Relief or Suicide?

You be the judge.

The relief is mine for saying something out loud that I should have done years ago. The suicide is mine but used metaphorically to describe me torpedoing a ‘traditional’ career route. Is the following full of broad remarks? For sure. I know and admire many excellent people who are not of the type I mention. However, the exception proves the rule.

I hate working in large corporate environments. There, said it again but more succinctly. I hate the way they make me feel, mostly because the corporate political culture is something I am so terribly bad at. I seem to end up putting my foot in it time and time again. That makes me feel stupid when I know I’m not. Scared because I screwed up and generally in fear because my livelihood is in the hands of another. Usually the one who no longer likes me.

This doesn’t happen to me when I don’t sniff corporate BS and buzzwords and if I worked in a firm it’d be one that eschews such nonsense. For some reason the self-aggrandising style of not very clever posturing triggers something in me that I am very poor at restraining. I have an unquenchable need to call BS when someone is using the phrase of the moment to sound clever or fit in. It doesn’t bother me if there is a logical reason and the word use can be adequately explained or defended. But bullshit is bullshit and needs calling out.

Using language to be part of a group has also been a thing for a long time. It is a necessity of many occupations, from builders to brain surgeons. I get that too. When someone deeply average in their ability, but politically tuned and aspirational, starts adopting the language to try and get ahead then I am triggered by that. Just think of the people who have mangled the popular idiom that originated in the US and is: ‘He can talk the talk but can he walk the walk?’ into ‘He can talk the walk but can he walk the talk?’ Wrong. just wrong. Go look it up. It is even in the Cambridge Dictionary. If you think for a moment about the intended meaning, the twisted version doesn’t make a jot of sense. That small thing hasn’t stopped many delivering it as some sage sounding business judgement upon the attitudes and capabilities of another. And when I hear it I tell them. Nicely and politely, as a service. Not appreciated and often defended in a laughably naive way. And therein lies my weakness.

And yes, the English language is indeed a many splendoured thing that is forever evolving and can’t be cast solid at some determined point. I am not raging about new vocabulary, just the misused and tortured clever vocab that is business babble.

Unless someone is truly good at something then the pretenders are often heard mangling expressions and using convoluted language when simple speech will do. I have come to the unscientific conclusion that many people fear that their worth is diminished if they are clear and simple, and to avoid the cognitive dissonance created by this fear they attempt to enhance the message in a vain attempt to be perceived as a more valuable asset when they utter impenetrable gobbledegook that can only mean that they are really really clever. Usually, this type of behaviour is driven by a complete lack of a deep down personal security and very shallow knowledge, all balanced on a knife-edge of potential exposure.

So many large companies seem to have bloated to the extent that there are so many people in hard to define positions, I am sometimes given to wondering if every other one dropped dead overnight, would the company manage to go on operating tomorrow? Sadly, I think that most would.

I have had the good fortune to meet some incredibly smart people. However, smarts alone don’t cut it unless they can communicate it. My favourite professor – whom I hold in high regard – writes the most impenetrable books. I assume it is for them and four of their closest friends and they do it for the amusement of the others in their group.

The cleverest people I know can make the most complex issues simple and explicable to any audience. Usually, an explanation like that brings real joy to the audience as a complex topic is simplified and no-one is left feeling dumb. The topic may have huge depth and granularity that a lifetime of study will never unravel, but that is another thing.

And the above brings me back to a general dislike of large corporate HR departments. The recruiting arm seem interpret their role as one of homogenising the new-hires and ensuring that no ‘quirky or different’ people slip past them. I live for the day I read about an HR Director issuing an edict that one of the main hiring criteria is that every new candidate must be a bit interesting and a bit different.

In the meantime, I am not holding my breath for someone to contact me, recognising that my incredible talent is all wrapped in a tortured soul. It really is to get it off my chest, think it through, write down, read it back, correct it because I hate poor spelling and typos (my gorgeous wife has a gimlet eye and always gives me a corrections list when I am sure it is perfect) and free myself from the perennial worry about having a perfect CV in order to make it through some byzantine filtering system, a panel interview that is (crush my soul – again) competency based and constant act of searching for jobs and trying to mentally lever myself into something that deep-down I know that I’d hate.

(Career) Suicide? – Most definitely if a LinkedIn style corporate job is the aim. It isn’t so I am in rude health.

Relief? – Yes. Very scary, quite cathartic but I am extremely glad I have got it off my chest.

LinkedIn Is A Funny Old Place

No pretty pictures to ensure reader engagement. I’m afraid this requires good old-fashioned reading from top to tail. All typos and gibberish are mine.

I once heard of LinkedIn described as ‘Facebook for grown-ups’, which is very apt. Sure, it is all about the sharing of commercial and light academic knowledge but scratch the surface and there is little to separate it from Facebook.

I love the sharing element. I have a Facebook account as it keeps a closer link between me and my friends and family dotted around the world. We can chat, share pictures and experiences and indulge in a bit of banter and that is a Good Thing.

But Facebook is social and LinkedIn is business, though those lines are blurring by the day as Facebook pursues global domination. All the things Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and the like are blamed for also hold true for LinkedIn. The pretenders are out there too. The ‘look at how amazing I am’ and ‘look at how clever and deep and educated I am’ people are there, e-strutting around preening themselves in front of others and setting unrealistic, unobtainable and unfair goals for the more credulous to aspire to. Just like the ‘proper’ social media sites do. My favourite LinkedIn profile is from this fellow, John. His truthfulness is refreshing.

However, my favourite LinkedIn bit of weirdness is reserved for the job posts. Face it: if someone is looking for a new job they may be moving from a position of strength but equally they may be in a crappy situation and perhaps a little bit vulnerable. The very least an employer could do is treat them with a modicum of decency. My experience is that if you get a confirmation email it is generic and tells you that you shouldn’t hold your breath. Also, signed with a terrible ‘kiss-off’ of ‘The Talent Management Group’ or something similar. How much effort is it to use names and be accountable by signing a name? The depersonalisation of the process speaks volumes about the sort of company it is and how they think of their staff.

Indeed, I wonder if there is a secret cross-industry code between recruiters that all job adverts should be written in a way that leaves the reader wondering what they actually want, whilst simultaneously sound as if mere mortals need not apply. Why have a two paragraph description when an eighteen paragraph one can be written? I harbour a suspicion that many job posts are just a means of harvesting CVs. For why?

I can only imagine that this is a device used by HR (Talent Management, Human Capital or what ever the current buzzword for Personnel is) to justify a drive for mediocrity and uniformity and enhance the size and intrusiveness of their role whilst simultaneously ensuring that the blame for any bad hire can be laid somewhere else.

Some of the more backward HR departments are often populated by people who fall for such unscientific malarkey as Myers-Briggs profiling or similar drivel. The advocates of these so-called tools are fully invested and will support them to the hilt. The fact remains that there is no real science behind them. They were and are just a management fad, flashier versions of a horoscope. Surround it with logos, get corporate buy-in (there is no direct correlation between seniority and [lack of?] gullibility), refer to it as a methodology, assure all comers that it is supported by ‘deep-dives’ into the data and so on, and best of all pay a lot for it and it then attains a mythical and unquestionable status. Hilarious really.

On candidate suitability, my favourite story is told by Rory Sutherland in his book The Wiki Man, because he was so terrible he was nearly fired until a more visionary boss channelled him in a suitable way. Now, he is far closer to the top of the heap than the bottom. I’ll bet he wasn’t hired by an HR bod who carefully vetted the application based against a set of impenetrable criteria.

Back to the more general weirdness of LinkedIn. I am far from guilt free as it is a place I have flirted with on and off for many years and taken the odd free month of premium and then cancelled. It has only ever succeeded in making me question whether or not I’d fit anywhere. If I use LinkedIn as my guide then my extensive and varied experiences seem to count for ought these days. And to be clear: by extensive and varied I mean it is almost unbelievable, even to me!

There is a list here of everything I have ever done, in a rough order. Bear in mind many of these were/are concurrent. I am not a major job hopper although it appears, even to me, as if I may be.

LinkedIn seems huge, it seems important and it seems unmissable. Yet, on reflection, no one has ever told me how they learned something life changing or won their dream job on the site. It is, like all Social Media, a data collection tool. I can only imagine that is why Microsoft bought it.

Do I want a role? Sure. Am I raging against the machine? I’d like to think I am not. However, I refuse to be a homogenised clone that has buffed and curated a LinkedIn profile to within an inch of credibility. I want to do work with meaning and with with interesting and intelligent people. That probably won’t come from LI, but you never know. Try me: What I don’t want is that my creativity and individualism are ground under the heel of thoughtless conformity.

What Have You Done?

An honest career/experience history in time order. No airbrushing.

V = Volunteer and P = Paid and E = Own business

V – Growing up I volunteered at the Abbotford Airshow when it was a smaller – but still large – affair. My father was in the Flying Club and they organised all the volunteers. I was a general gopher and dogsbody that was keen to have anything to do with aeroplanes.

P – Babysitting and Lawnmowing – rural BC

V – Off-siding on a Bell 206 single helicopter base in Dease Lake, Northern British Columbia. My father was the pilot/engineer for Frontier Helicopters.

P – Sold Pick-up truck canopies and after-market accessories at Rover Recreation

P – sprayed glyphosate on unwanted new-growth on deforested and replanted hills that were too steep or remote for helicopter access. Very hard physical work.

P – Worked in a ski-rental franchise at Lake Louise in BC. Entailed skiing as much as possible in between shifts at the store. From Amerian tourists to the exiled Sri Lankan Royal family. We fitted them all.

P – Fitted Ski-Boots in central Sydney, Australia. Heart of the financial sector as skiing is not an ‘everyman’ sport in Australia like it is in Canada.

Hitchhiked across Australia from Sydney to Perth in 3.5 days. 

P worked 1000km from perth (Laverton) for a gold mining company called Ashton Gold. I was a geologists assistant and an off-sider on an RC Drilling rig further out in the bush.

P – Tail end of the UK season at Snow and Rock on High Street Ken.

P – Shortest ever job was selling advertising for a v. a dodgy publication in Covent Garden. I went out to get a sandwich on day 2 and never came back. Not into cheating people.

P – selling photocopiers and fax machines. My patch was the graveyard of Mayfair. You walked around ‘prospecting’ which meant gaining access to offices, cadging a compliment slip from reception and trying to find out who to ask for regarding purchase. You went back to the office with your haul and set about telephoning them, trying to speak to the right individual, ascertain their needs and sell them a photocopier. Hard work, no fun and a great learning experience (upon adequate time passing to reflect).

P – pharmaceutical sales representative for Servier Labs. Possibly the strangest and most thorough vetting. My main referee was met by a fellow who had flown over from France and interviewed him about me over a nice lunch that he bought. Meanwhile, back in the UK, the hiring manager was a firm-believer in handwriting analysis. The rest of my skills were for ought as long as I passed vetting and analysis!

P – pharmaceutical rep for Baker Norton Ltd. BN was a company created by a team of ex-Searle employees to capitalise on the (then) new Fundholding scheme for GPs. They were keen on good salespeople over all else. We were well remunerated, had nice cars and the company was a success.

Interestingly, we had some of the first laptops. I went online a lot for my own fun back then (early 90’s) and I saw the commercial potential for the Internet. The MD allowed me to change roles and spearhead the company’s first steps onto the web.

V – around this time I lived in Windsor, had read an ad in the Tube for Special Constables, and it struck me that I could exorcise my desire for non-work challenges whilst doing something worthwhile by being part of the police. I joined Thames Valley police for the first time as a Special. 

E – d.web was a full service Internet company at the beginning of the dot-com boom. I had a contract with BT to provide 10 page websites for their business customers. Dial-up was it those days.

P – Cap Gemini Life Sciences team. One of the worst career decisions I have made as it was out of desperation (long story). 6 months of wasted time. The less said the better. I left before I was fired. 

P – Druid – a mid-tier Siebel consultancy that had just bought a Scottish firm owned by a chap who was to prove to be a very influential person on me, George Knox.

P – Siebel Systems – Lecturing and consulting at the peak of the dotcom bubble. A truly bizarre, money isn’t real, time in business. I travelled to 35 countries for clients and specialised in the alignment and installation of complex sales process methodologies.

E – Siebel fired us all in one hit and re-employed me as an independent contractor on USD 1500 per day. The unreal money madness continued. I also did private consulting and my dinner part story is when I left Central Moscow in a hurry to get home in time for the birth of my daughter. It was touch and go but I made it.

V –  started as a student and worked my way to becoming an Observer (Instructor) for the largest IAM (Institute of Advanced motorists) motorcycling club in the UK. TVAM. I rode a lot, I trained a fair few people and for a while was a very dialled in rider. I have sold all my bikes now.

P – Interim 6 month cover at Microsoft.  What a let down. A once dynamic and magical place to work (in the 1980s I guess) that blew me away with the level of ‘corporateness’. 

E – Only Organic was an organic veg box scheme that I started, grew and sold to Abel& Cole. Fantastically hard work – the least I have ever made for the hardest I have ever worked – and incredibly educational and fun. I didn’t make a fortune but I washed my face with the sale. Lehman Brothers collapsed 6 weeks later so I dodged a bullet there.

V – stay at home dad with the odd bit of consulting. I assumed that there would be a queue around the corner of people desperate to employ me after I sold the business. How wrong I was. The world had collapsed (the financial crash) and no one was hiring. Let alone an entrepreneur that they thought may just be using them to build reserves to launch another business. My then wife was very well remunerated and instead of me trying to get odd bits of work I focused on raising our daughter. Anyone who questions the apparent ‘lack of effort’ required to be a parent has no idea.

P – After having a horrendous bicycle crash that saw me being bolted back together like the bionic man I started at a publishing intermediary. It was a dumb thing on both sides. I had been offered the well remunerated job before the accident. I was out of my head on painkillers after it. It didn’t matter as their entire worldwide operations went bust very shortly afterwards. This was a textbook case of not responding to change (the move to digital) fast enough. Bang, a 112y old company was gone overnight.

EDUCATION – I dipped out of being a grown-up and have spent the last 6y doing a BA History (Hons) 2:1 and an MSc Politics with research Methods (Merit). 

P/V – I do some tutoring now and am particularly proud that in 6 weeks I helped a failing A-level politics student move from a weak E to a strong C. I also write articles and contribute to the Barts MS blog and 

I am tired just writing this. Time for a cup of tea…