Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Bad Habits: The Excuses

So I'm reading this book 'What Got You Here Won't Get You There' currently and its about how often the very behaviours that have made us a 'success' only bring us thus far. You hit a certain level where your talents/technical know how has brought you as far up the food chain as it can and to move on it becomes about interpersonal issues or relationships.

As someone who has pretty much cruised through life based on talent alone (I was in bed by 9pm every night of year 12, and only did more than an hour of homework a day if I had the day off school, and generally if those days off occured in August-October) the book is relevant to me, even if I'm not sitting in a corner office wondering why the board passed me over for CEO just yet.

The author talks about methods by which to gather feedback, one being asking people directly (which I did), voluntary and involuntary feedback, looking homewards etc. One more was 'observation' which is basically becoming conscious of other peoples reactions.

I actually have a fair idea of which of the 20 bad habits I'm guilty of, because I do observe and recieve 'involuntary' (or unpremeditated) feedback for them.

The 20 bad habits as identified in the book by the way are:

1. Winning too much (as in an obsessive need to win in all situations)
2. Adding too much value (as in critiqueing and commenting on every offering)
3. Passing Judgement
4. Making destructive comments
5. Starting with 'no' 'but' or 'however'
6. Telling the world how smart we are
7. Speaking when angry.
8. Negativity (or 'let me explain why this wont work')
9. Withholding Information.
10. Failing to give proper recognition.
11. Claiming credit we don't deserve.
12. Making Excuses
13. Clinging to the past
14. Playing Favorites
15. Refusing to express regret.
16. Not Listening
17. Failing to express gratitude.
18. Punishing the messenger.
19. Passing the buck.
20. An excessive need to be 'me'

Fittingly it ends with 'An excessive need to be "me"' and that is what I'll redress in this post.

I do believe the 'quantum leap' of management, that is where you go from a self interested employee to a manager of employees lies in the revelation that other people think differently to yourself. No matter who you are.

Thus I'm a big fan of behavioural profiles like DiSC, Myers-Briggs, and the one I know well that I guess would be called 'DEAA' (for Driver Expressive Analytical Amiable). They are all based on Myers-Briggs. It's just DiSC and DEAA are the simplest to use.

That said, there is the leap beyond realising for example that you are ENTF and you have an ISTP working for you. Or that you are a Driver working in a company largely populated by Conscientious and under an Influencer boos. Which is to say, there is realising that you are different from other people, and then there is adjusting yourself to the known differences. Which is harder to do.

So 'An excessive need to be me' is understanding that by being a Driver you are prone to going by your own opinion (or gut) and caring about the task at hand rather than the people involved, and employing them as excuses. Rather than say realising that actually being conscientious and seeking other peoples input on big decisions will produce a better outcome. Or that if you reduce turnover by treating your staff like human beings rather than serfs you will increase the companies bottom line.

Traditionally, everything I have learned about myself I have employed as an excuse. For example:

In Ballarat, my social circle consisted of disrespecting eachother. That is ribbing eachother, coming up with offensive nicknames, making insunuations about sleeping with others mums... that sort of thing. Amazingly I'm quite comfortable in this environment, I'm not comfortable in one where everyone is supposed to be complementary, polite and sensitive to other people. So I apply this standard to my interpersonal relationships elsewhere, it thus isn't my problem if I'm offensive. This is called 'being hilarious' and that I cause offense in others is really their problem. If they can't take a ribbing, they don't make the grade as a friend.
Pretty empowering excuse, but there are no excuses. What do I gain by the behaviour? A 'pure' crop of friends. If I can 'get away' with being 'hilariously' offensive to people, what do I get away with?
In many ways its a tragic situation, where what I 'get away with' is being the Alpha in a situation, it means I've created a situation where the offended party feels defenseless and has no choice but to suck it up. A toxic environment, even by my own ideal, as what I'm looking for is for myself to be challenged in turn.
It is the exact same logic as 'getting away' with shoplifting. You got away with a candybar but will never be welcome in the store again once the clerk catches onto you. So please if you catch me employing the excuse stop me.

Furthermore behaviours like just plain not listening or lack of gratitude I put down to something as simple as 'being shy' I'm incredibly nervous about introducing myself to people. I hate starting conversations because I feel I'm intruding etc. I'm petrified of sounding disengenuous. So I don't engage people, I don't ask questions etc. When I stumbled on the term 'introvert' it allowed me to take shyness to a whole new level. Don't you understand me? I can't enjoy making new friends because I find socialising exhausting! These are excuses. I can envy somebody who is an extrovert, because they are energised by meeting new people, going to parties etc. Stuff I really drag my feet over. But hard is not impossible, and the rewards are there for the effort. The excuse doesn't work. Once again, if you catch me playing the 'introvert card' please stop me.

Perhaps my biggest excuse, one I've only recently been made aware of (literally by reading it in the book) is my inability to listen. I had one clue, of course from my mentor Rod, which helped. It was that listening involves asking questions. Simple as that, and it helped a lot. (Though probably most still don't notice). I have only recently learned that listening isn't really about gathering information, its also about how you make somebody else feel.
My school-days trick was my ability to play a computer game (Skyroads) on my laptop, or talk to my friend next to me in a VCE class and when challanged repeat back verbatim what the teacher had just said. I thought this proved that I was listening, the teacher just couldn't recognise that I was particularly brilliant at it and thus could multitask. Later since out of school you don't really get challenged on listening, it evolved into my own understanding that I listened through 'observing' or rather I indirectly listen to people. If somebody made a comment, rather than ask them about it, I'd just go read up on whatever the topic was in wikipedia, they never saw the effort I went to, so I could understand why people felt I didn't pay attention to them, but this was a tragedy of their lack of understanding how much I cared as I was cursed with introversion and an aversion to actual human interaction.
pretty sophisticated excuse to not listen, to not engage, to not pay attention. And really for me, it only unravelled to have listening explained in interpersonal relationhip terms, not technical terms.
Which is to say, for my teacher it didn't matter that I could repeat word for word what they said, listening constituted simply focusing, paying attention and most importantly being respectful. The damage wasn't to my knowledge per se, but to the effect I had on their esteem and self worth. My mind however as a VCE student wasn't sophisticated enough to think on these near karmic terms. Tragically infact VCE remains dedicated to reinforcing the notion that technical know-how is what will carry you through life, and that abstract mathematics is more helpful than advice on dealing with the opposite sex. Which in turn is an excuse.
There are no excuses and I can no longer employ 'my style of listening' as an excuse for not listening. As the book points out, when I'm on a first date or talking to a boss or tutoring Zaman, my listening skills are exemplary, because I actually care enough to make those people feel important to me. But I can choose to treat everyone that way.

What underpins excuses, is that all behaviour is a choice. Sure we have preferences, each of us. Many will go through life never even coming up with decent excuses, because they just can't comprehend that people think differently to themselves and that their values aren't universal.
Also to an extent, understanding the excuses you make for yourself can be helpful, I have one positive example:

When I was a child, my mother Janice, was one of those mums that buys treats for her kids but not for herself (for appearances sake). Thus whenever she bought us an icecream, she would collectively take 'just a bite' from all our icecreams. The bite itself was actually so unpleasant and disenchanting it almost eradicated the good will of the icecream. Not only did it vastly diminish the total asset base of icecream, Janice unfortunately has an eating style that equates to 'making love to our icecream with her mouth' which knowing what we know now is probably more graphic than is fair. Really we just had confronting traces of her two front teeth scraped through the icecream and lipstick marks on the vanilla surface.
My brother years later caused the penny to drop when his best friend pointed out that the only way he shared food was when he could control the portion size. If you asked for some of his chips he stabbed the alloted number with his fork and transferred them to your plate. If you wanted to try some of the chicken parma he would slice off a section for you to take. I had the exact same behaviour.
We thus had the breakthrough that it was a mother-issue.
Once I understood this and convinced myself that not everyone in the world would violate my food like Janice did(does), I was able to be more trusting and share food with my fellow man. Misaki and I often would just eat off the same communal plate. Their was no need to portion out the chicken before serving it on the table etc.

So any behaviour is a choice, even one seeded as early as infancy. That said, a great excuse is worthless. I've worked now with clients that collect them as if they are gold. My father says 'Success = Failure minus a Good Excuse' and claims it is a mathematical proof. Which it is. Excuses in other words only result in failure.

The exist for one purpose and one purpose only, that is to stave off punishment. To make failure palitable. They are not entirely irrelevant, as if you show up 40 minutes late for your own wedding people will probably want to hear your excuse. You can't just intellectualise such interpersonal transactions by saying 'look there is no excuse, what matters is that I was wrong and I'm sorry' (which actually sounds pretty good, but is not reassuring that you hadn't overslept after a debaucherous night with a prostitute).

As 'What Got You Here Won't Get You There' points out, nobody has ever recieved a letter saying 'Man I thought you were a Jerk until you won me over with those great excuses' or 'I thought you should be overlooked as CEO given your dismal performance, until I heard your excuses, they completely turned me around!'

If people want excuses, it is for forward planning. That is to eliminate that excuse from your repertoir. If I was 40 minutes late because I needed to fill up the tank, you're going to remind me ahead of schedule to fill up the tank next time. If I'm 40 minutes late again, I don't have that excuse.

Excuses don't serve us well, and even 'dodging a bullet' serves us poorly, as punishment is usually negative reinforcement which we deny ourselves. 'Seeking success is not the avoidence of failure' the pity is the world is lacking in hardliners to stop excuses from holding us back.

I remember reading 'How To Become CEO' when I was in highschool, and I still remember the lesson in reinforcements entitled 'Earthquakes don't count' which was an anecdote about a salescompany that set quarterly targets for its various divisions across America. The night before one deadline the California office which was on track to achieve its target was hit by an earthquake, dropping its phonelines and preventing them from meeting the target. The division manager made the argument that 'if not for the Earthquake, we would have made the target, therefore our people should get the bonus' to which the CEO replied 'Earthquakes don't count' as the reality for the company was that they didn't have the performance agreed to for the bonuses to be paid. That division subsequently set about making sure it made the target with days to spare from then on. Or so the anecdote goes.

In my experience people are rarely so company minded as to accept such a decision, and I would expect high turnover. But the manager I imagine would learn from the experience. The point of it all being, that excuses don't work on the bottom line. They have no real value. I intend to stop employing mine.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

GQ Get it Wrong

Obama a leader? Ben Bernanke our Saviour? The Hangover Guys funny?

I may be old, but it seems not old enough yet to get GQ. I mean I agree that Clint Eastwood is a manly icon. But the suggestion that Ben Bernanke has been preparing his whole life for the GFC was ludicrous. Ben Bernanke may be a saviour, but it is of the system that generates catastrophes like the GFC.

Physicists may have spent the better part of a century arguing that light was a particle or a wave (since it behaves in part like both) and may have no idea how Gravity actually works, but you'll notice they never seem to get spectacularly caught out by the whole system of physics collapsing.

There has been no 'Global Falling Up Crisis' though one may argue that there is debate about Climate Change - but the thing is that 95% of climate change scientists are arguing 'Climate Change is Real' and the other 5% are arguing 'I'm not sure'. Perhaps a better illustration is the Cern Large Hadron Collider, of which many a newspaper were quite willing to give airplay to sensationalist claims that the LHC would bring about the end of the world.

In the same month the LHC was tested, the entire world financial system collapsed into a credit crunch. Yet remarkably few media commentators are still willing to give airplay to the notion that mainstream economists have no fucking idea what they are talking about.

Economics is a science, or supposed to be, thus any 'theories' it has should be testable, empirically testable, peer reviewable and should conform to observation. For example, that 'debt is rational and therefore irrelevant' is a theory that fails observation. People have proved time and time again their willingness to go into debt to buy something at a price far greater than its intrinsic worth.

Neoclassical economics says (and I paraphrase) 'People are rational profit maximisers. Interest rates indicate confidence. If the interest rate is high (10%) then only somebody with great confidence would rationally take on the loan. Thus you can assume as lender that the borrower has a rational expectation that they will make at least a 10.01% return on their investment. Likewise the reverse is also true, if a bank lends at a high level of confidence (3%) then the bank is confident in your ability to repay the loan.' and so fourth, which seems neat and tidy, because its basically saying there's a confidence equilibrium that makes debt rational and thus we can be confident enough in debt to ignore it.

But an economist like Michael Hudson would point out that 'A house is worth as much as a bank is willing to lend' something a bank does so that they can consume the entire intrinsic value a house (and land) produces. That is to say, they can eat all the rent via interest, and probably get their hand into your wages as well. Which causes somebody like Peter Schiff to say 'people don't "own" houses, they rent them from the banks'. Donald Trump a non economist says 'A man is worth as much as he can borrow' which means for Donald Trump that he is basically as wealthy as the banks allow him to be. The wondrous question is why they continue to allow him to be so.

Ben Bernanke subscribes to a bunch of theories that have been disproven by empirical observation. Like for example his decision to give US Congress's bailout money to the banks, based on the neoclassical expectation that if you give $1 to a consumer they use it to pay down debt (giving you $1 for $1) whereas if you give it to a bank they will use it to loan more money (giving you in the US's case $47 for $1) thus to increase the money supply and stimulate the economy the US gave a couple of trillion to the US banks, and they... sat on it, not increasing the cash supply or flow of money at all.

Empirically they could have observed that banks follow consumers, consumers don't follow banks. In other words, the Federal Reserve got it backwards. You can get the specifics here.

But the other thing I don't have my head around, is that if interest rates represent confidence, why then the 'Greenspan Punt' which Ben Bernanke is a devotee of. That is in times of recession, lower the interest rates. Which is to say, in the exact moment you have the least confidence in the market, reserve banks and central banks express greater confidence in consumers to achieve returns.

Instead of saying 'the market is tough out their, we only want to lend money to the extremely self assured, time to run the interest rate up into double digits' which would mean only the businesses that can achieve returns of 10%+ could confidently borrow money, most people would be scared off making the irrational investments in property, or at the very least would be given pause for thought to consider just how an empty house can generate $20,000 a year or more when it does nothing, for anybody at all.

Yes instead they say 'we need to lure in the least confident people in the market to make uninformed investment decisions in our time of need!'

Debt deflation explains phenomena like the GFC and indeed make it predictable, Keynes did much to introduce the concept of short-run profit maximisation vs. long run (which is why people act irrationally compared to their long term interests), Henry George explained the economic cycle as a simple market mechanism (the ability to speculate on land) and so fourth. Yet people who actually observe and prove things about economics scientifically must be prevented from having their findings taught and their disciples having any input on the economy.

Why? I don't believe in the wealthy banker conspiracy. I think it is just politicised, and by that I mean that moral conduct has no universal application, and by that I mean the system lacks anarchy, a colonial mentality that persists today. One that says 'people on this side of the line are our team, we should look after them. Over on that side of the line, we don't have to worry about them, they aren't on the team and if we can increase our teams welfare at their expense all the better.' which was British Colonialism.

Gordon Brown attempted on Ted to reconcile 'National Interests' or patriotism with 'Global Agendas' like climate change. We must presume he failed. I didn't watch his talk because I can't imagine Gordon Brown being the person to listen to on the subject.

Anyway, I guess the moral of the story is. Don't get your economic advice from GQ.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Things I Hate About Bicycles

What Atheism and Bicycles have in Common:

Is that they are things that if you employ them at all in your identity you really are identifying with something that needs identifying simply because it isn't the status quo. Or in effective words - you have a special name for not believing in something, when it really should be irrelevant/taken for granted that you simply don't do something - specifically believe in a personal God.
Just as nobody calls themselves a theist, nobody calls themselves 'drivests' just as Harvard points out, people who don't own a blackberry or iPhone don't refer to their phone as a 'Samsung', eg. let me just answer my Samsung.
So it's annoying that cycling is something so left of center that people need to proclaim that they are a cyclist, which will excuse them presumably from all sorts of stuff you would expect of somebody who drives a Camry.
Cycling is fetishised...which leads to -

Of Course Brunswick St is filled with Fixed Gears:

I had an inarticulate thought epiphany today when whilst browsing for something for my sister for Xmas, I walked past a guy thoughtfully photographing a fixed gear in a shop window.
Turning my head through about 47 degrees I chanced upon more fixed gears locked up along the street. And all I could think of was 'Of course'.
I was thinking, really that I should be grateful, these douchebags and dickwads and frappots were douchebags, dickwads and frappots before they bought themselves a fixed gear, but now they have one and are easily identified.
Like going on a blind date and your date looks stunning, but really they would be doing you a bigger favour if the wore a frumpy shirt that said 'Jesus is my best friend' so you knew exactly where they stood and exactly how your relationship is going to fall apart.
I think my problem with fixed gears, why they bring out the worst in me, is just another expression of fashion in general. They are fetishes, fashion items, trends. They are not BMXs or Skateboards, why? because with fixed gears there are no posers, or perhaps there are only posers. They are like the scooter in that they require little to no skill to ride and do tricks, but have the advantage of being customisable that you may 'express yourself'.
So really they are just a fashion item.
What bothers me, is that here is what I know, and now, we know - fixed gears were once known as trackbikes, useful for riding around and around a velodram (the apocriphal 'track') because they only had one gear option, no derailer and really only ever got coverage in any form of media during the olympic games.
For reasons unknown, but probably due to the low maintenence of track bikes, they became popular with bike messengers who plied their trade in NYC, San Francisco etc. a profession that dates back almost as far as unemployment itself, and took off with the invention of the 'quarter life crisis'.
At some point in the 2000's a New York kid started riding a track bike instead of one of the more pragmatic and popular models who was not a messenger. That kid is whatever 'cool' is or we hope it to be. Then with NYC gentrifying new kids moved to Williamsburg, created a scene (now well documented) and en masse adopted fixed gear bicycles. Whether the cool hunters came next or later on doesn't matter, fact is fixed gears spread cross the state, and then 'organic' cool hunters, such as Japanese independant fashion designers noticed kids doing it when they went to New York to figure out new 'ideas' (presumably not their own) and then took it back to Japan where a new trend can actually achieve 100% market penetration, and ironically New York culture co-opted by Japan has a unique feedback effect, where US people feel validated by Japans imitation, and may even take their cognitive dissonance so far as to think it is cool because Japanese people are doing it.
Anyway, point is 2-3 years ago you could pick up a Japanese fashion mags, and the thumbnails of models wearing outfit after outfit would dutifully be standing beside some customized fixed gear bicycle.
Which tells you its prime functionality - as a fashion accessory.
Then or before I don't know and don't care 'inorganic' cool hunters came along, people who don't even pretend they are innocently looking for inspiration, but instead bandy around terms like 'cultural profiling' and 'opinion leaders' etc. People like Nike with skate shoes, who practically invented 'sneakerheads' by bombarding the market with 'limited edition' skate shoes, that really are what people were collecting before they were saved by fixed gears.
Of course being saved from sneakers by fixed gears is like quitting smoking by taking up drinking. The same amount of obligatory accessories and what not come with. I just suspect fixed gears aren't the profit machines limited edition shoes were. Since you could get someone from buying 1-2 pairs of sneakers a year, to 11 and they only wore one.
But I'm getting sidetracked, fixed gears and bikes are fetishised, and people inevitably come to the totem to pray that I hate about bikes...

The People that Ride them:

Are just people, except for the fixed gear.
Marketing 101, you can divide people into two groups. One big group, one small group. The small group is 'self referential' and the big group is 'group referential'. In marketing we call the small group 'opinion leaders' and the large group 'target market'. All the sexy jobs in marketing consist of the banal and laborious process of picking up the 'opinion leaders' opinion and delivering it to the 'target market'.
Here's how to diagnose if you are an opinion leader - you turn up to school wearing the same cut of jeans you wore all last year (because its the same pair). Your friends are all in this seasons cut. They ridicule you, Do you respond:

A) OMG! I could die! (to self: Please wake up, please wake up, please wake up)
B) Yeah so what? I like my jeans like this.

Some tonality is missed, for example if you read B in an overly defensive tone, the point will be missed which is why you should never diagnose yourself via the internet.
What annoys me about bikes, is that the 'target market' is something I have never understood. I'm not saying I'm ahead of the fashion curve, but fact is opinion leaders have to be trend setters, because you can't set a trend when everybody else is already doing it (otherwise I set the trend of eating, sleeping and showering this week). Which means you need an opinion leader somewhere, then amplify the message by getting your 'target market' to accept and adopt their opinion.
There used to be trend setters in every town, prior to the internet and the ability to pick up 'underground' fashion magazines in just about every newsagent and bookstore everywhere.
It used to be that some local opinion leader would sort this shit out for everybody in town. Now its possible to ampliphy the opinion of somebody in Williamsburg NYC out to the entire world.
As I've said, I've never understood the compulsion people have to put on a uniform. Nor do I really understand why, no matter how popular something is, every season it is possible for someone like me to buy clothes that are unfashionable and that nobody else seems to be wearing.
But I hate these people picking up bikes, fetishising bikes and becoming 'bike advocates' when really, their behaviour (specifically buying an impractical, unversatile track bike and painting it a funny colour and then chopping the handlebars in some way and then putting on purple, pink or blue ones) just says 'I do what I am told'.
These are the people that make noise about the road rules and other bullshit whilst not wearing bike helmets, not having brakes and not riding on the right side of the road.
What bicycling as a practical movement needs is the Camry, not the hot-rod. It needs the dirt cheap, 3 colour bike that working stiffs will ride instead of using a car. Utile bicycles that whilst ugly are not embarassing.
This would then relegate the people who currently ride bicycles and call themselves 'cyclists' to their proper automobile equivalent of 'petrol heads' people who customise and personalise their bikes, buy special riding gloves, sleeves, jerseys and shit. Lash out for expensive lubricants and beeswax to stick in the lugs. That polish their bikes in winter and hand scrub their magazine with a new toothbrush.
They are the annoying minority that are unfortunately the annoying majority of the current cycling profession.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Men: the New Women

When I was but a young boy of 16 or so I sprouted and somewhat successfully shaped my first goatee, something I could sport for a grand total of two weeks before the trans-term school holidays finished and some fuckhead would send me home to shave it off and miss the term opening assembly (no great loss).
Of course there was a circle of priveledged few young men that would do the exact same thing each holiday and even though you knew you would be intercepted walking across the yard to your locker and sent to the sickbay to shave or if you were lucky enough to live 500m from school - home, for a shave.
Anyway it was a point of pride, it may not impress the ladies but even the lowly pretty boys would look on at the facial hair sporting juveniles pining for the day that one day they too could have a look that wasn't cringingly calculated to capitulate to assumed demands made by women.
Of course, my school was not Ballarat High School where if one had the means one could sport a full beard from year 8 and the teachers were simply glad you were turning up to school. A school where Bryce could say 'you assume I give a shit' when people asked him what his girlfriend thought of his facial hair.

Whilst not having the basic liberty to grow facial hair if I wanted to, I could still enjoy it in the summer time. What I enjoyed most back in the late 90's about having a goatee was when you walked up or down the street (Ballarat has both directions) there was a clear heirarchy amongst school-boys. When approaching another guy on the footpath hear is how it went, if you are one and they are many you walk around them as they stride through on the footpath. If you were private school and they were public once again you went round UNLESS, if you had massive chops (sideburns) they went around you. If you had a goatee they would factor this in to the sizing up and go around you while averting their eyes politely. If you had a goatee and they a full beard, around you went.
If you were 8 goatees and they but one with a full beard, around you all courteously made your way.

And so it was where I came from. 'Twas neither good nor bad, but thinking makes it so' but if you hadn't experienced it, the it was understandable for girls to feel about as perplexed about mens obsession with facial hair as I do about what is fashionable right now.

I will always have a connection with 'Baxter' a high school peer I considered as my antithesis yet managed to get the exact same ENTER score as me. Her year 12 quote was 'In matters of principle stand like a rock, in matters of fashion swim with the tide.' admittedly my own yearbook quotation is possibly some of my worst work ever. And whilst as fashion has gone I have always lagged about ten years behind, I have finally this summer hit a milestone in my inability to stay bouyant on the tide to a fashion I would actively hate and sabotage.

Yes that was all mere preamble. One knows what is cool is not really cool in any authentic, genuine sense when a business as nauseating as RDX has actually nailed it. (watch with music if you dare).

Roger David put simply is exactly the kind of store my mother would march me into as a child and collude with some retail assistant to try and plead and convince me to accept 'thats how they wear them these days'.

Whilst my own fierce sense of self hasn't always served me well (for example I was far too late to discover big pants) generally it has at least prevented me from being the kind of moron that does what he is told.

If you are doing what your mother and agenda-bearing retail assistants are telling you right now, you (specifically someone who would have in other eras been called a man) are wearing hot pants (wtf?) and white 'vintage' shoes (not in themselves so offensive, but these are no Royal Elastics, or vintage adidas street shoes, but what you would expect hitler youth to wear when they go sailing) and pay actual real money for an elaborate (yet unimpressive) haircut.

I mean its pretty much what Ricky Gervais wears in the play he features in in Extras, (chosen specifically to emphasise his inability to be percieved as a homosexual). South Park has already dealt with the topic of straight men emulating gay culture in the crab people episode, and really I have no issue with men looking Gay, Freddie Mercury was one of facial and chest hairs finest ambassadors and I would encourage every young man to emulate him.

No I take issue with the fact that it just isn't masculine. Where are these boys fathers? I thought Emo was flirting dangerously with eradicating masculinity, but ultimately if you wanted t be emotional, fine. If you wanted to be scrawny, power to you. But now it seems every shred of masculinity is gone, and finally I am in that position where philosophically I am consoled Alain De Botton style against unpopularity.

If I were a school-boy today, I would take the beatings rather than be cool and consider myself getting off lightly. Punishment would be fitting in, and this summer at least is one were 10 years onward I could not excuse myself for my youthful folly.

Really, the 80s saw some pretty horrible kitsch and craptacular fashions and styles, but dignified people working in the banking sector today can look back and forgive themselves 20 years on for the follies of youth. They even regularly reminise with the poor taste parties and 80s night events. Short of 'How I met your mother' nobody reminisces about the 90's because really they were too dignified. You can't really ridicule Doc Martin shoes, flannel shirts or dying your hair black (although it doesn't work for red-heads).

What I'm saying is that perhaps this summers hot-pants for men and white shoes combo may be my absolute tolerable limit. Speaking of taking a beating, what confuses me most is that this isn't a fashion simply dopted by the inevitable highschool kid that hangs out purely with women in highschool and revels in gossip and hates sports. Its like all the guys, and it trips out my objective Alley-discomfort meter. That is I come across the kind of guys that have in years gone by, traditionally worn rugby jumpers or football jerseys and thrown beer bottles out of moving cars at unsuspecting pedestrians, say things like 'all girls are sluts they just don't know it yet' and will generally have some kind of sexual harassment suit to handle at one or two points in their careers.

These are guys that I shouldn't be comfortable approaching in an alley-way, I would generally clock in a 5 or higher. 9 if they are drunk. But when they are wearing hotpants and white shoes and styling their hair in a public mensroom, I feel like I should be mugging them. Sort of the equivalent of Scotsmen wearing full sequined ball gowns instead of kilts. It's down right deceptive and dangerous. Maybe its more like a poisonous tropical fish putting on the scales of a snapper instead of its usual brightly coloured garb.

Things that are dangerous should look dangerous. Heroin addicts should look like heroin addicts. Police should look like police. Adolescent thugs should look like adolescent thugs, not dandies a loser like me feels I should teach a lesson.

Fortunately I have never had anger issues, and know that when I get angry, I'm angry at myself feeling so uninfluencial that I can't persuade, even by example men to retain their masculinity or at least dignity.

Or perhaps this is simply how fashion had to evolve. For us shocking our forebears involved facial peircings, dressing like an angry hobo in order to increase our hostility beyond what was socially acceptable in adult society. But now that that's done how could the next wave of youth rebal against what we had done and now sold out on? Could it be that they needed to reduce their hostility below socially acceptable levels? Is scoring a -10 on the Alley-discomfort meter actually the new way to rebel? I guess its sort of like Tibetan monks who defy Chinese rule by simply soaking up the machine gun fire. Rebellious? Yes. Sympathetic? Yes. Effective? No.

I'm also more aware that an Australian kid simply cannot be fashionable. It's a golden fleece that exists only in mythology. Simply because for a kid to be cool in Australia they only have to be relatively more with it than other Australian kids, but can still be way behind the bell curve of what is fashionable in NYC, Paris, London. Which surprises me, back in the 90's there was an excuse to be behind the bell curve in Ballarat, you had to wait 4 years before news of what was fashionable in New York (or Seatle as it may be) reached our shores. Triple J performed the function the internet does now. It was able to place phonecalls to overseas, read Rolling Stone magazine at work and find out what was cool. It was a massive middle man for everyone between the ages of 12-29.

Now Triple J is redundant, but one habit remains - Australian kids need their fashion to be created for them and then sold to them. That's probably what saddens me the most.

I used to joke that Rip Curl and O'neal and shit had employees stationed outside Ballarat Op-shops, waiting to see what kids wore out, then they would simply sew their brand onto whatever article of clothing and sell it to the remaining kids at 2000% of the price. (yes 2000). A classic snide and synacal observation from my youth that turned out to be more or less, exactly how fashion companies actually work.

So Roger David is the conduit of New York fashion trends for a nation of people who cannot forge their own identity (yet are probably infinitely more patriotic than me). While the kids can find out what they want to be wearing instantly, they have to wait 6 months for the commercial sector to give it to them for Christmas.

Also incidently somebody finally documented 'Grunge' in a photobook the style that had to die. I picked it up thinking 'this is going to be good' (as in sarcastically) because I maintain grunge consisted of little more than simply exerting no effort fashion wise. I'm older and wiser enough to realise that kids of my generation exerted much effort and expense to emulate the 'no effort' look and always will), but true to form this book consists of 80% punks who called themselves Grunge, then about 5 or 6 pages of Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and Nirvana (aka the seattle music scene).

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Car Window is Closing Fast

For about the third time this year I got behind the wheel of an automobile I'm a shitty driver, but relatively safe, because I know this fact versus my friends that crash their cars all the time while under the influence because they are 'great' drivers. But worse than your average driver I will admit through sheer lack of experience.

So I know, if I gave cars a chance I would improve gain confidence and blah blah blah whatever not having a car would be like not having my right hand.

But fuck that, I really can't imagine why. The best reason is for the weekly grocery run. But fuck that too, because I dislike all these people who choose not to live within cooee of work, supermarkets etc and thus 'need' a car. You 'need' a car because you wanted to live in Palookaville, probably because you wanted to rent a house from a bank in Palookaville instead of renting from a baby boomer in the inner city.

Anyway, advantages of riding a bike over a car are specifically exactly the disadvantages I have switching from bike to car.

1. Decision time, thanks to lower overall speeds and decreased braking distance you can make split second decisions quite easily and ironically you have much more time to decide. I really do take for granted how many and how easily I avoid collisions on a bicycle for this fact. Only on a bicycle can you avoid an obsticle without changing lanes etc.

2. Vulnerability/Agoraphobia, when you don't have a steal & plastic frame around you caged in by glass that removes all wind resistance I feel quite in touch with far more sensitive safety gauges than a tacometer. One simply feels in control, or not in control. If you can't sit your bicycle while turning around to see if its clear to turn, you don't turn. In a car it's different, I feel detached from the world I'm dealing with by the very piece of manufacturing that is designed to protect me. When I discover I'm going 60 when it feels like 5km to my internal tacometer I get unnerved. I can't explain it, but I can't feel the traffic around me either. I feel numb to the potential pain it can all cause.

3. You are never in the wrong lane, which is to say, you stick to the gutter on a bike. Thus if you discover you should have drifted right for a turn, no biggy. You wait in the gutter as the traffic goes by (painlessly) and then turn or you just 'transform' into a pedestrian at the lights and cross that way from the wrong lane. Or do an impromptu hookturn. It doesn't matter. In a big fat car (I was in a VW Golf) this things require going round the block, or getting off the freeway one exit too far.

4. Breaking the law, I admit that this is just part of cycling. Infact if anything bicycle lanes are conforming to the cyclists (hence the law goes to the cyclist) more readily than cyclists are conforming to the law. Hence in one way streets or inexplicable back road intersections, when its convenient to run a red or go up the one way street, ride on the footpath or execute a forbidden u-turn it's all good.
Not so in a car, (despite me seeing on my way home a guy trying to turn into the wrong side of Alexander Pde, as in drive into 4 lanes of oncoming traffic.) Why? because you are A) driving a lethal weapon and B) you have a license plate so you will get caught.

5. You don't have to think about fuel on a bike. Which should be obvious. Thus I find even pulling into the servo and operating the pumps, watching the meter and paying stressful activities.

6. You don't have to worry about traffic. Well yes you do, but only in the collision sense. On a bicycle taking Johnson st at any time of day is a perfectly good idea. In a car it can be incredibly stupid. I never factor traffic in to my driving route simply because I'm not used to it. What a stupid fucking waste of everyones time.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Delicious Humble Pie

There's a scene in the 'departed' which makes a strong case for remaking successful foreign films where Jack Nicholson is talking to Leonardo DiCaprio in a restaurant (in character) talking about Leo's father:

'The man didn't care about money, you can't use a guy like that.'

Less relevantly but relevantly Leo says 'Are you saying my father was nothing?' to which Jack retorts 'The man was a baggage cart driver at Boston Airport.'

The 'don't care about money' thing is what haunts me, and I am beginning to think it is a failing in my personal character. Where previously I might have been inclined to think it a strength. Only today did I realise I should have learned this lesson already, read the words and admired them but didn't see them pointing directly at me. A gross oversight:

Whilst many management books and others talk in various guises about having 6 months salary up your sleeve or earning 'screw you money' in order to be able to walk. Something I advocate myself, what I find I can live off is a lot less money than what most would consider 6 months. Furthermore I don't run up my expenses by having overheads like cars and mortgages to financially maintain.

I'm not afraid of being poor and maybe, just maybe it works against me.

Further to that I'm aware I have other weaknesses. The first I came across was how susceptible I am to 'enough rope' with my disastrous campaign for school captaincy where I single handedly took myself from 'shoe-in' to 'not even mentioned' thanks to the heady dizzy drunkenness of early success. Literally culminating in a 15 minute grandstanding speech about nothing which saw me banned from speaking. I'm glad I learned it over something inconsequential like being school captain, but still if given an inch of encouragement I will take a mile. I haven't quite reigned in this behaviour either.

I also would predict that I'm viewed often as a know-all, though my mother aside can't think of an occassion when I get pulled up for it. But I do open up sentences with 'no your wrong' or 'that's not true' and the only time its amusing is when Bryce and I talk to eachother because we both have this habit. But in most other situations the person I'm talking to shuts up and our conversation becomes a monologue. Which means I learn nothing, and probably neither do they as they will be preoccupied thinking about what a jerk I am.
Worst, speaking authoritatively is just a habit of mine, I know no other way to speak and sometimes I have laughed (on the inside) when I've seen somebody nodding in agreement and admiration to something I have said that is pure speculation. This is probably a fallout from debating something any education in this country encourages its 'winners' into which trains you to be convincing about a whole range of subjects you neither understand nor care about. The 'sport' is just to be convincing.

So here are my belated millenium questions to ask myself:

1. Am I honestly taking risks, or no risks at all?

When I cycled around Europe, I thankfully had the opportunity on 2-3 occassions to sleep on the streets and found it unpleasant. Not masochistically pleasant, nor horrifying. It moved my comfort zone out such that I was willing to spend a night in a park or a trainstation.
I never got comfortable enough to sleep when I was on the streets, but I didn't get to a point where I thought, 'oh god have mercy, I can't live on the streets' I was never afraid it might be anything but temporary, because I was always going to move on or just find a vacancy the next day and catch up on sleep where I could.
But I didn't learn to be afraid of homelessness, of poverty etc. I learned how to cope. I never experienced hunger and I was never afraid my money would simply dissappear for all the times poor planning left me broke for a weekend etc.
My initial assumption was that this made me less risk averse and thus I would be more of a risk taker. Now I think that I may have been wrong all along.
I simply stopped caring, and thus lost my motivation to earn any money, knowing that if I didn't spend any I would always have it to fall back on.
Which really means I am just taking no risks at all, which is a sure path to failure. I must meditate on this.
I have a low paying job currently, but still earn more than I can spend. I didn't even care when in a recent lag of business my shifts got reduced, and still kept on saving money.

2. Can I learn fear of failure?

I told Honda that so long as I was learning I would be happy. And I meant it. And I was learning even when I quit. I just didn't think I could fail at Honda, which meant I couldn't succeed. Furthermore what I was learning didn't seem challenging enough.
I've since taken on jobs and ambitions that seemed almost doomed to fail. And I was fully prepared to fail, to lose everything, to fold up and call it quits. I set myself a deadline, and in preparedness probably simply allowed myself to fail, because I was so prepared for failure yet unprepared for success.
If you read 'Vagabond' from the Tiger Issue through to 'Numb' you see Itto Ittosai teach the fearless Kojiro fear, by stabbing him in the leg and overpowering him so that he gets a sense of vulnerability.
I think just such a sense of vulnerability is just what I lack, at the moment I'd walk into the jaws of defeat from a sense of idle curiosity, not clawing and scrabbling for any purchase I can get. I don't even hope for the best.
What I don't have an answer too is how I could put the fear of failure/desire to succeed into me. Would it involve living on the streets? Getting a mortgage? Risking other peoples money?
I don't know, I don't think the above will help me though. Maybe somebody just needs to stab me in the leg.

3. Am I capable of producing any value?

I have the desire to create works, comics etc. But I find there are few people whose opinion I actually care about. Just like at the Les Claypool concert, I thought that while it is nice financially to have fans, I didn't respect Claypool's fans (even though they are decent folk just come to admire the skills they themselves do not possess) and thus their respect meant for little validation.
But for me it presents an obstacle because if I don't value others opinions, there's no point to me trying to create value for them. Even if the money and respect means nothing to me, it should mean something to them. I'm cut off though from having this dialogue with them, I am in the dark as to how to make something that means something to people I don't respect or understand.
I don't know how to tap into that either in any way I wouldn't deem as 'selling out'.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Wine Bars

Over the past couple of months I've watched 'Beehive Hotel' slowly transform into 'Barkers' a 'wine bar'.

I must profess bias. In the 8 months I spent with no regular roof over my head, 'The Beehive Hotel' was pretty much all I sought in my life. Old, unpopular and in the middle (for a tourist) of nowhere. It kitsch style promised reasonable prices, reliable vacancy and something that if you haven't experienced it, you simply have not lived. Not at least as an animal like I did for 3 months in Europe. A bike riding chimpanzee maybe, but still an animal. What is this thing? This elusive thing? It is simply a dry place to rest your bones.

I've never stayed there, I don't know what it was like, and from a business perspective I'm sure it was a disaster made profitable for its owners only in the form of 'Capital Appreciation'.

But if there is any better physical expression of societies conforming pressures exerted on the awkward and brilliant youth to the decrepid and disillusioned elderly it is the transformation of the 'Beehive' into 'Barkers'.

Firstly take the name - the 'Beehive' is just one of those ideas that is in plain speak - bad. It says cramped, it says sticky, it says aggressive patrons. But it had a fibreglass sculpted beehive model crowning the traditional two story Victorian pub. They have removed the beehive model, and painted the whole facade a 'sophisticated' grey. And it probably is sophisticated compared to whatever tasteless colour had adorned it before. Then to match the bland sterile sophistication of grey, they named it 'Barkers' which isn't like 'Barking Mad' or anything, it's just the name of one of the streets its on.

The makeover in effect has been one to remove any distinguishing points where one may assert the building has a personality, where one could actually imagine what its patrons would be like, what they would drink and what volume they would speak at. And that is probably the distinguishing design point of just what makes money.
It isn't so much that the building has a 'sophisticated' personality now, it simply has none, because if something has a personality you have something to latch on to, or more crucially, something to take offense at.

Think if you will of a concrete sidewalk, if you can, and then try to imagine the kind of people that walk on it. This is the patron of Barkers.

Then of course, it occured to me, just recently that there are 'Wine Bars' now. Initially I foolishly thought, what a good idea, because previously people had to drive all the way out to wineries to enjoy wine. But then I realised this statement was a falacy. The advent of the 'wine bar' is not some long dormant market waiting to be exploited.

There was a place a winelover could go on a friday night and enjoy by the glass or bottle fine wines from various regions. It was called a 'bar'. Wine bar is not in fact something more, but something less. It is a special kind of bar for what it lacks, not for what its gained. Unlike a cocktail bar, one was able to get reds and whites even at irish pubs. No a wine bar clearly says to me 'a pub with no bear' to drive precisely the old slim dusty crowd off into the dusty netherworld.

Because those beer drinking swine also may cause offense, and offense doesn't make money. Placating and brown nosing makes money.

But I take offence, I take offence at their offence. That venues appealing to a blander individual can line their pockets with money while those that dare to say something, to be somebody go under. There's no blaming, but it does make me feel distinctly unwelcome.

Infact I could blame myself, I don't drink beer so contribute nothing to keeping interesting pubs open. But fact is I'm tired of this society that turns out sophisticated Eunuchs, the sheer ballslessness of Barkers Wine Bar strategy fly in the face of the old 'risk = profit' mentality. But I can tell it will be a raging success, because it will be filled with people who will spend money and revel in what a fucking 'clean' and 'stylish' place the old Beehive has become.

These people I have always felt spend money because they have to. They have to spend money because if they didn't there would be no point to earning it and if they didn't need to earn their money their lives would be meaningless.

Which reminds me of something I read of Bertrand Russell about the inevitable death of life on Earth some millions of years hence 'although it is of course a gloomy view to suppose that life will die out -- at least I suppose we may say so, although sometimes when I contemplate the things that people do with their lives I think it is almost a consolation'

Friday, December 04, 2009

My Soulmate Doesn't Listen to Primus

So I was at the Les Claypool show at the Forum last night, and was struck by the unbridledness of my joy at seeing Les play, and more than that, feeling him play as the air was filled with noise emanating from his fingertips on his Carl Thompson bass.

Was it worth it? Unquestionably. I walked in knowing as little as possible of Les' solo work and was gambling on it being one of those things where even if it comes across as mediocre on his Youtube channel would be excellent live.

But I get ahead of myself, when I walked into the Forum I broke into a Patrick Bateman like sweat feeling an urge to vomit. It was 9pm (doors opened at 8.20) and I feared that the opening act hadn't yet come out to perform and for all my tardiness I would have to endure another hour of waiting, except worse, waiting while a supporting act played.

I was relieved when Claypool and his band appeared on stage within a few minutes of my arrival.

The band was awesome fantastic etc. The moment Les started playing I started to move. It was good, the man can play.

Now, I looked around for the dude with the back-pack because if anything was safe to assume it was that Claypool fans would be more genetically deficient than Patton fans. It certainly was far more of a sausage fest thats for sure, and the crowd did look at least 50% genetically deficient (even if they did cheer when Claypool asked them if they were cream of the crop). That's not dissapointing, infact as much as I sympathise that bands like groupies and all, I do find women annoying at concerts. True I've never seen a woman wear a backpack to a concert but they do have a tendacy to bring handbags, dickhead boyfriends and wear highheels and other impracticalities whilst at the same time still being too short to see over the Gargantulons in the crowd.

A lot of incidents requiring security in my experience usually involve at least one girl being a bitch.

Sure enough I spotted backpack guy (not the same one as the Peeping Tom concert but an idiot none-the-less) ahead of me. But that was not who was to annoy me tonight.

In one aspect I was annoyed by a bundle of 6 footer guys directly ahead of me, and why they had chosen to cluster where they did, but fact was that I could have pushed forward if I wanted to. Also my annoyance was hypocritical, I had looked around behind me earlier and noticed a 4 foot girl behind me and thought 'she isn't going to see a thing' but I didn't mosey behind her so that I would not be obstructing her view of the stage. In fact I pressed forward. So just because I consider myself a 'reasonable height' (5'9") to stand anywhere in a crowd doesn't mean people who are 5'7" would agree with me. So if somebodies 4" taller than me and wants to stand in front (and have a massive haircut) I should just suck it up. Particularly since twas I who hadn't had to suffer through a dull support act to get my position.

It was just frustrating how the twin towers could align sometimes though so I couldn't see between them, effectively making one tall guys head twice as wide. note to tall people, stand side by side at any concerts because counter intuitively this will space your heads much better for people trying to see beyond you at an angle. The only time your collective heads will obstruct another audience members is if they are looking near to parralal to the stage. And nobody is looking from there.

No what was annoying me was the girl next to me that made me hope Les Claypool realised how lucky he was to be able to take his pig mask off.

And she was dancing enthusiastically all night like she was at a wiggles concert. She seemed to know all of Claypools solo material as I seemed to know her life story. She was a homely girl that had discovered a nieche for getting a boys attention, if you said you liked Primus you had a common ground with the boys that 98% of the other girls in high-school didn't. At some point she had actually gotten into his music in this nefarious scheme. (it's much easier to listen to something like Tool if you are a girl, but this girl really did need to eliminate 98% of the competition).

That said as ugly and malformed as 50% of the 98% male crowd was last night, I got the sense that you really had to be bottom of the barral to get excited over this girl being there. And I did chance a glimpse of her boyfriend who would lean forward for the occasional smooch, and he was pretty rough, not rough as in 'tough' but rough as in, he was lucky to have her, and that's saying something.

What perplexed me was that Les Claypool at one point started a song which in all honesty almost felt wiggles-esque something about 'apathy is back in style' that was stuck in my head on the ride home and is thankfully gone now. I'm one of those fans of Les that was disheartened when he started weighing in politically. I felt that as one of the pioneers of alt-rock-metal of the 90's he made a much better statement by singing about beevers, cheese and fishing than writing whimsical if not cutting ditties about Sarah Palin. Too many puppies was political enough for me.
Anyway, so whilst I can agree with the message, the song was if not crap... tedious, but he broke it down in the middle and played 'Southbound Pachyderm' now the Pachyderm girl next to me was suddenly perplexed by the fans strong reaction to the song and how everyone seemed to whistle in the exact same way at the exact same time.

She turned around to her boyfriend and asked 'what's this song?' breaking my mind into a million little pieces. It hadn't occured to me that somebody would listen to Les Claypool's solo stuff without being a die-hard fan of Primus, it is afterall less accessable than Primus and Primus (if you consider Frizzle-Fry to be their quintessential album) is pretty inaccessable. So this hussy had infact just listened to the solo albums in her boyfriends car directly before the show. She was a parasite latched on to this guys 'Primus' nipple and feeding off his life force. But what motive could she have? She at least, could do better. Like get herself a nice burly fear factory fan.

Ah but superficial I am and an arsehole, she was having a good time and I was happy for her, but her purse kept bashing my elbow and I didn't exactly want her bumping and grinding against me as I did any of the other freaky looking guys. On the whole Claypool's fans are to be expected, much nerdier than Mike Patton fans, much more male represented than Patton fans (having said that, the extremity of Patton's nerd fans did appear more nerdy than Claypools, I imagine if you want a real nerd fest, go to Nine Inch Nails) and you wouldn't want to meet a woman there.

I knew then that as Chris Rock said there are no soulmates, you'll never meet a girl that loves the Wu Tang clan and Seinfield.

Also the show was really excellent, even the 'bad' songs like Red State Girl where much better live. I've been beating myself up the past six months for being a loser, and the crowd actually made me feel a lot better about myself. I always come home from concerts feeling like a decent and considerate person, because it seems you can't keep dickheads out of concerts, and you can't keep money out of their pockets because somebody needs to work in Geelong and they will inevitably come to concerts.

But Les is actually one of the few people I would describe as a 'winner' one of very very few. But whilst I was pondering how bands like Peeping Tom, De La Soul & Les Claypool can attract dickheads (of which reason tells me I must be one) to their concerts like moths to a lampshade, perhaps being a winner is cursed, in that winners attract Losers, and all you can do is take their money.

From seeing Tool it occured to me that they are practicly obliged to play 'Stinkfist' at every show they do on every tour, and writing a classic song like that is indeed a curse because you have to play it for the fans. But I honestly as a fan wouldn't listen to it that much.

In Claypool (and Primus') case I certainly don't listen to Tommy the Cat that much. And gosh darn it! I find that people who come to somebodies solo show and yell out 'Primus sucks!' and 'Tommy the Cat' are either A) disrespectful or B) so inexperienced and delusional that they suspect Les might announce a solo tour and actually disguise Primus and sneak them into concerts in order to surprise and delight his loyal fans with an impromptu Primus show. Either way they are C) annoying. Although it was funny to hear Les explain how he would love to just play Tommy the Cat but the set list wasn't up to him.

The show is awesome enough, we shouldn't demand more of him. You can demand basic courtesy of your fellow human beings, I feel but the guy has the right to write and perform his own music and it was up to us to buy a ticket to his show. 'There's no harm in trying' one might say, but its the constant attempts of idiot fans to try and goad a Primus show out of a solo act that won't see Les in a hurry to tour Australia with Primus playing Tommy the Cat on the 'Just for old times sake' tour.

Lastly, digital cameras, apparantly in the 80's and early 90's bootleggers where the annoying parasites that populated concerts, nowdays it seems to be people who sit behind a camera the entire concert taking a constant stream of pictures. People holding up cameras obstruct the view more than cigarette lighters do, and they seem to forget to actually enjoy the show so obsessed are they with preserving the memory.

Incidently you can find pictures from what seems to be a legit photographer here (including the pig mask).

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Simple Career Advice

1. Do Your Job

I say 'Do Your Job' because 'professional' as in 'be professional' seems to spark people into thinking about how to dress and shake hands and shit. Being professional is doing whatever it is you are fucking paid to do. Do it. Read your job description, ask your supervisor, manager etc. whether your job description matches the actual work they want you to do. Ask them like this 'Does this job description match what you actually want me doing?' if not get consensus in the form of an up-to-date Job description.

2. Let people know you've done your Job.

This is literally all the marketing you need. This is all the self promotion you need. A few caveats though - you can't just say 'I did my job' its a falsifiable statement, so this has some sub-steps if you want:

i. Find the measure - How do you prove you did what you agreed you would do, objectively. Think Sales Figures, commissions, documents etc. Anything you can produce.
ii. Establish causation - as in you made it happen. I made these calls, to these customers and resolves their issues to their satisfaction. If you are delivering an intangible service, like a training session hand out feedback forms for people to fill out anonymously then collect that data.
iii. Let people know the objective measures are there. Let them know you've done your job, but keep in mind you might get questioned 6 months after the fact.

3. Don't Alienate Yourself

If you are socially isolated at work, ie working in a one man department, seated in a dark corner etc. get up and move around and talk to a bunch of people twice a day at least. Because when you are isolated, you get victimised, by others or yourself. Reach out even if its hard, or you are afraid you will be annoying (as I often am).

4. Don't Criticize in Public.

Which is two-fold, a) don't corner your boss in the Friday meeting by raising some issue you have for the first time for them in an open forum. b) don't bitch and gossip where you are overheard, because your conversation won't end with you. Furthermore as Mark Twain said 'Better to have everyone think you are an idiot than open your mouth and remove all doubt'.

5. Cherish Feedback, Seek it Out.

It's time to stop crying when a manager comes to you and says 'Hey you're dial rate is down on the average.' or 'Hey don't argue with the customer, just politely end the conversation as quickly as you can.' etc. because she/he doesn't appreciate how hard you are working, how much pressure you are under and realise realise you've just been given a gift.
They said something to you to arrest some behavior you are doing that is ineffective and have given you a chance to adjust. This is muchos preferable to just being left to dig your own grave because your supervisor didn't want to introduce conflict, or the greatest injustice - to be told you're doing a great job when you are in fact just mediocre but your boss thinks you're an idiot and has low expectations of you. So ask how you are going, and look for positive and negative because they are of equal value. Keeping doing the positive, stop doing the negative.

6. Start on time, Finish on Time.

Presenteeism and workaholia are social epidemics. 'Girls have to work twice as hard as a man to be thought of as half as good' is true, but it's misleading 'A man working twice as hard as another man is thought of as half as good'. And reverse it 'if you work half as hard as someone else you will be thought of as twice as good' and in many ways this leads back to Step 1 - your job description will have a one goalpost that says '9am' and another goal post that says '5pm' and you have to do your job somewhere between them.
That's doing your job and I am yet to meet someone whom on a daily basis cannot kick that goal given a few annual 'high pressure' seasonal demands. Furthermore I'm yet to see a full time job that convinces me it couldn't in essence be done between 3-4 hours. Don't ease in to your day, just start and get on to work, get it done and go home and make the most of your life.

7. Balance Your Life.

You could work hard every day, granted and maybe even impress some idiot manager. But you lose that time to read, for example. So 5 years will go by and you read the same amount of books (5) that a colleague reads in 5 months. You better hope that colleague reads the Twilight Series or similar escapist dross and not something that will introduce them to management ideas, TQM ideas, Game Theory Ideas or inspire any other quantum leap in ability. Same applies for fitness, social network etc.

8. Be Prepared to Walk.

Save 6 months wages - that is enough to live off with no other income for 6 whole months. Avoid a mortgage for as long as you can. Avoid any expensive ongoing financial obligation. Bank away the minimum you absolutely can't afford to lose. Keep your resume up to date. Furthermore don't sabotage any relationship you have as you go through life. Leave on good terms. But always have fundamentally up your sleeves the ability to walk if the environment turns poisonous, otherwise you have no position to negotiate anything, not wage rises, not promotions, nothing.
Furthermore you won't impress your company by not arguing, not taking risks, you will arrest your own career by just not taking risks because you can't afford to.
Every 'mover and shaker' I've ever met had this trait in common, they didn't turn up to work because they had to. They turned up because they wanted to.

9. Be Honest.

Don't hide anything, let people know when you have a problem or when you made a mistake as soon as you can. It's all part of the learning process.
Furthermore be yourself. Energy exerted trying to be something you are not is energy wasted. Refer to step 1. Don't play dress ups.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The ETS Debate Broken Down

The Emissions Trading Scheme is a bad idea. We should do it.

The debate is stupid. Or as Shaun Ryder would say, it's 'Stupid, stupid, stupid'. Peter Costello wrote the politicised statement today in the Age:

The overwhelming view of the [Liberal] party membership is that sensible measures that will not undermine Australia's competitive position should be undertaken in step with developments among major emitters. There is considerable consensus on that.

The first and easiest one of two pieces of information in this statement that is I believe fairly representative of the Liberal parties arguements is the 'in step with developments among major emitters'. This would be easy - adopt a policy that says our policy will be exactly the same as whatever policy the US developes. Which is a clear follower statement.

What we hear more of is the 'we should wait until after Copenhagen' which on the surface makes sense, just like living with your parents for economic reasons. Except it will always make sense to wait until somebody does something first before we decide what to do. Just like it will still make sense to live rent free with your parents when you are a swinging 50 year old bachelor.

I'm pretty sure that there will be no end of 'Copenhagen' summits available over the next 5 to 10 years. The ability to delay making a decision or commitment on similar pretences will be in endless supply.

But in sheer logical terms, the fatalistic platform of we shouldn't do anything unless everyone else does something first is exactly ye olde 'if Billy jumps off a cliff would you do it.' it's only logical to a cringing follower.

As always when faced with an unpleasant task, what we want to do is nothing. What we need to do is something. An actual leader would say something along the lines of 'In any moment of decision the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.'

It's why Climate Change is to society what weight loss is to the individual. To work it will involve probably a substantial sacrifice of lifestyle combined with a lot of work. What sells though are the methods that seem 'achievable' or require no work at all.

Waiting to see what other nations do is exactly the definition of 'indecision' and exactly the same predicament that every other country is in. We are a circle of children with the question 'who will do the dishes?' hanging in the air. Somebody just needs to volunteer because its the right thing to do, and many will follow, but whoever goes first and with conviction will get a lot of credit, and a place in history.

As for 'sensible measures that will not undermine Australia's competitive position' there is really one competitive 'advantage' Australia possesses, coal, the dirtiest form of energy available. Of which Australia is the numero uno exporter in the world.

It is interesting to note that this industry is encouraged and protected (from undermining) seemingly at the expense of things like Solar and Geothermal Energy of which Australia (at least so far as Solar is concerned) numero uno. As for wind etc.

The relevant particular here is that if there had been a Ministry of Transport in 1900 we would all still be riding horses. Or Henry Ford's 'if I'd asked people what they wanted they would have asked for a faster horse' and as Drucker says - 'no matter how serious an environmental problem the automobile poses in today's big city, the horse was dirtier, smelled worse, killed and maimed more people, and congested the streets just as much.'

The same applies, furthermore Coal fired energy needs to be run constantly (meaning base load isn't variable with demand) and centralised requiring huge transmission expenses which often aren't factored in to the 'price advantage' coal holds over Solar or other forms of energy.

Most tellingly though, they don't factor in the cost of correcting the damage coal does to the environment those expenses are 'externalised' the costs of which really form the debate we are currently having on who should pick up the bill, and it won't be the retained profits of the industry, nor the savings of those employed by the industry, nor from the assets held by the beneficiaries of the industry. The industry asks instead for compensation for loss of revenue.

Really the moral guidance of our childhood should settle this debate, ignorance is no excuse, do what is right even at the risk of popularity, don't steal, don't cheat, don't be lazy etc. It's not surprising that we should be struggling so, after all its hard to get children to do these things done. What chance does adult society have.