Don’t Panic…

First a brief apology (to both readers who actually noticed) for the month-plus long hiatus. Despite appearances to the contrary I do actually have to work sometimes and occasionally that work gets in the way of more interesting matters such as this little piffle on the inter-webs. Compound that with 21 days of travel and a quasi-busy social calendar and someone like me who already has the attention span of a goldfish will let weeks go by before even thinking about writing an update.

And that is actually not a bad segue into what I really wanted to write about this morning. As yet another month end goes by and for at least one of my big corporate partners the books were closed on the fiscal year, I brace myself for another round of Jack-Welch-inspired business process improvement. We have all had those moments at the end of the month when we realized “Oh shit! I completely forgot to file that claim that has to be processed THIS month!” or “Oops! Looks like that credit memo won’t be counted in the year-end numbers after all!”

Of course middle management who despises these last-minute rush requests, the accompanying high tension emails, and anything else that incites emotion or causes adrenaline levels to increase above that of your average bradypus variegatus, feels the need to exert their feeble powers of managerial sway to whip all us slackers into shape. The week or so of panicked emails, subtle blame shifting (in preparation for the possibility of failure), and forced overtime are all the excuse they need to point out our gross inefficiencies as an organization and demand we shape up lest the same fate befalls us at the end of the next month… or quarter… or fiscal year. On the surface it seems sensible enough – rather than induce panic in the masses each time we hit an accounting milestone and realize yet again that sneaky calendar has crept up on us with our proverbial pants around our ankles, it does seem logical that we should engage in some orderly process that allows us to avoid the rush and the inherent risk of error.

Bullfrogs I say. Giant heaped steaming mounds of bullfrogs.

Panic is GOOD! That adrenaline rush of nearly missed deadline reminds us we are alive! I say there is a greater risk of error when you DON’T feel like your ass in on the line. When everything is reduced to a neat orderly rote process eventually your brain will switch off from the sheer monotony of the work. You will crave the day that facilities comes around to touch up the nicks and scratches in the walls for the comparative thrill of watching paint dry. This is when the mistakes will occur. Let’s face it, are you more likely to drive your sensible mid priced car into a ditch when you’ve been driving in a straight line late at night with little to occupy your increasingly drowsy mind or when you have just woken up and realized you need to be across town for a meeting with your boss and a key customer in twenty minutes?

Our bodies and brains are wired to perform their best when the fear of failure looms largest. Who among us hasn’t aced a test you only crammed for the night before, dazzled a client with a brilliant presentation you whipped up on the flight in that morning, or pulled a very respectable C- on a paper you wrote in a caffeine fueled frenzy in study hall so recently the ink is still damp. Adrenaline is our friend, and to try to avoid it is to ignore one of our greatest assets. Just as a burst of adrenaline can give a ten year old boy the strength to lift of car off his trapped father, so too can adrenaline help you process 14 hours worth of paperwork in a single afternoon in order to ensure you aren’t unemployed the next Monday.

I think it should also be pointed out that like any other living thing a company will find its own pace. If you begin artificially manipulating that pace to smooth out a jagged process it can only come at the expense of other work. What am I going to NOT be doing if I’m now supposed to be reconciling credit requests ten days before the end of quarter? It turns into a game of corporate Whack-A-Mole.

So I say let the mania run… let the pressure build… let us do what we do best! We know how to manage our time, up to and including those days at the end of the month when we freak out. Don’t panic about the panic!

Now if you don’t mind I have some important work I need to get to most urgently…


(with apologies to Trackside Saul for putting up a picture of him without warning him first)

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Sometimes work just stinks…

I wrote recently about the joys of working from home. One of the benefits I forgot to mention in that post came into focus today with observations from two fronts. A friend of mine on Facebook was having a righteous (and entirely justified) online whinge about the inconsiderate jackass in her office who over-nuked a Hot Pocket (or Diarrhea -Pocket as she as she lovingly referred to it) in the work microwave allowing the stench to waft over the entire office. This is the same office I worked in where a colleague once stuffed a rather odoriferous roast beef sandwich into a locked “shred only” bin, just to see how long it took for Iron Mountain to come around and empty the bins. It was only two weeks (their regular schedule as it turns out) but it was a horrible two weeks to be stuck in the office. Time, air, and a dark environment do not do lovely things for roast beef, mustard, ketchup and white bread as it turns out.  

And it wasn’t just there I experienced the phenomenon of the olfactory challenged co-worker. In a previous office there was an individual who liked to enjoy a bag of microwave popcorn at her desk in the afternoon. And as if the smell of ultra buttered popcorn drifting across the office in the late afternoon wasn’t enough to trigger memories of dim movie theatres reeking of pseudo-buttered snacks and a desire to break out a window and gulp in the sweet fresh air, she also managed to burn the stuff. Every afternoon. The smell of brunt popcorn, burnt paper bag, overworked microwave circuitry and 1500 souls full of hatred for the evil being who perpetrated the popcorn burning in the first place is a stench that doesn’t quickly leave the memory.  

Shortly after I first moved to Singapore we nearly had to evacuate our office here when someone snuck a durian fruit into the office for lunch. For those who aren’t familiar, durian is a popular fruit here in southeast Asia. The popularity is lost on me though. After you crack through the spiny watermelon sized husk you get to this soft fleshy fruit in the center that looks, smells and feels for all the world like nothing so much as a pile of diaper-leavings. In the office on the day of the incident the initial concern was that the building had a gas leak – yes, it is just that bad. I have to assume that whoever first cracked into a durian and decided this seemed like something good to eat was either in extreme risk of starving to death or had recently had his eyes, nose and taste buds removed. Most public transportation in Singapore as well as many hotels and apartment blocks completely forbid bringing durian on the premises. Knowing all this it takes a brave (and completely insensitive) soul indeed to bring the horrible food into an office where other people with perfectly functioning noses intend to work.  

Which brings me to the other reminder I got today. No, not another durian incident, but something much much worse. In fact this rockets straight to the top ten on the “freaky shit that happened while working in Asia” list. Twice this week I’ve found myself pulled from my quiet home office into our downtown office for meetings. Entering the office this afternoon I became aware of a sort of sickly sweet but rotten smell. Sort of like if you mixed a bag of easter candy into a bowl of cabbage stew and let it sit in the sun for a couple of days. The source was quickly clear – there sitting on my desk in a lovely presentation box was a dried deer penis.  

offensive in oh so many ways... a dried deer dong


 A gift from a partner in China our boss our hero had kindly brought this delightful item into the office for a bit of show and tell and barf. It defies explanation. What sort of business negotiation does one engage in that eventually leads one to think “Ah-ha! What this kind man needs is a dried dick to take home with him!”  I can’t even begin to imagine how far the conversation must have strayed… how muddled the translations must have been… how confused the various parties must have become that this seemed for even one second like a good idea. I’m well accustomed to business honors following a different protocol in Asia – everything from where you sit in a meeting, to how and when you enter a conference room, to who gets to eat the eyes out of a traditional fish dinner are all subtle things you learn to adapt to, but this… this male ego diminishing, office ambience wrecking, dried bit of genitalia… this is terra nova for me.  

All I can say is, work stinks enough as it is. Did we really have to make it stink so literally as well? I beg of you kind readers – be aware of the sensibilities of your coworkers. Burn not your Hot Pockets and popcorn! Leave the durian at home and the wildlife uncastrated! We all just want to come in to work, get our jobs done and go home with as little sensory assault as possible. If nothing else it gives me yet another reason to work from home. At least there if something stinks I can just blame it on the dog…  

Which reminds me – I need to wrap this up now. I suspect I’ll be pulled back to the office again tomorrow and I need to go home and get a big pot of my three alarm chili (extra beans please!) cooking in time for breakfast in the morning…  

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