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.

Nothing Is Free

The media is alight with Facebook, Google, Amazon etc. Data, data, data. My data, my personal data, not ‘your’ data to have available for third parties like, say, Cambridge Analytica. There is a huge amount of shaming of the data collectors going on and some of it is just not accurate, nor correct.

There is a glaring issue here, so stop, take a deep-breath and unpack this a bit.

  • Present Currency

We are accustomed to exchanging money for goods and services. These days we do a lot of electronic transacting and when it came in (and credit cards too) it was the devil’s work. We were all going to be swindled, indebted and generally life would end as we know it. Some of my more socialist friends may already argue that that has happened. Not the fault of the method of money transmission though.

  • New Currency

There are two predominant forms of currency that have emerged from the connectivity given to us by the Internet. Crypto-currencies and Personal Information.

1. We can get our heads around the first as it is a new form of the old. We can gauge the value  and understand it because it is pegged against things we understand in language we are accustomed to.

2. Data as a form of payment , personal data to be precise, is a new thing entirely. The vast majority of which we’d be happy to share in a conversation. Where did you last shop, when, for how long, what did you spend, was it the first store you went into, did you intend to buy anything, have you gained weight, what did you pay with etc etc. A good research study would ask such things. A good conversationalist could probably winkle it out of you. If it is a conversation, then there is a slim chance you’d stick your hand out and say, “Now I’ve told you that, it’s £4.99.” Even studies give a flat fee regardless of how you answer.

  • Something for something

Everyone is comfortable with the idea of exchanging goods for services. Our labour for a paycheque, our hard-earned for some food. That sort of thing. You can’t go to the pub, order a pint and offer to tell the barman your reading habits in return. It has no value to them.  Google on the other hand? What a search engine. I say this coming from the days when Alta-Vista was considered good but required a lot of finagling. Now, in Chrome (the free browser) I just type my query in there. Where is Buxy, how do I make chipotle paste, when is the next train due and so on.

The hours and hours of my life that have been saved from mundanity, the paper saved, the brain space saved etc. However, may people do not put a price on their time. The things that Google and Facebook allow me to do without having to send them money in exchange just beggar belief.

This DOES NOT come free though. Land, salaries, server farms and the like cost old-fashioned real money. That doesn’t materialise out of thin air, these companies have an intrinsic value, reflected in their very high share prices and huge wealth because they have something. That something is you. As much about you as then can tell and the cleverest people to extract the maximum value from everything about you.

EDIT: This video is excellent and I have added it to the post.

  • In conclusion

No one forced you to join Facebook, no one forced you to use Google. There are ways around this if you feel that strongly. Tor browser, secure and untrackable email, cash under the mattress (better yet, go for gold and salt). Expect to pay for the privilege.

Criminals are criminals. Data firms are not automatically criminals. The real criminals want to get their hands on currency – cash, gold, your password, they don’t care – Whether it is swindling you out of a pension or using your reading habits (or lack thereof) to target you in an election. These days they only want your data if it is to get to the other things. Stop blanket-blaming the collectors and, instead, see who is being a criminal.

There is a quid pro quo for all the ‘free’ stuff on the Internet. It is you. You are not the customer, you are the product.

The data genie is well and truly out of the bottle: it won’t/can’t be stuffed back in. Think large-scale environmental disaster as you can’t wish it away or legislate it into not happening. It is done, so consider what you are getting, what you are paying and make the choice yourself, stop blaming other external forces. You chose to participate, and it is not without cost.

Rarely has the political choice been so clear cut

Politics is ordinarily a highly nuanced topic and choosing can be difficult. However, the snap general election in the UK, coming so soon after the vote to leave the European Union has suddenly thrown the voting options into two very stark choices.

Choice one is either of the two largest parties in the UK. Presently: the Conservative party seems hell-bent on driving the UK into either a hard-Brexit or a no-deal scenario. Alternatively, you can could choose the Labour party which also has a pro-Brexit stance. Furthermore, the Labour party is in an organisational shambles. It is poorly led, riven with infighting and is in no shape to lead the country.

The arguments about the rights and wrongs of the decision to leave are behind us. The only thing left to exert any degree of control over is the way the leaving process is managed. As the Brexit vote is a reflection of a very narrow section of the United Kingdom electorate that got out to vote (note to the reader: this is what happens when you vote. Change. Not always for the good)  it signifies huge upset for this country long into the future, both economic and social.  This general election is all about installing a party that can help control the manner of our exit. Damage limitation.

For those of use that thought the UK should remain in the EU then either of the scenarios where the Tories win a huge majority or the Labour party gains power are unacceptable.

The only major party that has been consistently pro-EU has been the Liberal Democrats.

This election is all about Brexit, even the Tory Prime Minister said so. The only way to exert any control over the manner of our departure and our longer term relationship with the EU is to vote for the Liberal Democrats. It is that clear and simple.

I am aware that this is simplistic. Ordinarily you might not vote LibDem. This is about how you feel about our self-inflicted and messy break with the EU. For once it is a simple choice. Once the handbrake is on then we can attend to the regularity of day-to-day politics. If you are indeed a Remainer then the decision is a simple one.

(conflict of interest disclaimer – I joined the LibDems a few days ago for the simple reason outlined above)

In Which I Decide To Get A Job And Shelve The PhD Plans

There are several reasons for this. First and foremost is the oddest feeling in which I want a job after spending the last four years in permanent academia. The second is my growing frustration with this odd world that is academia.

To cover the second point first: Initially I was overawed by the proliferation of intellectual horsepower everywhere I turned, now I am just disappointed at the massive emotional immaturity of many of these late 20s to early 40s academics. Sure, they are v clever and have worked v hard to get where they are. What most have managed to dodge is the real world. In the real world there is a vast spectrum of people. In academia they probably get the top 10% or so of the population, with the obvious exception of Geography and Media Studies pupils. This means that they, the academics, navigate through life not having any strategies for dealing with thickies like me. I may be enthusiastic but I am definitely on the outside looking in. They just don’t get this. All they know is being inside the academic bubble dealing with other like-minded people. It has been a very frustrating experience so far. I can bleat on  about Sheffield being the wrong place to be for what interests me, but it isn’t the fault of the University. I only seem to be able to work these things out with hindsight and whenever I try and get in front of things the academic “help” (and I use the term help very loosely) has proved to be absolutely effing useless.

Getting a job though, that will be the next challenge. If the last 4 years has taught me anything it has been that the sort of job I want is helping/influencing or teaching. Obviously I write this in the full knowledge that any potential employer is likely to come across this. Hello, I hope you are enjoying reading instead of looking at predictably dull but non-existent pictures of me larging it up with the lads. Possibly saran-wrapped naked to a lamppost and doused in baby oil with inappropriately worded and mis-spelt remarks etched on my forehead in red lipstick? Nope. Just this.

I am looking at the UNHCR, teaching or working in some sort of policy formation/advice role, possibly with an NGO. I need to get through (pass) this semester and then write up my dissertation this summer. Working title of “The Anatomy Of Environmental Denial”.

More to come…

Yelling At The Radio

My rough rule of thumb for writing a post is if the topic, when covered on the Today Program on BBC Radio 4, caused me to yell at the radio. Today I yelled and was then reduced to mumbling dementedly.

The sharp decline is cosmetic surgery was being covered. All was fine until they decided that, presumably, for balance, the advances in  makeup and associated use techniques should be used as a reason.

This is when the yelling started. The expert  merrily explained how someone can radically change their look using various products and techniques. I am a complete loss regarding the idea of an industry perpetuating the idea to women (I know, they are targeting men as well now) that their appearance is somehow lacking and needs changing. The Army calls this camouflage and uses bolder green tones. The aim remains the same, deception.

Apparently, hiding the ageing process is key. Expertly applied makeup can take ten years off you at a stroke. FFS.  We are terrified of ageing and the inevitable conclusion, death. This fear is so ruthlessly exploited, and many people seem to have, unquestioningly, bought into the idea. The entire beauty industry revolves around first making one feel that somehow your appearance is falling short and that good makeup can hide these apparent inadequacies. Still deception. First of the self and then of others.

I can hear the argument being trotted out that it is a woman’s right to choose. Indeed it is. They wouldn’t even have to face this dilemma if the feeling  hadn’t been created that deception is necessary. I look around at university and see young women who have swallowed this pill and are slathered in makeup. Why does this make me mad? Partly because I have a 14y old daughter. She is pretty balanced (has a grumpy old man) but I know she is subjected to a barrage of messages that normalise the idea that there is an inherent inadequacy in her appearance. But, fear not for there will be a YouTube channel that can show her how to cure this fault.

Come the revolution, anyone who works to create a consumer demand by preying off fear and creating feelings of inadequacy  will be the first to be put up against the wall and shot.


An Imbalance In The (Charitable) Force

Fo a bit of context: I have moved 150 miles away from home to pursue an MSc at a good university. It has a great big Students Union (SU) building and more often than not there is a gentleman in the foyer selling the Big Issue, about my age. This means that he is homeless and is working to rectify that rather than just expecting others to do the heavy lifting. I find that most inspiring and endeavour to give him my spare change. However, this post is not about my charitable choices though, it is about Rob.

Today I spoke the the gentleman, he is called Rob. Rob stood there talking to me telling me a bit about his story and how, after 10 years, he has got his first flat and doesn’t have to live rough anymore. All the time Rob is holding a bulging rucksack and after a few minutes excuses himself to put it down. I asked what was so heavy and Rob astonished me with his reply.

Rob pointed at the SU foodbank collection and explained that he has brought in some tinned food for the foodbank. My jaw hit the floor and I checked that he, Rob, the chap selling the Big Issue, who has been homeless for some time, who is clearly just making it with a frayed shirt collar etc etc, was giving food to the food bank. In his soft voice he said, without any hint of irony, that there were people worse off than him, it was from his spare income (WTF???) so he was just giving the little bit that he could.

Capitalising on the shock on my face he wordlessly reached in his bag and produced a Christmas card for me, a regular. I was humbled and had to thank him and walk away as I thought I was going to cry from the huge mix of emotions that welled up in me. Shock, shame, relief, wealth etc. It really was rather overwhelming, for moments before I was cursing the feeling of deep fatigue brought on by my endless petty sicknesses that I have had since coming to Sheffield. It was a really sucky feeling that was jolted into perspective by Rob.

It is easy to intellectualise about the plight of others distant from you, share in a sense of empathy and be horrified at the people around you that don’t seem to care. If you want to do anything to make a difference this Christmas go up to a stranger like Rob, engage them in conversation and prepare to be surprised. Me? Stuff like this throws me more and more. Perhaps it is age.