No. 17 Waiting

The period of ecstatic joy that accompanied the moment she first gave me her phone number has now emphatically passed.

Now I am beginning to realise what a curse it was. I had waited and wanted and wished for her number for months. I had blamed, berated and beaten myself for a coward for not simply asking for her number.

My friends told me: ‘Just tell her you enjoyed her company. Tell her you’d like to get to know her better. Just ask for her number.’

Then, one magical day when the spirit of a braver more self-confident me miraculously inhabited by body, I asked her.

She took a small notebook from her purse and a small enameled Biro, and she wrote her name and her phone number in neat, clear letters. She said Wednesday evenings were good for her and weekends. She smiled.

I didn’t call her straight away, the moment I got home. I wanted to of course, more than anything, but I didn’t. I wasn’t trying to play it cool, though a couple of times I tried to tell myself that I was. I didn’t call her because I was afraid she might have given me the wrong number.

When at last I did call, on the following Tuesday, she was out. I got her voice-mail and hung up immediately without leaving a message. Once again I was ecstatic, for a moment, she had given me her real phone number. Then, again I was seized by anxiety and self-doubt. Why hadn’t I left a message? What kind of an idiot would I look?

Then five minutes later, pretending I had not called previously, I called back and did leave a message. I said it was me and that I wondered if she had any plans for Wednesday.

I hung up, pleased with myself and more than a little relieved. But then five minutes after that I realised that I hadn’t given her my number. There was no way she could call me back.

Should I call again, affecting rueful amusement, and leave my number. No. That would take someone far more courageous than me.

Maybe she knew my number, maybe she had already asked someone else for it?

Now I had her phone number, I had called her, I had left a message and I was no better off than I had been before. Worse in fact, as I would now look an idiot whether I called her back or not.

I decide to call her back. The phone rings and immediately she answers it.

‘Oh’ I say.

‘Who is it?’

I say it’s me and that I am phoning her back because I realised I hadn’t left my number in case she was free Wednesday.

She says she’s glad I called. She says she is free Wednesday evening and that I can pick her up at 7:00pm. She hangs up.

I am beyond ecstatic I run around chasing my tail and chanting ‘Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Until I realise I do not have her address.

Should I phone her back?   I’m not going through that again. Maybe if I work my way through the phone book I can figure out her address from the phone number.

I can’t call her back again, not so soon. I am physically and emotionally exhausted as it is.

I start working my way through the phone book. It is amazing how many Johnson’s there are for such a small town.

After about half an hour the phone rings. I pick it up absentmindedly and say ‘Yep, Wha-Sup?’

It is her! I must sound like a complete bozo, no one says that kind of thing anymore.

‘Hi, she says, ‘just thought you’d need my address for tomorrow.’

I write down the address. I say ‘See you tomorrow then.’

‘Tru Dat’ she says with a little laugh and hangs up.

 

No. 16 Annulment

We have only ever been friends, thank goodness. I have never been given ‘the treatment’.

She is handsome rather than pretty, sporty and competitive. She loves to compete, one to one, never in teams, and she loves to win.

She keeps her dark brown hair short, almost boyish. She says long hair gets in the way when she is kayaking, or foot-boxing, or rock climbing, or doing anything else for that matter.

She always has a boy in tow, usually tall and thin with corded muscles, wiry, never big and bulky. She calls them her beaus. I think she thinks it sounds more classy than lover and more grown up than boyfriend.

The pattern is always the same – though she never seems to recognise it. She is always either in love, head-over-heels, besotted, or collapsed, very temporarily, under a crushing grief – either of abandonment or disappointment, depending.

Each is always ‘the one’, and while he is the one he is the subject of her absolute, undivided and unremitting attention. He gets ‘the treatment’.

From the outside it always seems a bit unfair, like shooting fish in a barrel.

She loves sex of course, that’s the heart of the matter, she loves boys and she loves sex and the best sex is always to be had when one is swept away in the first unbearable, unsustainable flush of new love.

It always seems to me that it is not the boy that is important, it is the love, or more precisely, it is the being in love. It is the being swept away with love. The craziness of it, the irresistible force of it, the consequent absence of culpability. The effective innocence afforded by love is what she loves.

She slumps down in one of my oversized blue cotton arm chairs, carefully crosses her legs, like a child, and then she says:

‘He is wonderful, you have to meet him. I know you’ll love him. We met in <Tibet/The Amazon/Astronaut Training/Insert Selection Here>. He says the funniest things <Insert funny thing here>.

She enfolds the new beau in a thick blanket of words such that no sense of any individual remains. His very being is synchronously deified and annulled by her act of love, he becomes concurrently a God and a cypher destined only to abandon or disappoint.

Which of course, inevitably, he does.

No. 15 Monopolis – The Customer Survey

One practice that will stick in the mind of the recent returnee from Monopolis, must certainly be that of the so-called ‘Customer Survey’.

Such great store is set by the results of the Customer Survey. Every conceivable interaction between the Monopolian and his or her customer is surveyed and evaluated.

The Monopolis ‘official version’ of the Customer Survey concept is that customer satisfaction is the single most important measure of the work, and therefore of the success, of Monopolis. The Customer Survey is king, people get promoted or fired based upon their Customer Satisfaction Survey Results.

Of course, being Monopolis, the Customer Satisfaction Survey is not referred to as the Customer Satisfaction Survey at all, but is instead, entitled the ‘Customer and Business Partner Experience (CBPE) Survey’, which, you will agree, is very different and obviously much better as it places somewhat at one degree removed the vexed question of customer satisfaction itself, and substitutes instead the more ambiguous, and therefore more malleable, concept of customer ‘experience’.

From an apparently objective measure, the renaming of ‘satisfaction’ to ‘experience’ repositions the matter nicely from the world of facts to the word of perceptions. And as we all know, within Monopolis, perception is reality.

The recent returnee will recall that the CBPE Survey asks a number of questions about some more-or-less recent customer interaction and allows the Customer or ‘Business Partner’ to select from nine possible responses, where (1) indicates that said individual is ‘Highly Dissatisfied’ and (9) indicates ‘Total Beaming Satisfaction’.

Although there are nine possible responses, only an (8) or a (9) actually ‘count’, i.e. anything less than an (8) or a (9) represents the abject failure on the part of the Monopolian to satisfy the expectations of his or her customer. As mentioned, failure to satisfy ones customer (or more accurately, failure to obtain an (8) or a (9) in the CBPE Survey of said customer) is a recipe for corrective training, reduced bonuses or even dismissal.

It naturally follows that the Monopolian’s focus on keeping his or her customer very satisfied indeed, or at least of obtaining an (8) or a (9) from them when surveyed (which of course amounts to the same thing) is laser-like both in its refinement and its intensity.

One might infer, given the overarching, indeed central, significance of CBPE Survey results to the success, comfort and ultimate lifestyle of the Monopolian, that the Monopolian might do anything and everything necessary to obtain an (8) or a (9) from every customer, on every occasion they are surveyed. And one would of course be quite right.

The first question a Monopolian would ask, when musing upon the question of an upcoming CBPE Survey, would be whether or not to survey the customer at all. Monopolis, being nothing if not reasonable in matters such as these, does of course allow for odd occasions when, for whatever reason, a customer cannot be surveyed. Actually, I should correct my previous statement: to say ‘for whatever reason’ is not accurate, there are of course a limited number of prescribed reasons why a customer can and indeed should, be excluded from a survey, and of course each one comes with its own attendant risks…

The reasons for exclusion are:

  1. Death of the customer
  2. Permanent disablement of the customer
  3. The customer no longer works at the same organisation
  4. The customer has specifically asked not to be surveyed

The risks of using any one of these exclusions are as follows. The Monopolian’s manager may:

  1. Send their condolences to the organisation
  2. Send their condolences to the organisation
  3. Send a survey to a customer representative of their own choice at the organisation
  4. Call the customer directly to ask why they did not wish to be surveyed, and/or the manager may record a ‘black mark’ against the Monopolian’s name for failing to convince the customer to accept a survey

Finally of course, above a certain unspecified quota, failure to survey itself engenders a black mark.

The second question a Monopolian would ask, when musing upon the upcoming CBPE Survey, would be who, at the customer organisation, would be the most ‘appropriate’ recipient of the survey request. A great deal of thought and preparation can go into this selection.

The third question a Monopolian would ask would be what is the customer’s email address? Any error, even the most minute and apparently insignificant, might make the difference between the customer receiving the survey request and not receiving it.

As mentioned, a small number of customers will not to respond to the survey, and this is only to be expected.

Having selected the customer and their email address, the Monopolian then sets assiduously about explaining to the customer how the survey system works, in particular, the fact that anything other than an (8) or a (9) represents abject failure. The ways this is done are many and various.

The Monopolian must ensure, at all costs, that they get overwhelmingly (8)s and (9)s. An occasional (7) is acceptable and even adds a frisson of authenticity to the results. No response below a (7) can be tolerated.

It is therefore a testament to the quality of the customer service provided by the Monopolian, that the overwhelming majority of Monopolian’s achieve overwhelmingly excellent results the overwhelming majority of the time.

Overwhelming really…

 

 

 

No. 14 Alteration

I observe her, as I have observed her so many times before, from across the crowded café.

I cannot hear what she says from this distance, but I can admire the perfect curve of her lip, her sweet smile. Her scent, fondly remembered from chance moments of physical closeness, cannot bridge the void between us.  I taste hot dark coffee on my tongue, taken with one large Muscovado sugar cube, just as she takes it. I admire the way the curve of her tiny waist so closely matches the violin curve of her chair. I feel the hardness of the curved wooden chair beneath me, worn smooth by the passing of many strangers. I am a stranger to her and she to me, though we have shared these Tuesdays, this precious half hour, many times.

I should not come. I should stop coming. I should be resolute and firm with myself. I should move to the South as my brother keeps urging. Yet I stay, unable to approach, unable to speak, held at this exact distance Tuesday after Tuesday, time after time.

Abruptly, from nowhere, or perhaps, had I greater self-knowledge, from the fuming fire of need and desire fulminating within me, comes decision. This time it will be different. This time I will approach, I will speak!

No, not yet. I will follow, I will watch. She is wearing her primrose silk high heels. How perfectly they set off her shapely ankle!

At the allotted moment she pays the waiter and walks serenely from the café, eyes down, demure. As she leaves the café I see her put up her pale blue umbrella, the colour of childhood skies.

I pay too and leave hurriedly, knocking over my chair as I grab my coat. Fumbling, apologising. I see her turn left down the little lane, heading for the main road. An early autumn drizzle has started. I run to the corner struggling into my overcoat as I go. I do not see her as I enter the lane. Desperation drives me through the crowd. I push through them, noticing my unaccustomed discourtesy, shouting out uncomfortable apologies and pardons as I go.

At last I make it to the main road. She is standing, patiently at the front of a small group of people waiting to cross. I slow. I approach nonchalantly, weaving through the loose knot of people. Making my way to a point just behind her and to her right.

A taxi drives past, splashing a little water as it goes. An elderly lady is startled and slips on the wet paving stone. She stumbles. I see one primrose silk shoe slip off the curb and into the muddy slurry.

The girl turns, her face twisted and contorted by rage.

‘Watch what you’re doing you stupid, clumsy old bitch! You’ve ruined my fucking shoes. You should be in a home!’

The crowd pulls away from the altercation. The elderly lady mutters an apology. The crossing light turns green and my life walks away.

I stand in the early autumn drizzle, my world collapsed.

No. 13 The Crisis, or ‘It’s a big trough and I want my snout in it’

You know that feeling – a dawning realisation that someone, somewhere has stuffed up mightily, and that there is going to be hell to pay?

Well the good news is that a crisis is a peculiarly human invention. Indeed, strictly speaking, it is entirely and exclusively a human affair. The other piece of good news, for the freelance consultant, is that every crisis is a massive opportunity. From the freelance point of view a crisis is a splendid example of ‘The Mess’ (see previous article on freelance consulting).

A crisis is a very different thing from a natural disaster like a flood or earthquake. While any kind of natural or man-made disaster will offer opportunities to the astute freelancer, the crisis offers an embarrassment of riches due to its uniquely human aspects. A disaster can precipitate a crisis for the unprepared executive, but a disaster is not, in and off itself, a crisis.

A crisis is caused by the executive failing to deal adequately with a disaster whether natural or man-made. It follows that an executive who deals quickly and effectively with a disaster will not precipitate a crisis. Essentially, what the freelancer is looking for, is a failure of confidence in the ability of those tasked with dealing with a disaster, to deal with it effectively. This is your opportunity to swan in with a quick fix.

Recent examples of political crises might include the Brexit Vote (June 2016), the emergence of Donald Trump as the front runner in the Republican presidential nomination race, or the collapse of the Australian Liberal Party’s vote in the recent general election. Commercial crises of recent note include the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the VW car ‘defeat’ software that falsified carbon emissions, and the endless and repetitive corruption scandals afflicting banks and the financial sector.

All these events have become crises because the powers that be, and in particular the powers that popular opinion believed should have dealt with the underlying issues, singularly failed to do so. The fall of the UK conservatives David Cameron and Boris Johnson as well as Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, and the leadership challenges about to engulf Malcolm Turnbull in Australia, are all directly caused by the failure of these ‘leaders’ to understand and deal with the underlying causes of the disasters which have befallen them.

The push in Australia for a Royal Commission into banking corruption is a perfect example of how a commercial crisis can become a political crisis if both sets of executives fail utterly to deal with the underlying problem.

In the business context a disaster happens, but only results in a crisis when management fails to address the issue adequately. So crises in commercial and organisational settings are always and everywhere due to a failure of management (N.B. $$$).

The failing executive will of course seek to deflect the blame – onto the economy, onto more junior employees or even competitors, but this is merely sleight of hand. The truth will always be that the disaster has triggered a crisis because the underlying disaster has not been dealt with effectively. For the freelancer, it is essential to remain fully aware of this fact while absolutely ignoring it. Focus instead on suitable deflections, shallow solutions, and broader targets for blame.  If you can come up with a plausible solution that will enable the failed executive to keep his or her job you are laughing.

So for all executives, everywhere, I offer this word of advice: When disaster strikes, ask yourself how best to handle the matter to avoid a crisis. Decent continuity planning and risk management will help you prepare for the foreseeable, but when the unforeseeable happens, and it will happen, remember that clear thinking and honest leadership are your key to avoiding a crisis.

That said, and in the sure and certain knowledge that only one in a million executives will heed my advice, I will just remind the freelance consultant that a crisis frees up cash, lots and lots of cash, which it is incumbent upon someone to spend – well it might as well be you, right?

No. 12 The Returnee’s Handbook – Passion

Those who have recently had any interaction either with the colony of Monopolis or with a resident Monopolian will be aware of their attitude towards, and use of, the word ‘Passion’ and its derivative, ‘Passionate’.

Monopolians are passionate about everything, from clipping their toe nails to ending world hunger.

There is no subject upon which the Monopolian is ambivalent, they are never ‘so so’ on any topic. Being passionate goes with being super-excited. Monopolians are never merely ‘excited’ about anything, if they are going to be excited at all, they will be super-excited.

The Monopolian will be passionate and super-excited about whatever task they are engaged in, or are about to be engaged in, or have recently completed. If the Monopolian is in a particularly good mood or if you area a close friend, superior, or someone who may help them in some way either immediately or in the future, the Monopolian may be super-excited about your currently allocated task, or one you’ve just completed or are about to start. They may even claim to be passionate about it.

If you have recently returned from Monopolis it is important to be aware that the words passion and passionate are used differently here than they are there. In Monopolis the word passionate is roughly equal to the phrases ‘working on’ or ‘aware of’ back on Earth. Its use is of course derived from the same original core concept, that of caring about something very deeply, but as it is applied to everything the Monopolian does, all the time, it has evolved a less fervid meaning.

This can be confusing to the recent returnee, as Monopolians are genuinely fervent abut some things, for example bonuses and fulfilling their true potential. They are also ardent in their attachment to Monopolis. Research has shown that the average Monopolian will not leave Monopolis willingly, ever.

The Monopolian is also zealous, genuinely so, in articulating the superiority of Monopolis and all its works, over those of competitors; avid in their interest in all things Monopolian, and obsessive in their need to iterate and re-iterate their key sales messages and points of differentiation.

As with any organisation, its hangers on and enthusiasts, there are those who go too far. These are the fanatics, every large organisation has them, particularly in the fields of sports and technology. They are the storm troopers of Monopolis and its competitors, those who adore the leader and would die for the cause. The fanatics, are, mercifully, few in number though their voice is loud and their influence great.

It will be evident from this short reading that hanging out with a Monopolian can be exhausting, and is typically tedious after a little while. For the recent returnee from Monopolis, therefore, it is important to be aware of the common use of words on Earth if they are to avoid ridicule, or worse, becoming a source of ennui amongst their fellows.

 

No. 11 BREXIT

The Brexit vote is a trigger for much more than just the UK, or parts of it, to leave the EU. It is a trigger that will actuate the many fault lines that have been growing beneath the surface of the modern world. It is also a symptom of those growing fault lines. The impacts will be economic, social, legal, military, political and historic.
Furthermore, the Brexit vote will trigger those tensions to erupt across the world to a greater or lesser extent in each and every country.
The popularity in the political sphere of Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump in the USA, the Tsipras’ Syriza party in Greece and the Brexit vote itself, are all symptoms of a breakdown of, for want of a better descriptor, the ‘social contract’ in each of these countries.
We are heading for seismic political changes in which traditional parties will be forced to adapt immediately or die, and since few human organisations can adapt quickly to change, my guess is that many of the old parties will die.
We are already seeing the early economic fallout as predicted, but it is the medium to long term impacts that really matter. After the dust has settled, the significant pressures already impacting late stage capitalism (or early post capitalism or whatever you want to call it) will re-emerge as driving forces. For example:
• Permanently low interest rates
• Static or reducing demand
• Vast increases in automation, leading to
• Destruction of many traditional jobs
• Growing abundance of low cost goods – think Sock City in China produces a huge proportion of the world’s socks at minimal cost
• Massive increase in virtually free ‘information goods’ e.g. music, movies, books, education etc.

These forces remove more and more goods and services from the economic sphere. This happens in two ways, firstly as more and more goods become effectively free, and secondly as the free, information based, portion of the value of goods increases, for example as the value of information increases as a proportion of the goods you buy – think Amazon’s purchasing suggestions.
There will inevitably be changes across the legal spectrum from treaties to trade agreements, IP rights, residency rights, forms of property ownership and so on. The only way an ‘information’ good can be profitable is if the supplier has a monopoly – just think about the music and film industries, without their monopoly on IP rights music and movies would effectively be free.
Militarily, we can already see a shift in focus in the USA’s attention from supporting Israel to confronting China and Russia. In Europe too Brexit will impact NATO and the will of the allies to work together.
Socially we are already seeing in every advanced industrialised (or post-industrial) country the growth of non-market relationships, the desire to opt out, the development of social networks both via social media and in specific physical localities.
Technological developments in terms of the internet, social media, solar power and now the promise of cheap batteries to store solar generated electricity, and ever increasing automation of work both enable and speed up the social changes mentioned. The immanent arrival of self-driving cars will free up real-estate and reduce the number of cars on the road. Changes which have the potential to shift our societies into whole new modes of behaviour.
All these trends taken together have the potential to ‘bump’ our world into a new historical groove.
In the years to come we may look back on the Brexit vote as the defining moment when everything changed, when all those pre-existing trends and tendencies were suddenly brought together in a new combination.

Let’s hope it’s a brave new world, it may have to be.

No.10 Single

The smell of boiled cabbage wafted occasionally from the kitchen to mix with the stench of my partner’s cigarettes.

The flat was spacious and expensively decorated.The nights were just starting to get longer and I yearned to be somewhere else doing something else with someone else.

On the last day of that relationship we were sitting watching TV as an acceptable alternative to talking, and a welcome alternative to arguing.  I was well-over her, had been for six months or more if I’m honest, but I needed time to find another place and to get up the nerve to leave. I want to say I was trying to allow her the opportunity to change but the truth is I wasn’t. I couldn’t care less if she changed or not. I was just biding my time.

On that day though, our last day as it happened, as we were watching TV, a woman was being interviewed. She said that she was newly single after an unhappy relationship. She was determined to remain single for at least a thousand days.

‘That’s you isn’t it?’ my partner accused, ‘You want to be single for a thousand days don’t you?’

I said nothing. I made no response at all, keeping perfectly still, feeling the smoothness of the leather sofa, scarcely daring to breath. I had learned to give no sign, to give her not the slightest excuse for another explosion of rage. We had been arguing for months. I had even packed my bags a couple of times, but I had nowhere to go.

My partner was right of course. I decided right there and then that this would be our last day together. I could hear the sounds of the traffic over the din of the TV. I am lured by the bustle of the world outside. The next day I moved out, determined to be single for a thousand days.

I left a note, I explained my decision, and I jumped in a taxi with everything I, personally, owned.

My first morning in my new, more or less empty apartment was spent removing and un-friending her, her bloody family and all our mutual friends on social media. I emailed my good friends to say I would be back in contact in a few months.

On my first afternoon I went for a ride on my new bike, to check out the cycle route to work and just to be free and alone and have no one to answer to.

It was bliss. I felt a certain non-directional guilt at taking pleasure in being alone. This was it. This was what I wanted – to be young, free and single again. Ok maybe not quite so young as the last time, whenever that was, but the ‘free’ felt more free than it ever had done before, and the ‘single’ felt fantastic!

My first weekend as a single guy I cycled to the German club in Tempe. I spoke quite good German from a few years working in Berlin, and I liked to keep it up, but the main reason I went was for the bratwurst and the good German bier.

I locked up my bike and sat down. Everyone wanted to hear about my breakup and my new flat, and how it felt, and did I have any regrets and was there anyone else on the horizon, and NO, THERE WAS NOT. I told them all I was going to be young, free and single for a thousand days. And that was that.

I felt, rather than saw, a quiet girl with an enormous jug of pilsner sit down on the bench behind me.  I felt her presence as a kind of gentle warmth on my back. I ignored her and spoke with my closest mates for a while. People got up to get drinks, people changed seats. After a while she ended up sitting next to me. I ignored her. Not pointedly of course, I wasn’t trying to be rude, but absolutely and emphatically. I was only about eight days into my thousand and I was enjoying myself.

Then someone kindly introduced her. Her name was Stephanie. She was from Berlin. She worked for some international conglomerate in an incomprehensible marketing job that nobody in their right mind would ever want to hear about.  Cool, that was safe.

Then she spoke to me in a voice soft as silk on a summer’s night. She didn’t talk about work, she didn’t talk about herself. She didn’t offer vacuous opinions on topics she knew nothing about. She asked me about me. How come I spoke such good German? How long had I lived in Germany? Which city? What brought me to Australia?

I was attracted. I admit it. I was immediately attracted and I wanted to get away before she got under my skin. I had to get away.

I made my excuses, saying I had to meet friends for a cycle ride, and ran, or cycled away, as fast I could. I pedalled hard, clearing my mind of her, the cool breeze blowing away the sound of her voice, the warmth of her eyes, her scent.  I renewed my commitment to my thousand days, in the process all but circumnavigating the city.

My week at work was busy, I spent the evenings collecting items of furniture I had ‘won’ on eBay, and arranging and re-arranging my flat. Life was clean, simple and good.

Next weekend I met friends for drinks at the Goethe institute. Some horrible modern German poet was giving a reading. Anyway, the company would be good. The night was fun, the poet wasn’t too awful and I had a few more glasses of wine than usual.

At some point I noticed that Stephanie was in the room. She did not approached me. She did not even catch my eye or give me a quick nod. Rude cow!

I ignored her, pointedly. I didn’t need her sniffing around, complicating my life.

A few moments later she was standing behind me talking with a not unattractive young man from Dresden who was in Australia studying reptiles. I could feel her eyes on me. I caught a few snippets of conversation.

‘…yes, there is a fixed ratio between the maximum size a reptile can grow to and the average ambient temperature.’

‘Fascinating. So Australia has bigger reptiles than Germany?’

‘Oh yes, and many more varieties.’

Oh for goodness sake!  I turned and said:

‘Stephanie! What brings you to a poetry evening? I wouldn’t have thought it was your thing at all, all those nuances, and finer feelings.’

‘Oh, hi’ she said, ‘nice to see you again. This young man was just explaining to me about Australian reptiles.’ The young man turned and smiled nicely. On closer inspection he wasn’t that attractive at all. He had an overly large nose, small eyes and thin lips. In fact he looked a bit like a reptile himself.

An awkward silence grew, and grew, until even reptile-boy noticed and had the good grace to drift off somewhere.

‘It really is very nice to see you again’, Stephanie’s voice washed softly over me like a scented breeze. ‘Oh shit’ I thought, ‘here we go again’.

We got talking. She was attentive. She smiled at everything I said and gave every appearance of being interested. I drank a bit more and began to laugh loudly at my own jokes. We swapped numbers. I warned her I worked late every night and my weekends were booked for months ahead. I did not call her and was not expecting to hear from her.

The following Friday she invited me round to her apartment promising to make me a lovely home cooked supper.

Of course I went. Of course she turned out to be a wonderful cook. Of course …

I managed fifteen days as a single guy. Not bad.

No. 9 Adorable

‘I don’t love you anymore. I’m sorry. I wish I did. Things would be so much easier.’

‘Don’t say that! I can’t stand it when you say that.’

We are making a token attempt at discussing our situation. We are playing at being civilised about it. The familiar burnt toast smell of our once shared kitchen, it’s cluttered, homely cosiness accuses me, silently.

‘I’m sorry.’

‘You can stop saying that too!’

‘Well what do you want me to say?’

‘What does it matter what I want? When in this whole sorry business have you ever considered what I want?’

‘I have considered what you want. I am doing this for you as much as me. I don’t want either of us to find ourselves sitting opposite each other in five years’ time, with nothing to say, when the kids have gone and there’s nothing to distract us from one another.’

‘You’re doing this for me? You must be kidding. You’re doing this for yourself and your tart!’

‘She’s not a tart.’

‘Don’t you dare tell me what she is and what she isn’t. She is stealing someone else’s husband. My husband. I’ll decide what best describes her.’

We sit opposite each other over ‘our’ tiny kitchen table. Merciful silence reigns for a moment.  The plastic table cloth, its ancient William Morris pattern still clearly visible in places, is sticky with honey and spilt milk from the children’s breakfast.

‘Why do you like her anyway? What do you see in her?’

‘I don’t know exactly.’

‘She’s short and fat and her bum sticks out.’

‘I don’t know about that!’

‘And she has buck teeth.’

‘She does not have buck teeth.’

‘Yes she does, and she’s a slut.’

‘She is easy to be with, good company.’

‘Oh I bet she is.’

‘No, not like that. I mean she is, we are, simpatico.’

‘Simpatico? When did you start using words like simpatico?’

‘We get on.’

‘Do you think she is beautiful?’

‘No, not exactly. She perfectly alright looking.’

‘Sexy?’

‘Well she can be sexy I suppose.’

‘You suppose? You don’t know for certain? You’re not sure if the woman you dumped me for is sexy or not?’

‘Oh stop it.’

It’s raining again. Hard pellets of rain tap angrily against the glass. The sky hangs very low and black over the city. It will be dark soon.

‘If she’s not beautiful and she’s not sexy. Is she at least generous, or kind to animals and small children? Is she strong, or loving or a good fucking cook! Something, anything! Give me one bloody reason why you prefer her to me!’

‘She’s just adorable.’

‘Adorable?’

‘Yes, I find her charming and sweet.’

‘That’s it? That’s all you’ve got?’

‘I find her adorable.’

‘Sounds more like a bunny rabbit than a woman. Come to think of it, she does look a bit like a rabbit, it’s the big brown eyes.’

I feel disloyal but I have to agree. There is a very slight resemblance.

Outside it is now fully dark and raining hard.

 

 

 

 

 

No.8 Having Secured the Contract, the ongoing revelations of a freelance consultant…

I finally figured out how to secure my first contract. Which, as it turned out, was only the beginning of the journey.

Having secured the contract I duly turned up on day one at the imposing offices of my first client, bright eyed and bushy tailed. That’s when I ran into my first, err, opportunity. They had no requirements, or those that they had pertained, as far as one could fathom, to a different company of the very same name. They had no real idea what the problem was, though there was, definitely, something very, very wrong, probably.

This is when I made my first discovery as an independent consultant. I discovered ‘The Mess’. My client was in a mess. The Mess, as it turns out, is the thing that stops the client from being able to diagnose and correct their problem for themselves. They cannot see the problem for the mess.

The mess is the independent consultant’s friend, and the best thing about it is that all organisations are, to a greater or lesser extent, in a mess. Being in a mess is actually the natural state of the human organisation, and there is a very good reason for this. A rational reason that makes sense and everything. And it is this:  all human organisations are optimised as far as possible to keep doing those things which resulted in past success, and to stop doing those things which did not result in success (notice I do not say ‘stop doing those things which result in failure’ – I will come back to this). Lastly, all human organisations look for somewhat new things to do which in one way or another resemble the successful things they did in the past (for those who have an interest in these things the principle was discovered by Igor Ansoff and immortalised in his very splendid ‘Ansoff Matrix’ – google it.)

Well, with all this success going on there is no time to clean up the detritus, further, it is demonstrably the case that cleaning up the mess as it develops will negatively impact the bottom line (cleaning up is a cost and costs impact the bottom line by directly reducing profitability). It therefore follows that to clean up the mess is actually counter-productive in the short, and often even the medium, term. So having a slowly increasing mess does not impact profits, at least to begin with!

This is a very good thing – for the independent consultant. It is also inevitable according to physics and is demonstrable to anyone after only a moment’s consideration. For instance, the city that lays down a modern and efficient sewerage and waste water system first, derives a huge advantage over other cities in terms of public health, general well-being, improved commerce and thus increased tax revenues. All cities are at all times seeking to increase their tax revenues. Even when they say they’re not. Indeed, especially when they say they are not.

Having laid down a most excellent sewerage system the city moves on, focusing on other things, such as laying down a most excellent cabled telephone network, a superlative electrical distribution grid, an exquisite gas distribution network and a mathematically perfect arrangement of roads, avenues and alleyways. Each magnificent advance improves the wellbeing of those living in the city, increases commerce and thus tax revenues. Each innovation in town planning and urban development also increases the complexity of these ‘legacy’ systems. The term ‘legacy’ is nowadays ubiquitously used to refer to old and outdated treasures that stand in the way of modernisation, laissez faire and city taxes.  They are also known, both jointly and severally, as ‘The Mess’.

All human organisations are subject to the thermodynamically pre-determined growth and accretion of ‘mess’, especially Clients. Just as a city, for very good reasons, inevitably creates a mess, so does every other human organisation.

I am about to reveal three secrets. These three secrets taken together comprise the secret sauce of the successful freelance consultant.

One: It will always be the case that some organising principle will have previously been deployed, a principle which, while delivering success, will also have delivered The Mess.

Two: The freelance consultant is duty bound to attribute the current mess to the previous organising principle.

Three: The freelance consultant must then introduce a new organising principle to replace the old organising principle.

Now there are of course subtleties to all this. For instance, the previously employed organising principle may not be immediately evident. In this case it will be necessary to reconstruct it before rubbishing it.

It may not be completely obvious how the previous organising principle inevitably led to the current mess. In this case a plausible story, incorporating all the current politics, jargon and organisational mythology and prejudices, must be woven together.

Lastly, it may not be evident to one and all how the new organising principle is going to fix the problems of the past and/or clean up the mess, and/or drive success in the future. Fortunately this is the least tricky of the objections you may encounter. A superior and condescending attitude coupled with a brisk and breezy manner may be all that is necessary to dispel doubt – after all, these people are desperate for a solution and are depending upon you to provide it. If attitude and manner alone prove insufficient, the freelance consultant should call upon the doubter not to be cynical, not to repeat the sins of the past but to have faith in the organisation, in his/her colleagues and most of all, in him/her self.

Explain how the organisation understands that for a few, embracing change may be challenging, and how, for those stragglers support mechanisms will be put in place. If necessary, explain how extra-organisational opportunities may be appropriate in a few, die hard, cases.

Having discussed the ‘organisational change management’ aspect, it is just worth noting, in passing as it were, that by-and-large it is not important which organising principle is selected to take the organisation forward, only that one is selected and repeatedly presented, explained, alluded to and acronym-ised.

This is because, while some organising principles may be a better fit as a solution to current issues than others (occasionally one may even find a perfect fit), overall any change in organising principle is better than none.

I have even seen the previous organising principle rehashed and rebranded (refurbished and recycled, as it were) and applied again under an assumed name – with great success.

Selecting the Organising Principle

Time for a bit more on organising principles. An organising principle usually takes the form of a key idea, augmented by a framework, perhaps a process, and some easy-to-use templates.

Examples of organising principles from the world of IT include ITIL, Cobbit and a host of others, and from the world of Management Consulting we get the (in)famous BCG Matrix, Porter’s 5 Forces framework, and so on. There are specialist frameworks for almost anything you can think of.

If you have a rough idea what sort of a framework you need, for instance if you have figured out that The Mess is most acute in the logistics area, you could try a quick internet search such as ‘logistics consulting frameworks’ which, amongst many, many more, brings back a treasure from Logisticshelp.com.

A cursory study of their diagram suggests an overall review of supply chain strategy coupled with a review of current supply chain operations – and we’re off. We have a key idea, “it’s all logistics’ fault“, a busy and colourful framework, and from the US Office of Logistics and Acquisition Operations, a veritable raft of useful analysis templates.

Summary

  • All human organisations are in a mess
  • First priority is to identify what kind of mess
  • Then apply an organising principle (key idea, framework, templates)
  • Google is your friend – the trick is to ask the right question

This approach enables you to define the client’s requirements for them, suggest an approach to solving their problems and, through word of mouth, secure that all important second contract.

I did say I would come back to why it is that human organisations express little interest in desisting from those things which result in failure. I believe the answer is worryingly simple – most human organisations have no interest in raking over the coals, few want to carry out so-called ‘post mortems’ on failed projects (although most have a policy of doing so), consequently no one ever really knows why a specific project failed, only that the project manager has left and we can speak his/her name no more.

Next Edition – The Crisis, a uniquely human invention.