Friday, August 01, 2014

Body Language

Appears to be reliable, but also intuitive, but then you get body language experts, watching video tape frame by frame to pick up 'micro-expressions' and then presumably none of this is admissible in court.

Yet it's fascinating, and for me perhaps unintentionally useful. Almost a mindfulness technique. Because you see I was sitting in Stalagmites one night with Shona when she pointed out that we were mirrored and thus getting along and attuned to one another. It is freaky to have it pointed out to you that you have subconsciously adopted each others limb arrangements etc.

Anyway, since then I've been freaking friends out during conversation by noticing we're mirrored. It's been probably two or three years. But it turns out it serves the function of bringing me into the present moment.

And that's useful for me to disrupt activated states, except maybe flirting which I don't want to be too conscious of.

But is it of any use in predictive power? For example if you read Bill Clinton's body language during his public broadcast in which he denied sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky, could you actually say anything at all? Or if you watched the micro-expressions of Angelina Jolie standing next to Brad Pitt at the press tour for 'Mr & Mrs Smith' did you know anything?

Because every (and the only) documentary I watched on body language, has body language experts 'reading' events that we already know how they panned out. I very impressive demonstration on how to retrospectively predict from the past with knowledge of the future.

Like listening to 'analysts' talking over a sporting match. I suspect much of the 'knowledge' actually doesn't and can't come into play in any useful way.

I think thusly body language is best in it's predictive power when left intuitive and imprecise. Which is to say for betting. Presuming certainty in the unknown.

You don't know what Bill Clinton is lying about, you just know he's lying (though probably a poor example because his denial was so specific). You don't know what's going on between Brad and Ange you just know she finds him attractive.

And I was advised and likely agree that you don't need to read up on body language and how to descifer it, because language works because it is understood by the recipient. Don't pay attention to the body language, pay attention to how you feel afterwards.

That said, I don't think knowing that tugging on the ear lobe indicates somebody doesn't like what they are hearing is bad, it can be the kind of thing that alerts you something has triggered you and you've turned hostile in the conversation, the person feels under attack.  

Monday, July 28, 2014

I still don't really know what I'm talking about but I think you should know

I get anxiety. Which is to say, a fear response in the absence of direct stimuli. I've never really been aware of it, but in the past fortnight, I became aware. It's good, it is infinitely more manageable to be aware of something.

I wouldn't identify as an anxious person, if anything I over correct and mute the signal. I'm just less superhuman than I thought, or maybe I have stepped closer to superhumanity. Who knows?

But here's two things, I'd call them distinctions but it may actually just be indicative of how little I understand.

There's a situation I can put myself in that triggers the fight or flight response in my brain. Even just thinking about it or planning for it puts tension into my shoulders and has me reflexively closing my palms. But that situation is one with a clear and predictable pattern where I get injured. Thus to avoid it is quite sensible, and to seek it out a stupid alocation of my precious resources. Consider if you will saying 'I get really anxious entering the bear enclosure' I'm not sure that's "anxiety" as described, because bears will fucking eat your face off and there's very little you can do about it. Thus to be scared in the presence of bears is smart. It's a good priority, an optimal alertness.

To tense up around teddy bears because they remind you of bears is what I think I mean when I say "anxiety" it's not helpful or normal at all. It is sub optimal.

The second thing is, that I've come to appreciate that there's a real difference in the conversation between people who experience anxiety, anxiety attacks and feel nervous about showing up to parties and people who have anxious personality disorders, generalized anxiety, OCD, social phobias etc. I can relate part way but I don't wish to ever trivialise what people go through. I can sympathise. I can't recall what it is to have these conditions or be seriously debilitated by them.

For the most part I just experience stress, that leaves me highly functional and my anxiety has not yet succeeded in preventing me from pursuing anything I actually want or seek out. (though it got pretty close, I am very very fortunate and very very privileged to have resources available to me)

If you suffer from debilitating anxiety, and are reading this blog - you probably have access to more resources and privilege than you know. There's a lot of knowledge freely available, a lot of knowledge cheaply available and there is a lot of care freely available also.

Just ask me how.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

An Adaptable Dialogue

A: So is this internship paid.

B: No this is an unpaid internship.

A: So the work I'd be doing is of no value to you?

B: No we'd be offering you real industry experience at one of the world's leading firms.

A: So I'd be doing real work but not getting paid?

B: Many of our interns go on to secure full time positions at the firm. The firm takes a risk on each new hire, so we want to thoroughly vet our applicants and one of the best ways to rise to the top of the candidate pile is through our internship program.

A: Isn't return proportional to risk? If you are reducing the risk through the intern program you also presumably reduce the return.

B: We increase the return by choosing proven candidates.

A: Unless the best candidates refuse to work for free, and would rather take their chances through other channels. The risk takers so to speak.

B: We have no evidence of that, all our new recruits are proven high performers.

A: Can't you get that from the academic transcripts you request with the application?

B: You can tell a lot from an academic transcript, but there's a gap between academic performance and real world performance.

A: So you don't trust the credentials we are supposed to strive to obtain.

B: They are necessary but not sufficient.

A: Because you can't conclude anything from the transcript?

B: We can draw certain conclusions, but we want to see how somebody copes with the real work.

A: The unpaid real work? You want to hire a bunch of employees that have demonstrated an ability to work hard without any compensation?

B: They are compensated with experience and opportunity.

A: But that would still be true if they were paid. They would have the more valuable experience of being paid for work, and they would have increased opportunities regardless because they would have earnings to show for the time invested.


Monday, July 21, 2014

My Suit is Chafing Me (Part Twix)

This follow up goes all the way back to 9th January, 2006 back when I wore a suit. In direct follow up to the content of that post, over the three years I worked at that place my attire got increasingly casual. Never quite actual casuals, but my slacks went from having creases to not and I virtually wore the same 4-5 polo shirts through rotation. I got pretty casual, and I also got promoted.

My wardrobe contains not even the full complement of items that comprise a suit now. If I had to wear a suit tomorrow I would have to spend a couple of hunges tonight. I solved my own problem and thus never really had to think about the cultural phenom that is 'the suit'.

Here's the thing, one of my jobs carries with it far less prestige than the job I had in 2006. I used to work for one of the world's top 100 brands, I now work for one that might be lucky to scrape into the top 1000, certainly not recognizable to anybody I meet at parties.

But on the upside, I don't have to wear a suit. But above my head, on the next floor up (or 4, I can't remember) a bunch of people do walk around in suits, or more gender neutrally 'professional attire'.

I'm surprised at how much I agree with 2006-me. The problem that professional attire may convince you that you are indeed professional, is still a problem. In fact, why do so many people spend so many years in university learning business and the best they can do is a buy a nice suit at the end of it?

Anyways, part two on suits is this.

There's a lot about life that is essential and unglamorous. Like taking a shit, and it can give rise to other desirable but unglamorous practices - like wiping your arse. Maybe Monica Belluci could pull these off glamorously, but she doesn't need to meet that challenge.

Anyway, shitting is essential, and wiping your arse is quasi essential. As such, they are good businesses to be in. Sewege, toilet paper manufacture, toilet manufacture, plumbing etc.

When was the last time you saw an ad for toilet paper where they compared how much shit two brands picked up from a hairy arse?

I would guess: never.

Because shitting is unglamorous. Even when you belong to a clandestine group of super elites that shit on a young nubile woman under glass at a secret gathering. Nobody wants the reality of the toilet paper associated with the reality of what it's for in the tv spot.

So adds use proxy's about softness, cuddliness, pleasant scents etc. to dissociate from the shit that makes the product so desirable.

dissociation!

That's my current problem with suits. Not just that they are seen as a proxy for professionalism. Professional attire is a class issue as well. It's a way to dissociate from the unpleasant and unglamorous realities of our businesses.

I work in a call center. At a bbq, standing with a Doctor, a Lawyer and Philosophy Doctrate, I rank lower even than the Philosophy Doctor. But why? Just a short elavator ride up and I am a 'Market Researcher' or perhaps even a 'Researcher'. I wear a suit and interpret numbers. And I know where those numbers come from.

They come from a bunch of kids and former drug addicts and musicians and visual artists calling up people at home and reading garbled technically stated sentences to people who speak english.

But suits allow them to believe they are intellectual and professional. Segregated Christmas parties allow them to believe they are not in the business that they are in. And it all leaves them vulnerable, not just unglamorous market research, but lawyers that represent drug dealers and motorcycle gangs, sales 'executives', art gallery curators etc. pretty much anywhere you have a 'head office'

You think the McDonald's executives in Atlanta or wherever wear visors, hair nets and coloured uniforms? No. They wear shirts. Ties. Leather shoes.

And it creates a disconnect that I feel is the private escapist dream of almost everyone who doesn't care about the work they do. They just want to get as far away from how they make money as they possibly can so that their salary becomes a lottery ticket. Perhaps. Perhaps they just need their life to be full of trappings to convince them they are necessary and important when they feel deeply within themselves that they are neither of these things.

I don't know. But suits still chafe me.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Predictable

relatively speaking, I've spent a lot of time in psycho therapy. I recommend it. It's much more fun than going to the doctors. Relatively speaking also, I make no secret of it. I'm very conspicuous about it all. Largely because I feel it's a practice that needs destigmatising. So I opt for loud and proud.

Anyway, a large part of what I discuss in therapy is how I manage to stay single so successfully. It's actually quite a puzzle for me. But one of the things I used to insist on, indeed was stuck on for a long time was that I was only interested in girls that were 'unpredictably unpredictable'

I meant it in the dimension of speech, conversation. I lose interest pretty quickly if I feel I can predict what the next person will say.

Anyways, I was jogging the other day, and reminiscing on how I'd lost interest in this girl once she 'became predictable' and then naturally turned to a nostalgic reminiscence about my ex, one of the the fine ladies I identified as unpredictably-unpredictable.

Thing is, due to geographical constraints, my ex and I don't converse much anymore in rapid fire conversation. It's virtually all written now.

But I stumbled, because I was also salient of mirroring, that is how strongly you mirror and imitate people that you like. And I always used to pride myself on my impersonations of my ex. Even though the person I performed the most impersonations for, was my ex.

And even when I write to her, I find myself effortlessly adopting her particular syntax. I literally speak her language, rather than how I speak myself.

Thus clearly, my ex was entirely predictable. But delightful. Otherwise my mind couldn't have so easily picked up her modus operandi.

So I've changed, or rather haven't... what I'm looking for is not the unpredictably unpredictable, it's the predictably delightful. I'm after people I predictably enjoy talking to.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

"Here is something you can't understand: How I could just kill a man"

I'm not sure how often I put a post title in quotations, but I did so today because I wanted to make clear that I have actually never killed anybody, and don't plan to.

Yet despite a complete absence of first hand experience, I can identify with this violent act. Something not worth denying when my first solo exhibition consisted of a series of 70 homicides, and my last piece in my last exhibition was Hercules killing Antaeus, the Libyan Giant.

Chances are so do you, given the likelihood of you playing video games, having watched action movies, crime dramas and you probably watch 'Game of Thrones' if you are a member of the average anglosphere populace.

Perhaps though, and I don't know what I'm talking about, I don't shy away from that identification. I'm not in denial.

Now the title may be some Cypress Hill lyrics, but I don't particularly identify with lyrics like:

"Didn't have to blast him 
but I didAnnotate
 any wayHa ha ha! Young punk had to pay.."

It's more like the Sublime lyrics:

"Fuckin' and fightin', it's all the same."

and I guess I hold the view that homicide is an intimate act, fundamentally different from love making, but still incredibly intimate. I recall my high school house teacher pointing out that sex can be both the most supremely intimate act and the most vile weapon of war. That versatility has been long known, and I would guess by analogy it would explain why I can be anti-capital punishment yet pro-euthanasia and abortion.

And a question has to be asked as to why the most thumbed, most dog-earred, most re-read book in my whole collection is a book by a man who fought some 60 bouts of mortal combat with an allegedly undefeated record. What person, who killed their first opponent at the age of 13 would be able to publish a book today?

Both Musashi Miyamoto and Sekishusai Yagyu, and some others achieved a status of Kensei, and this is where my mind has to do acrobatics. Kensei = sword saint, or perhaps more meaningfully 'invincible' which is to say the expectation for any duel against these men was that you would lose, not just that they were undefeated but that society (and the men themselves) carried the expectation that they were undefeatable.

Sekishusai is a relatively more speculative subject because we only have the text written by his descendant Muneyori, but I propose that both men engaged in combat from a vantage point where they could feel safe. Which isn't to say they callously and recklessly assumed they couldn't be hurt. But that whether or not they got hurt was fundamentally in their control. Musashi had his middle gaurd, the Yagyu's their 'margin of safety' both men put an emphasis on seeing the situation for what it is. To see through their opponents sword.

Seeing gives way to choice, if you can see the situation for what it is, you can choose how to approach it. Systems are controlled by the component with the most choices. These invincible swordsmen achieved a very powerful, very intimate life-hack.

Consider the Werribee Zoo, I've never been out on one of the trucks but it's a safari style zoo here in Victoria, Australia. What I have seen is the cheetah enclosure. It's essentially an aquarium but instead of water there's oxygen and instead of fish their are cheetahs. If you are lucky enough to be there with a member of society under knee height, the cheetahs will get very close to the glass.

It's so beautiful and exciting and thrilling to be so up close to these animals, yet completely safe.

I project, that this feeling is similar in nature to mastering martial combat. Just diluted. Effectively Musashi and Sekishusai stood behind impenetrable glass, up close to this lethal potential. But the glass was their skill, their vision, and they were able to take in this intimate thing of beauty. To simultaneously feel safe, yet exhilarated.

The 'real thing' we try to capture playing video games or watching violent movies. Where the director or game designer has to go to so much extraneous effort to make us identify with some avatar to bring us into the action.

I identify with it because I can trust it. As I was saying to an old teacher earlier in the week, you can get so much business wisdom from the military because the military has to believe what works.

The same has to go for Musashi Miyamoto or Sekishusai Yagyu.

From there, you can simply remove the lethal context, and apply the principles to much more benign situations where shit is at risk - eg reputation, employment, relationships, friendships etc. 

On Anger

I gotta stop foreshadowing what I'll write about in the future. I often lose interest pretty quickly in what preoccupied my mind the day before.

It is actually pretty rare for me get angry, at least to the point where I lose my calm. Not my cool, but literally my calm. As in so angry that it gives me energy.

What surprises me about myself, is how quickly my anger turns to excitement. I have real blood lust. People can piss me off, but it's relatively rare for that person to piss me off in a manner that makes me feel they've earned my anger. That it can be directed at them.

Obviously, a lot of stuff that angers me (and I presume anybody) is done unwittingly, without malicious intent, just sheer thoughtlessness. In those situations, empathy kicks in rather than anger. If I can empathise and understand why somebody's pushing my buttons I lose my anger.

George Orwell's sentiment on revenge 'The whole idea of revenge and punishment is a childish day-dream. Properly speaking, there is no such thing as revenge. Revenge is an act which you want to commit when you are powerless and because you are powerless: as soon as the sense of impotence is removed, the desire evaporates also.'

Okay maybe not the same, but as soon as I realise a person intended no harm, nor was it an act of hmmm... self preservation(?) which is to say, when a person harms me to protect themselves, largely through thinking of themselves and not me. And I should say I can get angry on behalf of other people too.

But if neither of these criteria are met, my anger typically evaporates. If they do, if my mind either consciously or unconsciously recognises an act of malice or selfishness, that person becomes a legitimate candidate for whatever action I would take, push back I guess.

At that point, my anger transforms into excitement. I get really excited. Like a kid on christmas eve type excited.

It scares me, but it's the emotion I feel. I try to cognitively compensate, but nothing causes that excitement to abate. I really enjoy the ideation of destroying somebody, of coming after them, I enjoy the fantasy.

I can even lose track of the actual costs of what made me angry, I find myself glad for the opportunity to attack.

That's my confession.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

On Wealth

Success compounds as does failure. In folksy speech you have an example being 'the rich get richer'.

This week I was given a moment to reflect upon my own understanding of this.

I think one thing I am good at is contingency planning. When confronted with any task, I almost reflexively create a checklist of what to do when things go wrong. I tend to always problem trouble shoot before I problem solve.

There is a tendency that I share with almost everyone though which is to look to what other people could do to make your life easier. I tend to then get critical of others in the situation.

As an exception to the 'two wrongs don't make a right rule' for reasons I won't disclose I was put in mind of two things, that have to do with wealth and how the rich get richer.

The first regarded a recruiting practice. I saw it on some talk video on line, a guy was talking about how call centers typically use people like light bulbs, they have high turnover rates employing people who need the money until they basically can't take the working conditions or work anymore. Then when they quit you just replace them. In the anglosphere at least, that describes most call centers - you generally have somewhere between a constant stream or trickle of people (depending on scale of operations) leaving the company and being recruited.

My mind is really excitable around business and I'm tempted to go into all the nuances of call center operation, but I'll skip to the speaker's sighted counterpoint to 'usual practice' or treating employees like light bulbs.

He found a call center that recruited people, trained them up and at the end of training said 'okay you have the job, OR you can take $2000 from us and never come back.' - literally paying people to leave. Because they had actually calculated that any employee that didn't actually want the job would cost them more in the long run than $2000 up front.

They did other stuff which was good, but here you have a company that is going to turn a profit. And it is a short hop step and jump from this seemingly out there practice to another - severance packages.

It effectively is a severance package, but for a casual job, which I think makes it brilliant.

But for a few days I actually thought about severance packages as distinct without making the connection with the above example.

But basically, one advantage large profitable companies have is that they can fire any employee at any time they deem necessary. Because they can afford to pay that employee out.

Basically if you are a small, poor, company struggling to turn a profit - say a small and young NGO. You have only 3 staff on salary. Then it turns out the crucial manager is incompetent, a real peanut, who is making bad decisions that are sending the organisation backward and inspiring your good staff and volunteers to give up and leave.

Seems like you should be able to pull the trigger on the situation pretty quickly. Except there are laws in place to protect employees from employers. In Australia, generally you need to provide three formal warnings before you move to dismissal and even then can get tied up in legal proceedings to prove the employee was fairly dismissed.

So our small, young, poor company faces a choice between a slow death by incompetence and hoping they can actually find rock solid grounds to fire the manager, or instant destruction by firing them on the spot and then having to face the financial consequences.

By comparison, wealthy companies can effectively settle. They enter a new contract with the incompetent manager, basically paying them to leave the company and not cause trouble. They don't need to go through months of formal warnings and documentation to prepare for a smooth firing. They just pull the trigger and pay them off, saving the cost of the legal battle. They don't have to worry about whether the dismissal was fair or not - that is the luxury they have.

Why this makes the rich richer is testimony to why recruiting is the single most important strategic decision a company makes.

The wrong candidate getting the job can do so much damage to a business I literally don't have time to extrapolate. They are so costly, that the quicker you can correct the mistake the better your bottom line.

...

So it was while I was thinking about these two, that I first managed to connect the two - these are the decisions wealthy people make. But secondly, I gained an appreciation for what wealth is.

Look at both circumstances, and consider the concept of 'fairness', you will find many sympathetic ears if you want to talk about the injustice of companies paying $13,000,000 to a CEO for being bad at their job. Why can't they just fire his pompous ass? Why pay him more than he would earn in a year? two years? five years? ten years?

It's an intuitive emotional response grounded in our value of fairness and justice. It looks like people getting rewarded for being bad at their jobs.

Same same to that call center, why should they fork out $2000 to people who have eaten up time and resources in training but don't actually want the job, and haven't done a single piece of productive work for the company yet?

It's like paying a bonus to the lowest performers in front of the high performers faces.

But they are both solid and sound business decisions. Beautiful in fact.

And this is wealth. Being able to afford to make problems go away.

Without which, there is really no point to having wealth. And I am wealthy, though my bank balances would probably not impress anybody as to that effect.

But basically, I have a problem right now, that I can simply pay to go away. And that's as bad as it gets. What was a helpful revelation to me, was that I thought that I didn't want to do that, because I was having an emotional response to the unfairness of it. Why should I have to spend money I earned to compensate for somebody else's incompetence?

The answer is: to make a problem I don't like dealing with, don't want to deal with, and have to deal with at the expense of shit I would much rather spend my time doing - go away.

It's one of those counter intuitive decisions I have the opportunity to leap.

So that's the emotion of fairness dealt with and the silver lining of a bad situation. Next I will talk about the revelations I've had regarding anger.