Archive for August, 2012

Management Models or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love What I Do

August 28, 2012

I’ve never been a big fan of management models or leadership strategies; they presume a degree of involvement with and dependence on  squishy, iffy, essentially undependable other people, rather than diligence and skill. Also, the idea of mangament reeks of the black magic of the (recently out-of-vogue) financial industry: profiteering from the labour or capital of honest people. Producing value through one’s own work must surely be a great deal more gratifying than managing superior talent and genius who merely happen to lack organisational acumen or tools.

Regardless, managers are here to stay, for as long as large, impersonal organisations exist, and the software or tools we create to harness and manage crowdsourced intelligence can’t outperform humans. Managers will manage, and they will have wage slaves, conscripts, prisoners, and a whole menagerie of unwilling or unconvinced subordinates to, if not win over, at least put to good use. As an NSF I clearly have vested interest in understanding the dark arts managers use to cow their unwilling subordinates, so, let’s take a look at one of these methods I’ve encountered recently.

In an attempt to improve productivity (the lifeblood of management), an officer presented a model explaining Event Management and Worker Motivation and other mysterious forces that only management can even begin to pretend to understand. In its simplest of forms, it goes as follows:

Events <- Patterns <Structures <- Mindsets <- Vision

From what I fathomed, it has something to do with the levels at which management can intervene to prevent Bad Things in order to win Manager-of-the-Month awards and similar accolades. The most junior and inexperienced managers are capable of only reacting to events as they occur, and coordinating damage control, but as they learn the tricks of the trade they usually become capable of formulating structures, rules, and onerous regulations that mitigate or prevent events. However, it is only the truly talented, the brilliant few who can, through subtle bullying, coercion, masterful use of charisma, probably some backstabbing and playacting, and perhaps some sort of dark sorcery, worm their way into their wage slaves’ minds and win them over to a vision of excellence for a cause that does not serve them.

Few managers ever reach that pinnacle of achievement, but the insidiousness of that reaching into and turning the mind is morbidly fascinating. How exactly is it done?

What follows is purely speculation, so there can be no guarantee of truth, rigorous fact checking, or accuracy. What I do promise is a couple of hypotheses into the methods of management, one forwarded by a manager, and another, more insidious one, that occurred to me.

The first hypothesis (the one that both workers and managers would like to believe true) is that management, through inspiring leadership and teaching, uncovers and illuminates in workers a belief in the cause. Workers who see their work furthering a purpose they have neither stake nor belief in are, perhaps through incisive questioning, brought to a realisation of their false assumptions and faulty thinking. Like Plato’s cavedwellers, they are brought to the surface world and see things as they truly are: that their position is that of cogs in a mighty machine serving a True Cause and Worthy Objective. Nothing boosts worker motivation, makes positives mindsets, and aligns personal aspiration with organisational vision like turning disillusionment into worthwhile, fruitful, accomplishment.

There is a problem with the first hypothesis though. It holds only in cases where the true purpose, the one that is clouded in the worker’s mind but subsequently revealed in all its brilliance, is actually something the worker can find palatable and worthwhile. If a worker comes to the conclusion that he is frustrated by his work (and hence, an unproductive and bad worker) not because it is onerous, but because it is actively opposed to his personal core beliefs, he becomes an even larger liability. This, however, is remediable if the second hypothesis is true.

The second, disturbing, hypothesis I have arrived at is really very simple. Banking on the usefulness of wage slavery (or other means through which workers and chained to their work), managers can keep their workers toiling away at jobs that eat away at their inner being. And, indeed, this erosion of the spirit occurs. But, the human mind is a resilient thing; it adapts to difficult situations to ease its burden. As the cognitive dissonance of believing in one thing and doing something apart or counter to it mounts, the worker comes under increasing stress. Eventually, the pressure builds up unbearably, and the mind collapses. Thankfully, the human mind is surprisingly failure resistant. We don’t end up with babbling monkeys on the shop floor, only workers who have convinced themselves (or been forcibly convinced by the futility of their situation) that they do believe in what was hitherto soul-crushingly futile.

And that is a plausible explanation I’ve come up with for converting workers to the cause. It seems plausible enough, although we should allow for the process of rewiring to take some time; no one is predicting overnight conversions.

Scary innit? I hope I’m wrong


Things to cheer NSFs up

August 28, 2012

Hey, on the bright side at least we aren’t actually fighting a war


Review: The Secrets of A Fire King

August 12, 2012

Reblogged from Goodreads

There are books that have substance, and there are books that are pure style. Not that there’s anything wrong with style: see this short piece about Joyce and the “New-Agey claptrap” Paulo Coelho churns out.

But, it is exceedingly difficult to write a readable book that is pure style with, at the heart of it, very little substance. Edwards tries, and the result is a collection of short stories (fictional vignettes really) that falls far short of her debut novel, The Memory Keeper’s daughter. The stories focus on a character, and tries to play on her transformation or growth, or a turning point in their life, but often fails. Engagement in the character falls short, and is inadequately replaced by far too many adjectives, or unconnected passages that try to connect the reader to the scene.

In short, I found the book tiring and unsatisfying. Unsatisfying, because the stories lack meaningful conflict and resolution (more the latter than the former), and tiring because the writing style gets trite pretty quickly. The stories are mostly plotless (something that I can envision working, but only in the hands of a few truly skillful authors), and the author doesn’t pull it off. It was a struggle to finish reading