Lazy Luddite Log

27.4.13

Incompetence In Context

It is many months since I discussed work here. Last time was a personal sharing of anecdotes. This time however I am discussing a theme that may well apply to many or even most workplaces. I draw on my own observations and conversations with friends over time. The issue I consider is incompetence within workplaces.

Words are descriptive but they also take on connotations, whether positive or negative. My impression from media and mass culture is that "incompetence" is almost as negative a term as "corruption". This has always struck me as odd. Is lack-of-skill almost as worthy of derision as is deliberate deception and manipulation for the sake of nepotism and personal aggrandisement? In the meritocracy that our political economy aspires to be possibly the answer is yes. However I now suspect that the former can produce the latter.

I meet some old Korner friends weekly to practice skills-of-craft and chat. One of our recurring topics of discussion is workplace interactions and we sometimes lament having to work with incompetent colleagues. It is very frustrating and makes work for the competent that bit more difficult. However I sometimes wonder how difficult it must be for those who are deemed incompetent. I have also come to the conclusion that most competence or incompetence is contextual.

Take someone who has the skills and experience for a particular job and insert them into a wholly new workplace. They will still need to become familiar with that exact job and how it fits into the wider human environment of that company. All the processes and procedures. All the exceptions to those processes and procedures. All the internal politics. All the history. Suddenly spending much of your week in a new setting with strangers who share with you nothing but the need for an income will only come naturally to some.

Orientation and training becomes vital for the new employee but frequently such a service will be limited. The existing employee charged with training the new one will usually still have work to do. Just how much will they effectively impart of what the newcomer needs? How many times will they answer questions or help with mistakes? And now I turn to the newcomer themselves - how many times will they ask questions or admit to mistakes?

I think it is a good practice to admit mistakes and ask for advice on how to rectify them. It helps a new worker to improve what they do. It also can prevent small mistakes from turning into bigger mistakes that resurface in a week. This is how I do things and such transparency is serving me well in my current role. However I get the impression that some behave differently.

Some feel that to keep a job and win the respect of others they must pretend they are better than they are. Or possibly they sense the frustration occasionally felt by those who supervise them and shrink from making the difficult admission now even if frustration will turn to anger later. So they let things pass. They hide things. If they are discovered they may try to transfer blame to others (preferably in a different department). Suddenly incompetence turns into corruption.

I would be in error if I suggested that the sole origin of corruption is incompetence. There are also greedy and self-serving desires. This is hardly surprising in a work context given that the primary motive for everyone to be there is economic. Add to this a competitive ethos that exists in much of our professional lives. Want to do well for yourself? Act bigger than you are. Blow your own trumpet. Scratch the backs of your back-slapping mates. Celebrate the go-getting self-starting 'guns'. This is a kind of meritocracy but only selects for particular skills of self-advancement.

This ethos I describe only possesses so many workers. There are still plenty who are focused simply on getting the job done. But they can only do so much. Can you get your job done and then help a newer worker get to the same level of workplace-specific competence as you? Or will that just detract from your own ability to do your job? A super-competent person may well manage both. A merely competent person will be inclined to take care of themselves. For many workers it becomes a case of sink or swim. And pretending to swim can postpone the sinking.

If we conceived of lack of competence as something that arises by inserting someone into a particular setting rather than as something intrinsic to a person then we may do better at addressing the problem. If we turned a negative into a merely descriptive term then we may draw it into the cold light of day rather than have it hide in the shadows. Allow incompetence to expose itself and as a bonus we may well eliminate a lot of petty corruption. But to do that we need to say mistakes are okay and that shortcomings are only human.

How can this happen? The 'guns' need to get over themselves and pay more attention to the nuts-and-bolts of work. The workers focused on getting the job done need to be more accepting of the sometimes frustrating newcomers. And the newcomers need to make a commitment to themselves to ask questions and admit mistakes.

It can be difficult to be so honest. It starts at the interview - if you present as a wonderful abstraction of yourself to Human Resources and this gets you the job then you may well feel locked into that same masquerade for the duration of the job. Whether the effort is worth it is something everyone has to decide for themselves. I prefer transparency.

Cross-posted here.

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10.4.13

Odd Notions

Tonight I will discuss some notions relating to the conduct of intimate personal relationships that I happen to find odd. Some will agree with me while others will disagree. What we consider peculiar is very much a product of ever-changing personal experience. As a child I considered the concept of sex rather peculiar. You know how you can utter a familiar word over and over till it seems nonsensical? Well I can still find the concept of sex to be a peculiar thing if I contemplate it with a particular mindset. Most of the time it is anything but odd.

We are introduced to concept after concept in life in a staggered progression. As one thing becomes normalized another comes along that challenges us. Queer identity? Okay. Polyamory? Sure. The more we are exposed to matter-of-fact instances of something the more we understand them as part of our human environment rather than as abstractions that exist only as descriptions that are beyond our ken.

Then there are the things that you have been exposed to all your life which continue to seem odd and it is to a few of those that I now turn. I want to stress that these odd notions transcend orientation and relationship model. I think they can be embraced or resisted by anyone. And I think discussing them can more effectively allow us to decide what we truly think of them...

Subsuming The Self For A Relationship

Nobody is an island. Everyone is co-dependent with many others. I need the person who sells me my iced coffees and the person who drives the bus taking me to work. Conversely they need me to help ensure demand for what they do. These may seem trivial but society is constructed on such connections. With that in mind it is nonsensical to suggest that I can ever be "a complete person" if your criteria was that I can survive as a hermit. But let us assume participation in society as a given and move onto the notion of needing a relationship status to be complete - this one is surprisingly common and rather concerning.

A relationship can bring joy and purpose and fulfilment but to tether sense-of-self utterly to having a relationship has got to limit self-development. I suppose if you had a relationship that you could be assured of (or the ability to always find more) then limiting self-development would be okay. Possibly I only say this because of having spent a lot of time between relationships. But I suspect that to be 'well-rounded' is beneficial whatever your circumstances (I also have a hunch that a developed sense-of-self is also an attractive characteristic).

Some may think I am arguing for the need to be a more self-centred or even self-serving person. I think it is a matter of degrees. The test is impact on your own life and that of others. I feel that we can be committed to the happiness of others while still serving our own happiness. I think these can be complimentary aims in life. And possibly if you are good to yourself you can be good to others too.

Friends - Lovers - Exes

The notion that friends and partners are wholly separate things has been odd to me for as long as I have both had the former and contemplated having the latter. Both good friends and good lovers have much in common - they can be companions in shared activities, allies in challenging times, confidents for your more private reflections. I and many of my friends know from personal experience that one can become the other (and vice-versa). And yet in much of society there is the dichotomy saying that the two are discrete, so much so that many would rather look for a lover from among strangers than among friends. I can only imagine this produces all sorts of frustration and difficulty. It also drives an industry of singles nights and speed dating so I suppose it is good for the economy. However all those romantic cul-de-sacs stranger-dating produces allows me to discuss another matter - whatever shall we do with exes?

I will admit that if every relationship conducted was with a stranger drawn from an anonymous crowd then the challenge of interacting with exes may never be faced (well assuming you never run into them at the shops). However life is rarely that modular. Chances are some of your friends will have become their friends. Will you ask them to choose? This happens and can produce schisms in friendship groups. My experience tends to be of groups in which it is accepted that friends can become lovers and that exes can still be friends. It can be difficult and takes more work to manage the necessary transition with appropriate distancing. But it can also be nice in the long-run. Why did you become interested in them anyway? Surely some of the things that attracted you also make someone a candidate for friendship. I suppose that depends on your own criteria for attraction. Possibly having partners who are cute but shallow is okay as long as you have dedicated friends to turn to for D&Ms once those partners become exes.

I would rather partners be more friend-like and if some friends also happen to be attractive then so be it. Nobody has to act on every attraction but what if you did? Well one way of managing this challenge would be to keep well away from anyone attractive except for those you can quickly negotiate a relationship with. Seems like a formula for a lot of awkwardness to me.

If it ends then it was never worth it

The ends of relationships can be excruciating experiences (I sometimes feel the same of the starts but that may just be me). Some relationships are conducted in such a way that feelings of resentment or mistrust make sense. In such cases I understand that the legacy of the ended relationship can then forever be tarnished. However there are only so many cases like this. In other cases the exes simply wanted different things or changed and drifted apart. In those instances I am sometimes surprised by the degree of negative feeling that persists over time towards past relationships. In many cases I have gotten worthwhile experiences that have enhanced my life. They exist as more than memory because they can also alter who you are, even for the better, getting back to that 'well-rounded' thing.

Here is my take on relationships that were "good while they lasted". Yes you have lost something in it ending and are poorer for it afterwards. But remember that before the relationship you were also poorer for its absence. Okay so you never knew what you were missing then but I refer you to the enhancing experiences you have now had. Possibly I am unusual in that I live in a fuzzy personal present that incorporates much of my memory and imagination and that allows me to be more philosophical than someone who more fully lives in the moment.

* * * * *

The odd notions I have touched on here are common in society and everything from movies to magazines promulgates them. If I am a product of my society why then do I find them odd, as I have done all my adult life? Well, the scenes I move in tend to look on them critically and allow everyone to freely choose the extent to which they accept or reject them. Even the most conventional among us still have our own independent personas and can therefore mix confidently with assorted friends and even count exes among them. Many surveys report that respondents say they trust family and friends far more than media and politicians to provide them with information. It should hardly be surprising then that it is my own human environment that impacts on me more than the more distant one of wider society.

There is another possibility - that while I see my own sets of friends and wider society I will miss the existence of all the many many other scenes others experience that I never will. It may well be that the closer you look the more you will find that the odd notions I describe here are odd for many others. Also if I think more honestly about that much-derided popular culture I will notice that it exhibits both trends and counter-trends (for instance there was rather a lot of cross-dating happening among the key characters in the long-running TV show Friends). Possibly we all do freely choose the extent to which we incorporate these notions into our lives. I hope so. But if you find yourself accepting the sense of all of them at once then I suggest you take a closer look at them and whether they do in fact make sense to you.

Cross-posted here.

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