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Buzzing? . . . Oh, I’m Just Shaving my IQ January 21, 2008

Posted by caveblogem in Blackberry, fiction, information management, literature, Management, Other, Science Fiction.
11 comments

I just got a new Blackberry last week. Lovely, sleek little device, and I must confess that I’ve always wanted one, even before they started actually making them. I wanted something that would let you type in text and store it and send it places, etc.

But what amazes me is that I can already see what they do to people a little more clearly. If you attend meetings with others who have these things you are already familiar with how distracting they are. Any time an email comes in, these people pull theirs out and look at it to see if the email is something important. My assumption was always something like the following:

What a jerk. They actually don’t know how insulting it is to constantly monitor some hand-held electronic device while somebody is talking about something that they consider important.

And I immediately draw the following conclusion: This person is stupid.

But I have revised my analysis a little, after getting one of these myself. You see, these people didn’t start out stupid. Actually it was the reverse (no, really, bear with me for a second.) They rise up in the company hierarchy because of their brains and other abilities. Then the organization decides that they need to have access to a constant stream of data, so that they can be more efficient. They must be constantly available for consultation. They are then given a Blackberry, or Treo, or other electronic device that does this sort of thing (even phones which are used for instant messaging, I suppose, although I know very few executives who would do this).

The stupidity creeps in at that point, the receipt of this handheld device. The experience of being outfitted with one of these things has, thus far, reminded me of a great story by the late Kurt Vonnegut, “Harrison Bergeron.” In this story the United States government makes everyone equal by imposing handicaps on the most able. So if you have really good vision, they give you blurry glasses, for example. Or if you are really strong, they make your clothing really heavy (although I have doubts about this one; the clothing would just make you increasingly stronger.) Finally, if you are very smart, the government makes you wear a radio-earphone thing that emits a loud, irritating buzzing noise every once and a while to break your concentration.

Which is where the Blackberry comes in, of course. These people started out relatively intelligent. But the constant interruptions handicapped them.

The thing was sitting on the counter buzzing away this morning while I was trying to help my son with his mathematics. My wife, just back from Peru, said “aren’t you going to check it?” That’s when it all came together for me. Math’s hard enough, without a Blackberry going off.

My capable IT person showed me how to shut the stupid thing off. So now I’m all set.

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What Would Reacher Do? May 17, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in bookmooch, Books, fiction, information management, Management, Other.
6 comments

I haven’t been posting regularly or visiting anyone’s blog because work has been a mad scramble, lately.  It’s the first time I’ve ever had a staff to manage, and I’m finding the whole thing pretty difficult and draining.  I don’t really get energy from talking with people.  But apparently managers have to do that a lot, so I’m exhausted at the end of the day.  And forget about posting during working hours. 

It is so much easier to get things done if you can mimic somebody’s style.  When I taught, I had a tremendous list of teachers I could imitate.  But not so as a manager.  I have never had a really good manager to look up to as a role model, nobody I can think about that and ask myself, “what would so-and-so do?”  My last boss, the one just before the current one (who I will not be talking about at all in this post, of course), was a great guy.  He is a genius, and I respect him a great deal and like him personally (though he’s not without his faults).  He didn’t like managing, and he wasn’t good at it.  He told me so, and he was right.  I’ve had a couple of other bosses who I liked, but most of them were disorganized, emotional, egotistical trainwrecks.  

So, by default, I am aping the style of the protagonist, Jack Reacher, of Lee Child’s series of deservedly popular thrillers.  I started reading these books about three weeks ago because they were recommended to me by someone who has never steered me wrong.  They are amazingly well-written, engaging, funny, and apparently addictive.  I have now read all but two or three, I think.  I have read One Shot, The Enemy, The Hard Way, Pursuader, Killing Floor, Die Trying, Running Blind, and am currently reading Without Fail.  I have two others on order (bookmooch).

Reacher grew on military bases all over the world and went to West Point.  Then he was a military policeman for 13 years before the Great RIF of the early 1990s, when he was honorably discharged at the rank of Major.  He becomes a drifter of sorts, and runs into trouble of various sorts.  Most of Child’s novels seem to take place during this time of drift, after Reacher left the military. 

There are similarities between Jack Reacher and myself. 

  • Reacher prefers to use his head to solve the mysteries with which he is confronted.  So do I. 
  • Reacher is about six and one-half feet tall.  I am exactly six and one-half feet tall.  He outweighs me by twenty to fifty pounds (depending on the book), but only because he is clearly more muscular.
  • Reacher does not carry a gun.  Neither do I.
  • We are both blonde.
  • People often find Reacher intimidating and scary.  Same here.  Perhaps I should smile more, but Reacher says he tried that when he was younger, and that people became even more terrified of him.  So maybe there’s no reason to work on that.
  • Reacher is a fictional character created by Lee Child.  I don’t know who created me, but I have been called a character.  I could be fictional, too.  How would I know?

There are a lot of differences, too.  But most of them are surprisingly unimportant, in the scheme of things.  Reacher can be extremely violent.  For example, in Pursuader, Reacher is attempting to save an FBI agent and find a guy he thought had killed one of his subordinates from his MP days.  All of these people are holed up in a house in Maine.  Reacher sneaks up to the guard house in front of the compound.  He has been in there before, so he knows where the guard is sitting, and sneaks to a position right under a nearby window and taps on the glass with a fingernail a few times, then a few more.  The guy gets up and presses his face against the glass, trying to see down, thinking it is mouse or something.  Reacher, who has wrapped his hand in a shirt, punches the guy through the glass, breaking his nose, then steps in and disarms him.  Then he asks the guy whether he will attempt to get his gun and shoot him.  The guy says he won’t.  Then,

I paused for a moment and thought about asking him some more questions.  He might be reluctant.  But I figured I could slap him around some and get all the answers he had to give.  But in the end I figured those answers didn’t matter very much. . . . I just stepped away and was trying to decide what to do when he made up my mind for me by reneging on his promise.  He came up off the floor and made a dive for the handgun on the sofa.  I caught him with a wild left to the throat.  It was a solid punch, and a lucky one.  But not for him.  It crushed his larynx.  He went down on the floor again and suffocated.  It was reasonably quick.  About a minute and a half.  There was nothing I could do for him.  I’m not a doctor.

I am a doctor (but not of medicine) and I’m not violent.  So that’s two differences.  But I’m not violent because I try to tackle problems that don’t require violence to solve.  Reacher was an MP, which, as portrayed in these novels, requires violence as part of the basic problem-solving toolkit.  That’s one of the reasons they carry guns.  Reacher doesn’t go looking for violence (except when it is important to exact revenge, or accomplish an important task.)  He just works doggedly to accomplish his goals and doesn’t shy away from use of force.  It’s just that the problems he tackles (kidnapping, murder, counterfeiting, gun-running, etc.) often require a partially violent solution.

So I’m starting another occasional series here which I will tentatively call What Would Reacher Do?  First tip for the new manager is the following:  You have nothing to fear

Reacher has nothing to fear.  He is huge and well-trained and wicked smart.  He has sources he can rely upon for information.  And he is a fictional character.  He can’t be killed, because there wouldn’t be a next book. 

So you could say that being unafraid is easy for him.  Regardless, there is a great deal to be gained by not fearing anything in the workplace.  I used to be afraid of losing my job, for example.  That fear didn’t get me anything.  The summer before last I was trying to get a promotion and wanted to put pressure on my boss to either promote me or let me relocate to another part of the University (it’s a much longer story than you could imagine, and much of it is strikingly uninteresting.)  So I sent him a written resignation, and took three weeks off.  I traveled to Idaho, Washington, and California.  When I came back I sent our human resources office a letter un-resigning.  He had to take me back, partially because I was very candid about why I was quitting.  He decided that he was in enough trouble that people wouldn’t even support a decision not to accept such a strange request. He’s gone now, although I don’t know how much I had to do with that fact.

I still find that although I am extremely engaged in my work, I am not at all afraid of losing my job or being demoted.  Very freeing, that.  It helps you make the right decisions, because you don’t have to think about making safe ones.  And if you make the right decisions, you can often go on to find ways of limiting your risks.

To be continued . . .