I am a giant.
I used to work in an office and I was paid a professional wage. Well, maybe a lot more than a professional wage. I felt it was important to set a precedent for hard work. So when I need to walk somewhere, I walked at a brisk pace. I thought of it as a professional pace.
Once upon a time, there was a door and it had a magnetic security lock on it. A steel plated door filled with a window with wire in the glass. I had passed through this door hundreds of times and was used to the timing of waving the badge and the door opening. One day it didn't open. Oops. It took a couple of days, but they fixed the door. Sorry.
Another day I came around the corner and another guy was also using a "professional pace" going the other way. Isaac Newton's lessons played out as expected. I was slowed and he was on the ground. Oops. Sorry.
But I really want to talk about the other kind of fragile.
I was meeting with the IT manager about ground systems for some space craft. There will be about 25 to 30 extremely large computers, each doing different things. We need to put diagnostics software on each one and today I am designing the architecture of all diagnostics. I actually wrote a bit of an article about it here. At the moment, I am saying that I need to ping each of these computers every two seconds. The ping is extremely fast and will probably take less than 10 milliseconds to process for every ping.
This woman, a very lovely and kind person ... the manager of the IT department which will be in charge of all of these computers and keeping them all running properly after the rocket has launched ... is telling me that no one computer can keep up with that much demand: every two seconds to have a request and the entire response is "ok". These are massive computers with massive processors that run so hot that the whole room will need to be cooled to keep all this equipment from getting too hot.
I explained that such a computer should be able to process thousands of pings per second, and we are talking about one computer needing to process one ping every two seconds.
She explained that she had had a long meeting with her team about this very thing and they insist that none of the computers can possibly handle the load of one ping every two seconds.
I explain that if that is so then we need to reject these computers and get computers that can manage not only this load, but all of the other diagnostics that will be running in parallel with the primary function of each computer.
There is a bit of a pause.
She begins to cry.
I give her a moment.
I realize she is not fit to work in her department let alone manage it. It is possible that her team is fucking with her and loaded her up with bullshit for her upcoming meeting with "the grim reaper" (I learned that this is, apparently, me). But this is too much - she should have some idea that a ping is a tiny spec of function and massive computers should be able to handle thousands per second and barely notice it.
I am a bull in a china shop. I am a bulldozer in a crowd of people. I once saw something where superman says "I live in a world made of thin cardboard being careful to not knock things over."
I have met thousands of people that when they end up in a situation like this (in my shoes) they say "I am not a squealer." or "I am not a narc." Or, "It isn't my job to make sure others are doing their job." I suppose that is entirely the case with structured management, which is miserable to be part of. But this company has a more organic management style, which, I think, makes the whole company more malleable and have a stronger forward velocity. I think a professional is getting paid to move the interests of the company forward. And, I think that a large part of my overpaid job is to set a precedent for professionalism.
In the past I have visited with this woman many times. A really nice person. She is crying because she knows she has been found out: she really doesn't know what she is doing - and she is not qualified for the position she holds. To make matters worse, the people in her department set her up.
Before this point in time, i have possibly seen something like this about a thousand times. At this particular company, I have already experienced it about 50 times. Some people cry. Some people get angry. Usually they say all sorts of crazy shit - because that saved their job before. About half the time they try to get me fired before they are fired. I am very callous to it all anymore.
When I was younger and this sort of thing happened, I wanted to find a way to fix all things. Surely there is a path so everybody can be happy? It really hurt that these people would unleash all sorts of awfulness in my general direction because they have been discovered. I was young, so I would pay dearly for just knowing about their secret. And when i was older, it seemed that this sort of behavior around me was expected. It was sorta my primary function.
People are so very, very .... human.
A really nice person is crying in front of me. I feel nothing. I am now thinking about all of the possible paths she might lose her shit and how to mitigate that.
From the perspective of somebody who has landed a job with a bullshit resume: I am a monster that is hunting them.
From the perspective of somebody who has landed a job because they are qualified: I am a hero that does the ugly work that they did not have the courage to do themselves.
A really nice person is crying in front of me. She is about to lose her job. A really nice job. I do not comfort her. I do not add salt to the wound. I sit quietly and wait. Nobody else needs to know. Let her have her cry. Maybe when she is done crying she will go to her office and pack. Maybe when she is done crying she will try to physically attack me. But I'm not too worried because I'm a giant.
I have had several people tell me that they have listened to all of my podcasts twice, and all of my podcasts with helen atthowe four times.
I like recording podcasts with helen. She is my teacher and she still knows far more than i do. And, at the same time, it would seem that there are things I know that she doesn't know. We share with each other and we end up bickering. Respecfully. I am not sure how, but it works.
Rather than being a bull that is constantly in a china shop, I am out in nature and locking horns with another bull, using all my strength. This exercise is a powerful growth experience for me and when the podcast ends, we both feel like we accomplished something good.
She was here a couple of days ago. There were a lot of people around being especially fragile and it was good to lock horns with helen for a bit. I already miss her. As i returned to the fragile people, I thought that these interactions were a bit like "playing bumper cars with bulldozers". It would not be good for nice people to wander into the arena.
ernie and erica are here for the PDC. I make a lot of podcasts with them too. And again, "playing bumper cars with bulldozers." I don't hold back. They don't hold back. We are not fragile and we have some serious shit to work through.
One time all three of us were at a rocket mass heater workshop. Some dumbfuck loudly proclaimed that when you build a rocket mass heater in a greenhouse, you should not route the exhaust outside, but keep it inside. His reasoning was that plants like humidity and carbon dioxide. The exaust of a rocket mass heater is almost purely steam and CO2. Ernie, Erica and I spent an hour explaining to this fool why this is a terrible idea. The fool exploded and used the word "science" a lot. Maybe a few sprinkles of "scientifically proven". After an hour, he made it plain that all three of us were dumbfucks and he was brilliant and the conversation was over. He left. And there were a few people in the group that weren't sure what to think, and a few people that thought that the guy was onto something brilliant.
I felt like the three of us shut off bulldozer mode and tried to guide a very fragile person that kept throwing rocks at us. I suppose from his perspective, he was the bulldozer and we were three fragile people throwing rocks at him.
Dozens of times every day this mission is "make the best of it." Ernie, Erica and I recorded a podcast the following morning to spell out, in great detail why this is a terrible idea. Thousands of people have listened to it. I suspect that that guy conducted his lethal experiment and is now dead - so his message went no further.
In this thread I wrote that all of human history and 90% of psychology can fit into one sentence:
Most people NEED to hear their own opinion from all other people and are frustrated that they don't have the might to make it "right."
If you write anything in such a way that it can be read by anybody, and anybody can comment, then those people will feel the need to hear their opinion come out of your pie hole. It doesn't matter if they are right or wrong. They feel that need. And the bigger audience you have, the more important it is to them. And with a bigger audience, there will be more of them that suffer from this need. And the messages will be all different, so there is no possible way to comply.
And they are so fragile.
If you fire up the bulldozer mode, they will explore "the might to make it 'right.'".
Therefore, the question is: are you stirring the pot of psychology with a few, or are you about to make history?
By the way, this reply would have been a lot funnier if I didn't fix autocorrect turning bullies to bunnies and live to love. Maybe next time I should just go with it.
My corollary. Some people can be good people and learn what they need to, if someone else can and will take the time to help them learn, share the knowledge /AND that person is willing to learn. I got paid back when I took the continuing education class that turned out to be quantum mechanics and got loaned some books I desperately wanted to keep that got me through that class.
In management jobs I have, they often said 'rising to the level of your incompetency' for how far you could be promoted. Then it was called trying to hang onto your job... Paul, that lady sounded like that engineer, except the engineer could and did manage to learn what he needed to do. I had studied engineering for a few years and survived all the weeders before I switched majors... and one thing the old retired engineer instructors tried to impart to us, was teaching us what could be done so when we designed, we didn't think up the impossible. And no matter how we tried, we were still facing more training by whoever hired us out there, to make us fit the job. I'm sure the lady's department had gotten the drift and set her up and sent her there by what you reported. Hope she managed a strategic retreat and learned from that....
When the giant is wrong who will correct him / her ? Another giant ? Until that other person speaks how do we know they are a giant themselves as sometimes it's not obvious?
David Livingston wrote:But what happens when you are wrong Paul ? Awesome giant that you are in many ways perfect you are not . No one I know is and the last person said by others to have been perfect died over a thousand years ago .
When the giant is wrong who will correct him / her ? Another giant ? Until that other person speaks how do we know they are a giant themselves as sometimes it's not obvious?
I like to think that I am really quick to admit when I am wrong.
And there have been times where I made a stand and later learned that I was wrong. I think I am quite good about owning my shit and making it right.
At the same time, for every time I have learned that I am wrong, I think I have proven that others are wrong about a thousand times. This has nothing to do with any knowledge or intellect, but entirely due to "the language of the engineers." For example, I cannot possibly ever be wrong if I start every statement with "I think".
Like in this film
- X 2
I have bulldozers, I love bulldozers, I do not love bulldozers as much as my wife, but as I tell her; they are a very close second.
But the one thing I love about bulldozers is; their "throttles" are backwards, that is they have decelerator pedals where you step down on the pedal to IDLE the machine down. They are designed to run wide open for their raw, brute force, BUT a bulldozer is an amazing machine. I can rip the biggest stump out of the ground with one with its raw brawn, or I can put a crown on a roadway with the lightest touch. You cannot have both abilities with most heavy equipment, it excels at one or the other.
In life I have found that in dealing with people, a light touch is often the best approach. A nudge of the log on this end, or a nudge of the log on that end, sends it neatly into the pile...but sometimes...sometimes you take your foot off the decelerator pedal and start bulldozing.
Today was a case in point, and 100% permicultural. I needed lime, fertilizer and seed for a field I am crop rotating from corn to grass, adding in some swales, check dams, etc. But its also a grant by the USDA and they pay after the job is finished. I explain that to the fertilizer company, he says he knows how they work and they can be out that afternoon. The trucks show up, the guy gets out and demands cash on the spot.
I still have the decelerator pedal down and explain that was not the agreement...
The driver calls his boss, the secretary calls, everyone is calling back and forth, but the decelerator pedal is down and I am calm. I even explain it to them that while they typically don't do 30 day credit, since there was a mix up, trucks are loaded, on-farm and have a custom-blend of fertilizer/lime on their truck, and they know the USDA will cut them a check in 15 days...just spread the product and everyone will be happy.
NOPE! They turn the trucks around and would have headed back to the plant, but their junk equipment is broke, so the receptionist asks me if I will give the truck a jump start with my bulldozer. I am like "you are not doing me any favors and yet you want me to do one for you?" (I actually felt bad for the driver and did give him a jump start with my skidder).
Full throttle bulldozing now. I don't get mad often, but damn! Under Maine Consumer Law, the most protective in the country, taking a can soup off a store shelf and buying it is considered a "contract"...you can read those words on the Maine Attorney Generals' website...their words not mine. When the fertilizer company arrived on my farm and refused to spread the product without me paying cash, they broke the contract they entered, and engaged in unfair trade practices bordering on extortion. So I filed a complaint with the Maine Attorney General's Office, and submitted a bill for $82, $70 which is a reasonable wage for a skidder the size I have, and $12 for my hourly wage, all for jump starting their junk equipment...cash on delivery of course!
So the crux is this: I try and look at things from both sides before I over or under react, but in situations like today, where I try to reason with them and they refuse to listen, then you just have to push them into a pile. It is not the first resort, but when you do not do that for an egregious violation of anything;
You are not vindicated
They do not learn from their mistakes
And finally others will continue to get hurt.
In my case; with strong arm tactics, or in the case of the rocket mass heater in a greenhouse; potential death.
Sometimes you just have to bulldoze.
I grew up in a family where you were expected to speak up and disagree if something wasn't right. "Well why didn't you say something?", Mom and Dad would say. Politely sitting there and saying nothing when error was clearly evident was considered lazy or cowardice. With 2 brothers with whom I played sports, it wasn't rare to get into some rip-roaring fights. I was never intimidated by a teacher or authority figure. I was respectful (still am) but I'd speak up and share my perspective. As I grew older, I've never felt intimidated by a boss or anyone else. Just tell them the truth. I've coached my own two children to be frank and forthright, even if your opinion isn't popular. Be respectful, but always be honest.
So I've got a pretty high tolerance for conflict. I can stand up for myself and will do so for others whom I think are being taken advantage of.
Until I met Thelma.
Oh my gawd, Thelma, the most stubborn, contrarian, conflict-heightening human being to ever walk the face of the earth. She was the department secretary and for the better part of 30 years she ran the show on her terms. She would ratchet up the conflict to a point where even I would back down. She was Jamaican. I don't know if you can blame this on a small island, but she was the bulldozer you speak of. In 15 years of working with her, she never once admitted to being wrong, even when you showed her exactly how she'd screwed up or laid the facts out before her. She was an absolutely miserable person to work with, so I and my colleagues generally avoided her. The boss liked her, and she knew how to play the political game up the ladder, so nobody ever fired her. When I first came on, I was shocked with the way she would speak to people, yet everyone was so afraid to take her on.
15 years of that shit. She hurt business, yet nobody had the fight in them to go after her and get her fired. She certainly knew her way around Human Resources and to try to get rid of her was inviting a nuclear war.
She retired last year and died about 6 months later. I didn't go to the funeral.
Clearly, some of this is cultural. I've known people from the Middle East who have a much higher tolerance for conflict than anyone else. Other cultures avoid conflict at all costs (Japanese, Central American). They'll accomedate or avoid but will never confront you, or will disappear when conflict is inevitable.
So, in these cultures (that avoid confrontation and are low assertive), do incompetent managers EVER get fired? Often, no, they don't. Saving face is more important than executive competence.
I'd say this, having watched some of your presentations and listened to many of your pod-casts: the force is strong with this one. You have much more strength than you may be aware of Paul.
I consider myself a socially awkward person in verbal comnunication. I am introverted, but not really shy. I am probably somewhere on the autistic spectrum, but have never tried to get a diagnosis. Mostly, I don't talk. When I do talk, I am entirely too frank. And while I really try to be polite and considerate, I still have a reputation for being the rude American. My problem, particularly in this culture, is that "polite" doesn't work. And after my attempts at courtesy have been run over repeatedly, as Travis so nicely puts it, my foot slips off the decelerator, and the bulldozer goes full throttle. I think for a man, that's more socially acceptable, but for a woman... Particularly here in Africa where gender equality is a mythological political concept, bulldozing is frowned upon and shocking to the recently bulldozed. And I am not a giant. . Just 5 feet 5 inches of independent thinking.
- X 3
I can relate to this post on so many levels. My father's side are all big vikings, ranging from 6 ft 4 to 7 ft and my mother's side were all short canadian/eastern euro types. I ended up in the middle but with all the inner qualities of a mad viking with excellent peripheral vision.
Growing up I learned to tolerate a lot of yelling and tantrums and swore I would be learn to behave differently someday. As a database admin for a govt org I see folks the climb the ladder without the skill sets way too much and I also don't tolerate white elephants remaining unmentioned very easily though that is mostly what is expected of us. Allowing things to go unsaid, I believe, is part of the reason we have the messes we find our selves in now on micro and macro levels. I try to take the long view, see all sides and apply the light touch when I can but sometimes the past catches up with me and circumvents my self awareness resulting in full bulldoze mode. A lot of people respect the truthiness aspect when applied in just the right way at just the right time. I will often find a middle ground with dry humorous partial truths subject to varying interpretation. It can be challenging to maintain an even keel, yet another reason why some of us prefer animals, plants and natural elements to wrangle with rather than people.
As an aspiring permie, there seems to me, an extended relevance as well into human systems interacting with natural ones. We appreciate the interplay of complex patterns as fascinating even as the potential resulting non-linear forces may bulldoze us at full power. The historical context could not be more rich for the need for reconciliation and the ability to sit back and listen deeply, but knowing when to be a tiger and when to be a deer can make all the difference in outcomes, at least at the human-centric level. I've learned to try my best to deal with my own attitude and reactions with responsibility and awareness. It has helped a lot to sometimes do nothing at all but no strategy seems universal for all situations. Dynamic ability often seems necessary. Despite my people skills showing some improvement over the years, I still struggle a lot with the right balance of bulldozing vs. letting the wind just blow on my face.
I had a rare opportunity about 20 years ago to have a somewhat related conversation with mister aspire-to-be-a-woolly-mammoth-harpooner Mr. Mollison at my PDC. It was a discussion as to whether we as aspiring permies were essentially "at war" with the troglodytes feeding the corporate monsters. In my naive state I proposed that we forgive people for their ignorance and appeal to their most basic human nature...you can imagine Bill's disgust around such a passionate topic as saving as much of the natural biodiversity as possible while hopefully keeping a few humans around to live to see a wiser era. He hissed at me that that was exactly what they wanted, for us to lie down and be harvested like sheep. In the end though, we managed to illuminate each other's views in a different light to each other. I sought to explain to him that by deeply understanding the misconceptions and self-deceptions involved and that we are all in this together, radical forgiveness can be akin to a warrior's light touch. It requires the sort of bravery that Tienanmen Square folks in front of tanks have. The sort of touch an expert martial artist can have if the right point is tapped even lightly. So we ended up in mutual agreement that we were at war with one of our most powerful tools being forgiveness. By forgiving one's ignorance, hopefully we can then try to find common ground and become more informed humans. Paradox is not often considered until it is in the past. Conflict has a way of re-enforcing our painful approach to learning and growth rather than a pleasure or rewards based approach. Then there comes a time when it just doesn't matter what you learn or philosophize about. You just hope that someone will forgive you for a knee jerk reaction to a situation that seemed to evoke a fight or flight response. We are still primitive in so many ways...
Ok sorry for the wordy peanut gallery ramble. I'll get back to reading about nettles and mulch and stuff.
I was saying "part of the reason i wrote this is to say" ...
thinky-bit 201: damn, that's cold. I guess I've become a cold fucker.
thinky-bit 202: as cold as I have become, I suspect I am not the only one.
thinky-bit 203: I suspect a few might also agree with: progress almost always comes with tears
Re: cold/calloused - I have to awaken myself from the jaded state every 6 months or so to avoid becoming a complete jerk. Suffice to say, I let it ride long enough to be effective.
Thanks for the post Paul. Thanks for a great many things actually.
But, I'm often accused of being too utilitarian.