the forest of buzzwords
June 25, 2016, 4:41 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: ,

As the culture of a business degrades the language euphemizes. As it improves the language clarifies.

In the degraded business, bosses are leaders; employees, team members; firing is letting go; something rotten is pleasant and neutral.


One of the strange things about the business world is the extent to which its jargon is euphemistic. When we talk about leaders, we’re talking about bosses. Yet for some reason bosses don’t like to admit what it is they do. That’s why employees become “team members,” why firing becomes “letting go.” In a way, it suggests that people’s human instincts are that capitalism is something rotten; the more you describe it with precision, the more horrendous it sounds. At the level of uplifting abstractions, derived from self-help culture, everything can be pleasant and neutral. It’s only when you hack through the forest of buzzwords that you can understand what is actually being discussed.

The Unendurable Horrors of Leadership Camp, Current Affairs

learn remorselessness

Is business to do good and do well, follow rules, keep obligations, listen to your conscience, be loyal, have a sense of commonweal, think long term, be thoughtful?

Or is it a terrifying place, with a devastating pace, where people are reckless, ruthless, predatory, and thieving, are remorseless, think only of short term gains, have no regrets, are disruptive? Schumpeter’s gale.

It’s a choice. Don’t believe anyone who says otherwise.

From Jill Lepore, The New Yorker:

The upstarts who work at startups don’t often stay at any one place for very long. (Three out of four startups fail. More than nine out of ten never earn a return.) They work a year here, a few months there—zany hours everywhere. They wear jeans and sneakers and ride scooters and share offices and sprawl on couches like Great Danes. Their coffee machines look like dollhouse-size factories.
They are told that they should be reckless and ruthless. Their investors, if they’re like Josh Linkner, tell them that the world is a terrifying place, moving at a devastating pace. “Today I run a venture capital firm and back the next generation of innovators who are, as I was throughout my earlier career, dead-focused on eating your lunch,” Linkner writes. His job appears to be to convince a generation of people who want to do good and do well to learn, instead, remorselessness. Forget rules, obligations, your conscience, loyalty, a sense of the commonweal. If you start a business and it succeeds, Linkner advises, sell it and take the cash. Don’t look back. Never pause. Disrupt or be disrupted.

The Disruption Machine, Jill Lepore, The New Yorker



carrots and sticks
February 10, 2011, 6:17 pm
Filed under: brave new world, the sweet life | Tags: , , , , ,

First days are full of hope and premonition.  I mean specifically first days in new work places, which has turned from being a once in a lifetime event – for our grandparents and some of our parents – to an increasingly frequent rite of passage, dependent on loyalty and itchy feet quotients among other things.

I walked into my last first day of a new job brimming with characteristic curiosity and apprehension.  Looking back on it now, the seemingly innocuous day had enough signs and flags to help make sense of the next year in that place.  Here are two:  no interview with the managers (I didn’t even meet the project managers until a week after I started the gig, and neither of them ever looked at my cv); and no clear experience relevant scope of work (just do this for now and we’ll eventually get you situated in something more appropriate, I was told on day one).

Needless to say, I wasn’t later properly situated; I’m assuming it was a common unhappy experience for colleagues.  The place felt like a mill; people didn’t matter so much as a magic ratio that had to be kept high:  the number of hours billed correlated with an appropriately high quantity of work.

Breathtaking how much is left out of this formula.  Personality and the ancient idea of giftedness – the idea that what I bring to the table is unique to me and therefore valuable – is a blank.  So is the idea of purpose or common goal.  Ignoring these basic realities of life and personality and work couldn’t be a good business strategy, could it?

No they couldn’t, says Dan Pink in his talk excerpted following:

there are three factors that science shows lead to better performance, not to mention personal satisfaction: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

Continue reading

discreet intoxication of hazard
May 21, 2009, 3:31 pm
Filed under: departure lounge | Tags: , , , , ,

This is from an essay on Naples by Walter Benjamin.  Lore, legend, history – many influences, I am sure – assign cities character.  The politically correct decry it, but generalizations are always at least partially true, and interesting, and useful.  Here, Naples gets called indolent.  Southern places always get this rap – I guess it’s sunny, life is slow, the siesta has been instutionalized.  And everything now is measured by domestic product, ridiculously.

I asked my Italian coworker about this list; he humoured me and we discussed an alternate version of it he had grown up with – Bologna was gluttony and Genoa greed.  But he didn’t linger with me and said people don’t like to talk about it; people are sensitive about their birthplaces.  I persisted with a last thought, that outsiders are interested in it.  Now as I am writing this, I think more specifically outsiders from no place of their own are interested in it.

Trade, deeply rooted in Naples, borders on a game of chance and adheres closely to the holiday.  The well known list of the seven deadly sins located pride in Genoa, avarice in Florence (the old Germans were of a different opinion and called what is known as Greek love Florinzen), voluptuousness in Venice, anger in Bologna, greed in Milan, envy in Rome and indolence in Naples.  Lotto, alluring and consuming as no where else in Italy, remains the archetype of business life.  Every Saturday at four o’clock, crowds form in front of the house where the numbers are drawn.  Naples is one of the few cities with its own draw.  With the pawn shop and lotto, the state holds the proletariat in a vise:  what it advances to them in one, it takes back in the other.  The more discreet and liberal intoxication of Hazard, in which the whole family takes part, replaces that of alcohol.

From the essay Naples by Walter Benjamin and Asja Lacis in the book Reflections.

taxonomy of strangers

(-, bacon, ernst)

Here is Plato’s description of stranger types that come to our cities, some like birds, some on narrowly defined missions. The first kind of stranger is one that stays all summer.  The second comes for a shorter period to become enlightened by way of Muses.  The third comes with public business.  And the fourth comes on a special, rather vague assignment to look at richness and rarity in the visited city.

Plato was a rule guy and there are a bunch of mildly ridiculous ones in here if you have the patience to mine for them.  For him the minimum standard is justice; his version of hospitality is guarded and prescribed.  He sounds like a fear-monger.  Surely this is the standard for our own immigration rulebooks.

Now there are four kinds of strangers, of whom we must make some mention – the first is he who comes and stays throughout the summer; this class are like birds of passage, taking wing in pursuit of commerce, and flying over the sea to other cities, while the season lasts; he shall be received in market-places and harbours and public buildings, near the city but outside, by those magistrates who are appointed to superintend these matters; and they shall take care that a stranger, whoever he be, duly receives justice; but he shall not be allowed to make any innovation. They shall hold the intercourse with him which is necessary, and this shall be as little as possible. The second kind is just a spectator who comes to see with his eyes and hear with his ears the festivals of the Muses; such ought to have entertainment provided them at the temples by hospitable persons, and the priests and ministers of the temples should see and attend to them. But they should not remain more than a reasonable time; let them see and hear that for the sake of which they came, and then go away, neither having suffered nor done any harm. The priests shall be their judges, if any of them receive or do any wrong up to the sum of fifty drachmae, but if any greater charge be brought, in such cases the suit shall come before the wardens of the agora. The third kind of stranger is he who comes on some public business from another land, and is to be received with public honours. He is to be received only by the generals and commanders of horse and foot, and the host by whom he is entertained, in conjunction with the Prytanes, shall have the sole charge of what concerns him. There is a fourth class of persons answering to our spectators, who come from another land to look at ours. In the first place, such visits will be rare, and the visitor should be at least fifty years of age; he may possibly be wanting to see something that is rich and rare in other states, or himself to show something in like manner to another city. Let such an one, then, go unbidden to the doors of the wise and rich, being one of them himself: let him go, for example, to the house of the superintendent of education, confident that he is a fitting guest of such a host, or let him go to the house of some of those who have gained the prize of virtue and hold discourse with them, both learning from them, and also teaching them; and when he has seen and heard all, he shall depart, as a friend taking leave of friends, and be honoured by them with gifts and suitable tributes of respect. These are the customs, according to which our city should receive all strangers of either sex who come from other countries, and should send forth her own citizens, showing respect to Zeus, the God of hospitality, not forbidding strangers at meals and sacrifices, as is the manner which prevails among the children of the Nile, nor driving them away by savage proclamations.”

– Plato. Jowett, Benjamin, translator. Laws. 348BC. The Project Gutenberg EBook. Release date March 1999, Online. 16 April 2007