Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Commitment to Soul-Withering Rhetoric

One thing I genuinely appreciate about working in a bar is that there is no commitment to excellence, nor is anyone adding value to anything. I need not attend any team building workshops or waste a weekend at a strategic planning retreat. My reviews — peer and management — are not much more than nice job or get your ass in gear. And spending my time actually working rather than trying to maintain a straight face while I help justify someone's MBA is, I believe, just as beneficial to my employer as it is to me.

My first office job that I was supposed to care about was as an assistant editor in an academic publishing house. There was a strange inverse meritocracy here. The assistant editors all had strong interests as well as advanced degrees in the subject fields in which we worked, while the editors — our bosses — were interested largely in getting drunk and cheating on their spouses at conventions and held marketing degrees from the University of Phoenix. I was lucky: the editor I worked for knew he was in over his head and understood that all the workshops and reviews and the value statements that adorned the hallways were just cover. When he saw me emerge stupefied from my first meeting he said, "What did you expect from a bunch of people who get their management ideas from reading the in-flight magazine?"

I earlier had made my transition from academia to the business world working at SRI, at one time known as the Stanford Research Institute. The name change was part of an incremental separation of the institute from Stanford University, which had experienced some internal strife surrounding the matter of doing R&D for an illegal war. SRI is today well-known for two additional reasons. SRI conducted the Uri Geller remote perception experiments and it is where (in a laboratory a short stroll from where I sat at the time) a physicist literally blew his head off in a cold-fusion experiment. (Oh, it's also where many MK-ULTRA experiments took place, but your memory of that was erased upon seeing the second comma in this sentence. LAMBCHOP)

Even in such a heady atmosphere we were bludgeoned with management-speak. I will never forget the talk given by the incoming president of the institute, partly because in both appearance and speech he was a dead ringer for Pat Paulsen, but mostly because of the way in which he motivated us to commit ourselves to excellence. He urged us to think about the difference between "involvement" and "commitment." "In a ham-and-eggs breakfast," he told us, "the chicken is involved but the pig is committed."

Those were different times. It was the mid-90s. Clinton was President. We were in Northern California and finding a job then and there was like finding some spare change between the cushions of your couch. It's likely for these reasons that someone in that audience felt comfortable enough to ask during the Q&A whether our offices would now be renovated so as to more closely conform to contemporary abattoir design.

Today, everyone would just clap.


Blogger Ashbloem said...

This just brought back bad memories from my last job. God.

Maybe I SHOULD be a bartender. Sounds wonderful.

2:02 PM  
Blogger mega74 said...

Aaaaah...the mid-90s. Wanna grab some Peet's at the Belmont Shopping Center?

12:33 AM  

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