 8 hours I was essentially fired for having been fired, which I could see grounds for had I lied about last year, but both my application and interviews were honest in every way. Evidence of that is in the following screenshot of the employment history section of my application:
On The Fraudulent 5 he’s known as The 6th Man, as I don’t even know his name. He just happened to be sitting where my colleagues and I sat down for lunch — and seemingly with glee he brought the whole thing down.
Nobody even talked to me — a lot of that goin’ around
It astounds me that they were taken in by the folly from a shop that’s the polar opposite of theirs — making frivolous assumptions that fit squarely into false equivalence.
Welcoming the word of a weasel without even talking to me is wildly off the mark from the gold standard they set. For all the other managers I’ve worked with at BofA (and most places elsewhere) — it would be unthinkable for them to act with such ice-cold indifference.
But times have changed — and such callousness has become common.
You’d like to think that my new colleagues would a have a say, and I’m reasonably certain that none of ’em cared one bit. One guy sitting next to me at lunch sized it up perfectly. In the most magnificent manner imaginable, he waved it off while saying:
Ahhhhh, don’t worry about it — everybody’s got something in their past!
It was all on record: Archived chat logs and emails (all of which would fit on a few pages at most). Naturally, nobody bothered to look.
I acted in the best interests of the bank, and I’ve been paying the price for it ever since
Purely on the merits of a mindset that systematically sharpens knowledge — that shop is by far the best I’ve ever seen. But like everyone else, they have their weaknesses.
Their kryptonite is the envelope of excellence that somewhat shields them from the BS outside their walls. Even a hint of “impurity” had to be purged — and the way they did it betrayed everything they stand for.
They’ve been insulated in their bubble of beliefs for so long that they lost their humanity along the way.
People have asked me over the years:
With how they treated you and after all that you have seen, what makes you think they were any different?
It was in the air — there was an attitude of excellence that was unmistakable. When they showed me to my desk, there was a technical book waiting for me. And right alongside it was a staggered pile paperwork for the on-boarding process (when you’ll get your computer, how to get your badge, parking pass, you name it — it was all there).
Translation: These people aren’t screwing around . . .
I was in heaven. I even had a great cube right against the window — with Purdue alum right across from me. How fitting! And then there’s Alejandro Mesa (a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional). An in-house MVP on his level — are you kidding me?
And how I met him was magical. At the end of my in-person interview, one of the guys asked me how I keep up with the latest technology.
I lit up in my response as I regaled them with references to the books I have closely studied. One in particular surely sealed the deal, for I raved about Itzik Ben-Gan — an author whose name alone evokes his Zen-like mastery.
The best of the best regard Ben-Gan as the best.
But this guy doesn’t lord his brilliance over anyone — preferring to help others prosper by teaching with thoughtful instruction. When I finished, Alejandro turned to me and said:
Well, I have the honor of calling Itzik my friend.
I was already blown away by all 3 of these guys, but that bit about Ben-Gan was electrifying. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, the interviewer who asked that question said to me on the way out:
Actually, Alejandro is mentioned in the acknowledgements section of Ben-Gan’s books.
Just for kicks, I could not help checking that out when I got home, and I knew then that all of the stars were aligned.
Alejandro’s humility speaks volumes about him — and I’ll never get over being robbed of working with someone of such stature (and all the others on that crew).
Twice a month that team gets together to toss ideas around — an approach I had been advocating for years and still do. And naturally, their resident guru Alejandro usually leads the meeting.
The Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) is the highest award given by Microsoft to those it considers “the best and brightest from technology communities around the world” who “actively share their . . . technical expertise with the community and with Microsoft.”
That night 7 years ago, I was starving and consumed with rage — yet I wrote non-stop all night long like my life depended on it (a brief excerpt from what I sent them):
I doubt it would be possible for anyone to be happier than I was starting today as contractor on your Bank of America team. The attitude demonstrated by that squad was astounding. At one point in the day I told a colleague that I was exhausted from joy, but I was eager to rest up and arrive bright and early Tuesday.
It was so cool to find The Data Warehouse Toolkit waiting on my desk when I walked in. I even took a picture of the book to remember the moment when things would never be the same.
Returning to run-of-the-mill
A huge problem in IT is that you have a ton of technical people who have no business being in charge. They end up in these slots because they gotta get promoted somehow, or there’s a void to fill, or they’re connected to the person who put them there (the good ol’ boy network of white-collar chaos).
But what’s worse than their shortcomings is that they seem oblivious to them. Don’t get me wrong, some of these people handle things that are beyond me — but they blow it on the basics.
If you wanna be a good manager, ya gotta not only be interested in what your team is telling you, but also in what they’re not telling you — and have the guts to wonder why that is.
Racing around from meeting to meeting with an occasional pit stop with your team doesn’t get it done. You need to be proactive with your people so you can most effectively harness your resources.
And not to knock stand-up meetings and color-coded sticky notes — but what I take issue with is the facade that so often surrounds them.
I have an idea: Why don’t we solve the source of the problem instead of spinning our wheels on the symptoms?
So these visuals become another kind of crutch to create the appearance of leadership instead of the actuality of it. Same goes for the crowd that thinks that simply by virtue of proximity, collaboration is going to magically take root.
If your neighbor’s a jerk and doesn’t know jack — they’re not changing simply because the cube walls came down.
Everything goes back to leadership and it always will
Note: On the open-plan office bit below — I’m sure such setups have their place (and you can certainly find top-notch leadership who implement this model with utmost sincerity).
I take issue with the assumption that this arrangement will just naturally create an atmosphere of teamwork.
On top of that, there are a number of problems that come with the program — as the excerpt from this article points out:
It’s official: Open-plan offices are wildly distracting places to work. About 70 percent of U.S. employees now work in open offices, according to the International Management Facility Association. But the collaboration-friendly environment with minimal cubicle separations “proved ineffective if the ability to focus was not also considered,” according to a new study by the design firm Gensler.
“When focus is compromised in pursuit of collaboration, neither works well.”
The key to making workers happy and productive is having a mix of spaces for different activities. Gensler found that workers spend more than half their time at work in deep focus and about one-fourth in collaboration, with the rest split between learning, socializing, and other tasks.
Of course, office workers still spend most of the day at their desks, but when it’s time to do some hard-core collaborating or learning, moving to a different environment can help them shift gears.
One positive outcome of all this distraction and feeling crammed in like cattle — I have trained my tolerance to a whole new level. Ocean waves inside my noise-canceling headphones saved the day.
Now I can put up with just about anything. I consider myself a connoisseur of silver linings, so as much I hated having to endure such settings — I’m grateful for the experience.
I’ve been challenging the intellectually lazy since I was 17 years old — those who are too preoccupied in their self-importance to ponder the bigger picture.
The likes of these people blow smoke in the belief that they are something they are not. They become increasingly comfortable with mediocrity that allows them to flagrantly ignore the undercurrent of conflict and toxic waste all around them — poisoning the waters of possibility on a daily basis.
The sniping and griping goes on while they pretend it doesn’t exist, then throw a party to congratulate themselves on performance.
But it’s always about the numbers in some slick report that hides the hackery behind the scenes.
I don’t care how many billions a company brings in — you’re not minding the store when you pay no attention to the senseless waste in the trenches. But what do I know — I’m “just a contractor” who can be fired with lickety-split judgment to pacify an employee’s pride (who couldn’t manage to be an adult, let alone a professional).
She had it comin’ — they all did!
The easily-satisfied in the superficial love to seize on the “pattern” they see in me, while they utterly ignore the agents of the asinine at the root of it.
As for my history of conflict . . .
I’ve always clashed with our culture that increasingly values bullshit as currency
The blurb for On Bullshit brilliantly defines what I’m out to expose:
Bullshitters seek to convey a certain impression of themselves without being concerned about whether anything at all is true. They quietly change the rules governing their end of the conversation so that claims about truth and falsity are irrelevant.
I’ve found pockets of excellence in almost every place I’ve been, but that doesn’t excuse the inept managers & bad apples who have a knack for ruining a good thing.
SONG AND DANCE
The ocean of absurdity I have seen . . .
And the rolodex of excuses that perpetually fills it — and THIS is the attitude of the culprits in question:
Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah could have broadened her horizons by heeding to my advice. What a waste for everyone involved.
My dad’s had peripheral neuropathy for over 20 years — an extremely painful disease, and prescription narcotics have significantly waned in their effectiveness over time. I do not bring this up to elicit sympathy, but rather to illustrate the impact of imprudence.
Even if only in the slightest, my joy lessens his suffering — in a world of chronic pain most of us can’t even imagine.
And AutoNation buckled to pamper the pain of an emotionally bruised ego
A fireable offense should not factor in family or anything else — but to be so ice-cold over nothing is abysmally reckless. I feel bad for just bailing on a few companies because I was unhappy — as they were good people who deserved better. I can’t fix that — I can’t un-break my word. But what I can do is recognize how and why I went astray and never do it again — that is the only honorable path.
But the people throughout my stories have not an atom of reflection among them. The freedom from doubt that has contaminated our culture is perfectly put below:
It is as though with some people — those who most avidly embrace the “we are right” view — have minds that are closed from the very get-go, and they are entirely incapable of opening them, even just a crack.
There is no curiosity in them. There are no questions in their minds. There are no “what ifs?” or “maybes.”
One Small Step
Next time you disagree with someone — don’t just fire back with the first thing that comes to your mind . . .
And proceed as such:
“To learn to ask: ‘Is that true? Maybe there’s something to what she just said. Let me think about it. That’s interesting. Maybe I should change my mind. I changed my mind’.”
When is the last time you can honestly remember a public dialogue — or even a private conversation — that followed that useful course?
Truth or reality is avoided when it is painful. We can revise our maps only when we have the discipline to overcome that pain. To have such discipline, we must be totally dedicated to truth.
That is to say that we must always hold truth, as best we can determine it, to be more important, more vital to our self-interest, than our comfort. Conversely, we must always consider our personal discomfort relatively unimportant and, indeed, even welcome it in the service of the search for truth. Mental health is an ongoing process of dedication to reality at all costs.
Whatever happened to taking pride in backing up your beliefs? And how about a hint of respect for those who do their homework?
Then again — why study when you can just “agree to disagree” about everything under the sun (quoting myself below to offset the text):
We have become a society of spin doctors who manipulate language anytime it suits our needs. It took the toppling of time-honored traditions to fabricate our fact-free liberties. In days long gone, “agree to disagree” was usually engaged with some degree of sincerity in order to get beyond an impasse with civility.
The intention of the well-meaning motto is that you actually offer something in the realm of a sensible argument. Baseless assertions devoid of any effort in the discovery of truth do not qualify. Naturally, the slope got slippery over time as the egregious abuse of the adage caught on.
Nowadays you can “agree to disagree” about subject matter that you know absolutely nothing about. . . . Its indiscriminate usage is so off the charts that you could even to deny the existence of gravity and gleefully get away with it.
Being smoothly smug is now considered civil — never mind the notion of genuine courtesy that comes with the willingness to be wrong. We begin and end our conversations believing that we’re right — shunning the discipline it takes to be correct. . . .
Anything goes in our Age of Unenlightenment — where “all opinions are equal” whenever you feel the need to call on that convenience.
I’ve been writing about “agree to disagree” for over 14 years, and whad’ya know — the author of the book below was tracking the same tactic:
No matter what the subject, the argument always goes down the drain of an enraged ego and ends with minds unchanged, sometimes with professional relationships or even friendships damaged. Instead of arguing, experts today are supposed to accept such disagreements as, at worst, an honest difference of opinion.
We are supposed to “agree to disagree,” a phrase now used indiscriminately as little more than a conversational fire extinguisher. And if we insist that not everything is a matter of opinion, that some things are right and others are wrong . . . well, then we’re just being jerks, apparently.
Oh yeah, I know the routine — all too well . . .
Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah has to confine her convictions to the narrowest scope possible, because victory lies in the vacuum of how she sees herself . . .
She’s got a lot of company in that camp
I happily belong to the minute minority that feels we’re not informed enough to know the answers to every controversial issue in America. We don’t have a monopoly on virtue — and don’t want one. We’re not only willing to change our minds — we welcome it.
As I said in my Mount Everest of the Obvious documentary in 2014:
America has gone totally off the rails in its worship of the wildly undeserving
How did we get to a place where regurgitating garbage gets people to “Like” you — celebrating “victory” by clicking “bravo” to bad manners and bunk?
In 11 seconds this clip encapsulates what America has become
What it takes to separate uranium isotopes doesn’t care who’s president . . .
There’s an infinitesimal fraction of people in America who would get the connection between that comment and the guy in the video.
The know-nothing know-it-alls on that topic couldn’t make a sound argument on the subject to save to their lives. And yet they are dead certain in their baseless beliefs.
Our culture loves to argue but eschews the rules of argument. It’s high time we appreciate the difference between an assertion and an argument. A perfect depiction of the distinction is on a blog I stumbled across called Duane’s Mind: A Christian’s Perspective:
An assertion is just a point of view, an opinion. An argument goes further. An argument is a point of view supported by reasons that demonstrate the view is a good one.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that at least 90% of all discussion in the domain of politics is dominated by assertion — and nowhere near the top of this triangle:
Believe it or not, the best way to serve your interests is to first and foremost — hold your own accountable. If you wanna make the opposition look bad, try looking good. If you wanna have the moral high ground, try earning it:
The moral high ground, in ethical or political parlance, refers to the status of being respected for remaining moral, and adhering to and upholding a universally recognized standard of justice or goodness.
In Cloak of Loyalty’s Lies, I share this 2:22 scene from Shattered Glass as a model of self-deception — how a reporter allows her friendship to severely cloud her judgment. What’s especially educational is the turnaround time to see what would be obvious to anyone without a personal stake in it.
She repeatedly digs in to find a way to absolve her friend, but she can’t escape the envelope of arguments that cut off every avenue of evasion:
Chuck Lane: This wasn’t an isolated incident, Caitlin. He cooked a dozen of them, maybe more.
Caitlin Avey: No, the only one was Hack Heaven. He told me that himself.
Chuck Lane: If he were a stranger to you, if he was a guy you were doing a piece about, pretend that guy told you he’d only did it once. Would you take his word for it? Of course not! You’d dig and you’d bury him! And you’d be offended if anybody told you not to.
If only we could calculate the astronomical amount of waste we produce in our steadfast refusal to open our eyes as she did. No need to see the next scene — as the excellence in her acting shows that intellectual honesty has overcome her.
As the swivel door swings a breeze her way, and she looks around to wonder — she is well on her way to the truth.
It seems we have all the time in the world to promote the false — but not a second to spare for the truth. “A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on” — a quote that’s been around in various forms for over 300 years (evidently the original being from 1710):
Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it; so that when Men come to be undeceiv’d, it is too late; the Jest is over, and the Tale has had its Effect . . .
The road to reality is blocked by detours designed to keep you going in circles
Purveyors of poppycock reroute you with narratives that avoid detail like the plague. The way out is to start with something small — an inconsistency or two that’s narrow in scope — and take the trail where it leads.
I can think of no finer example than 12 Angry Men. This 32-second modified montage captures the core of the story — and then some:
Henry Fonda’s character stood alone in his quest to examine the evidence before prematurely coming to a conclusion. He doesn’t get any traction early on — but sticking that duplicate knife into the table worked wonders — opening the door for the el-tracks inquiry:
Let’s take two pieces of testimony and try to put them together . . .
It’s astounding how the mind can pull off psychological gymnastics that allow us to believe what we say without any sense of accounting for it. On that “2×4” topic I alluded to above (which is what the bulk of what my documentary’s about) — it’s part of a case that involves 3 primary areas of evidence.
How far we’ve fallen in a country that put men on the moon
Slinging snippets of certitude has become America’s pastime, which is how Defenders of the Indefensible invariably ignore #2 and #3 and distort the hell out of #1:
That they even think that something so complex and convoluted could be explained away so easily — is a monumental problem all by itself . . .
A society that incessantly surrenders its intellect in service of ulterior motives is doomed to fail. The “Easy As” program is not just how that issue was addressed, it’s how every issue is now addressed.
Questions do not compute in the Gutter Games of Government
My career may never recover but my integrity has — and I’ll take that any day over the systematic self-delusion that America now celebrates as a form of freedom.
Putting aside Bill Cosby’s fall from grace — he was a universal icon for goodness growing up. In just this 5-second scene from Picture Pages — a parallel can be drawn to everything I advocate on all my sites:
The.Deal.Is.That.We.Connect.These.Dots . . . You see
There’s a mutual responsibility in communication — and that “deal” is to hold up your end of the bargain (and it’s in your interests to do so). After all, you want others to consider your concerns — so shouldn’t you do the same in return?
Wouldn’t some good ol’ give-and-take be refreshing for a change?
Wouldn’t it be cool if we sharpened each other’s minds instead of dulling them?
We have all but eradicated reason in our perennial pursuit of ideologies — warfare waged with “opinions lightly adopted but firmly held . . . forged from a combination of ignorance, dishonesty, and fashion” (borrowing from Theodore Dalrymple’s Life at the Bottom).
Speaking of trench warfare, in the slightly summarized passage below — Russ Hoyle is referring to Barbara Tuchman’s The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam:
True folly, Tuchman found, is generally recognized as counterproductive in its own time, and not merely in hindsight. In Tuchman’s template, true folly only ensues when a clear alternative path of action was available and ruled out.
Tuchman also stipulated that real folly was most often the product of a group within an organized government. Tuchman alighted on a root cause of folly that she called “wooden-headedness” — defined in part as “assessing a situation in terms of preconceived fixed notions while ignoring or rejecting contrary information.”
She also saw wooden-headedness as a certain proclivity for “acting according to wish while not allowing oneself to be deflected by facts.” Wooden-headedness, said Tuchman, was finally — “the refusal to benefit from experience.”
“acting according to wish while not allowing oneself to be deflected by facts”
Tuchman could have just as easily been describing America as a whole.
Our 2nd president saw the writing on the wall long ago. In 1805 John Adams wrote the following in a letter to Benjamin Rush, a friend and fellow signer of the Declaration of Independence:
Our electioneering racers have started for the prize. Such a whipping and spurring and huzzaing! Oh what rare sport it will be! Through thick and thin, through mire and dirt, through bogs and fens and sloughs, dashing and splashing and crying out, the devil take the hindmost.
How long will it be possible that honor, truth, or virtue should be respected among a people who are engaged in such a quick and perpetual succession of such profligate collisions and conflicts?
This is what freedom really feels like . . .
It seems like only yesterday
I didn’t have a clue
I stood alone not knowing where to turn
Now suddenly I look around
And everything looks new . . .
They call it understanding
A willingness to grow
I’m finally understanding
There’s so much I could know
Until the day you came along
I used to just get lost
I only heard the things I wanted to hear
It always seemed like no cared
Then you took the time
And now I look and everything seems clear . . .
The Man in Black is the maestro of foot-tappin’ melancholy — whose voice reverberates with the pulse of humanity . . .