Fond affections are never said, they’re only sung in song



In a rare departure from mythbusting, baiting hipsters and pleading for simplicity, this is a music post – a response to a challenge from @mjcarty, @JacksonT0ny and @TimScottHR to find the #7songs that have made us. For those about to consider the same, it isn’t as easy as you think.

My vinyl is all a bit scratched. My CD’s are all a bit scratched. I have no idea how iPlayer works. I prefer the sound of voices and the world around me to music while I’m trying to do anything other than perhaps cook. Even then I’d rather listen to Front Row. Yet music has left its indelible mark on me, inspired me, made me. It’s because when it manages to drag me in, I can’t do anything else. I’m completely and utterly in the song.

I owe a distinct thanks to Sellanby in South Harrow, the second-hand vinyl shop that I could have given as my fixed abode during my most impressionable years. Most kids today won’t bother to learn the RSI-inducing fine art of flipping through boxes of vinyl, or the exact angle at which to tilt the record into the light to find grooves other than intended spiral. Nor will they blu-tak a 2p coin to their stylus to stop it torvillanddeaning on its own unintended journey.

And so my own #7songs. As unique a combo as all our choices. Its why they made us unique.

Queen: Seven Seas of Rhye (1973)

Medium: 7″ vinyl single

I learned about heavy rock from my Dad’s collection of a few albums – he had Led Zeppelin II amongst a pile of stuff I thought was dirge. I remember when he unpacked his new “proper” record player and we listened to it together. But nothing prepared me for rush of blood from seeing a black-leather-clad Freddie Mercury on TOTP with his mic stand upside down and within a minute I was hooked. For several years I listened to nothing but the first three Queen albums. I could sing the lot for you now. The spell was finally broken by A Night at the Opera – they had lost their aura. They were still the first band I saw, in 1976 – but they didn’t play my song. Gits.


X-Ray Spex: Day the World Turned Day-Glo (1978)

Medium: 7″ vinyl single

I’d heard of punk. I’d heard some punk. The right-thinking establishment was outraged, I was bemused. Most of it sounded a little like bad metal. But when I first heard Poly Styrene I got it, completely. I wasn’t allowed to say “F–k!” in the house but I sure as hell thought it. Someone had finally told me music could be different. From there I was hooked. I used to have my transistor radio with me on the pillow at night and would usually fall asleep to the sound of John Peel’s show. I used to annoy the hell out of my Dad asking for another PP3 battery every other morning.

The Only Ones: Out There in the Night (1979)

Medium: 12″ blue vinyl single

There was always something slightly crap about the Only Ones. Endearing though. This song, unlike the others on my list, relates to a particular memory – and strangely one that has no relationship with the song. Its the soundtrack to a rainy London street even today. As a 15-year old I’d travelled by tube from Rayners Lane to Finsbury Park, which felt like the entire length of the Trans Siberian, to see Siouxsie and the Banshees supported by the Human League and a band called Rema Rema (one of their songs, Fond Affections, would later appear on the first This Mortal Coil album – and gives this post its title. Interestingly, their guitarist – Marco Pirroni – was an original Banshee and later joined Adam & the Ants). It was a shatteringly incredible night of music. Yet the soaked streets outside the Rainbow Theatre were, in contrast, so muffled and mesmeric. Even writing about it now, I’m there, with goosebumps. And the song, it’s there too.

New Order: Ceremony (1981)

Medium: 12″ single, green cover (important note)

I must have needed an anthem at the time. Now I cant walk through a park with “avenues all lined with tress” without this song. And its always on vinyl, levitating above itself. It was written with Ian Curtis, as a Joy Division song – there are a couple of unintelligible versions available. But like the Russian Revolution there are two New Order versions, Spring and Autumn -it has to be the green cover version (March 1981) which simply belts out. The later imposter (September 1981) verges on the distressing by comparison. And I always read the words scratched on the vinyl, even though I know what they say: “watching love grow – forever”.

The Cure: Just One Kiss (1982)

Medium: 12″ vinyl single (far superior B-side of Let’s Go to Bed)

From the first hearing of 10.15 Saturday Night through to the rank betrayal of Lovecats (with a few exceptions after that) no band captured my late teens/early 20’s angst like the Cure. I dressed like Robert Smith, wore make up like him, and even received a postcard from him (which I now can’t find) when I asked to interview for the Southampton Uni paper. But for all the indulgent, bleak despair of the Faith and Pornography albums, nothing captures the mood more than the extended version of Just One Kiss, released when the band had only two members. Perhaps in its drawn out build-up it unconsciously tips a nod to stuff that almost made the list, like Yes’s Heart of the Sunrise. “We waited alone on the sands”. Part of me may still be.

Cocteau Twins: Ivo (1984)

Medium: CD

While I had dabbled with the ethereality of the band, with tracks like PearlyDewdrops Drops (that John Peel said made him cry), the enormous gates that slowly opened to reveal the opening of the incredible Treasure album began a fascination that ran through countless Cocteaus albums, This Mortal Coil, and on through the 4AD stable with Dead Can Dance (especially the haunting Frontier), Wolfgang Press, Throwing Muses, Les Mysteres des Voix Bulgares and to Robin Guthrie’s beautiful ambient solo work. There is a moment late in the song where glass smashes beneath layer strumming guitar that seizes the breath, every time.  The track opened up a world of music where the voice was the complex instrument of all, yet in which the words were meaningless. In this, it had the power to reach more deeply than I had ever experienced.

David Sylvian: Ink in the Well (1984)

Medium: CD

The song made an impression on first listen, but at a slightly difficult stage in life several years later became a solace and has been so ever since. To that end it’s an entirely personal thing, just me and the song. I love to write – still now it serves as the nudge I sometimes need to start. The line “these are the years with a genius for living” should be all of our years, every one of them. There is a lot of space in the song, the white paper on which we scratch our thoughts.

There was no place in the list for my favourite song, ever: Wire‘s Outdoor Miner. That’s just always been with me, through every phase of my life. It was my favourite from the first journey through the undulating piano solo in the middle, while I was undulating somewhere in 1979. I have an album called the Houseguest’s Wish with countless cover versions of the song, released to celebrate its 25th anniversary. Jarvis Cocker has a blinding live version of it out there too. So I know that some of this love for the song is shared.  Not sure whether I like that or not, but I’ll live with it.

And no room for anything by my ultimate rock’n’roll hero Howard Devoto, from whom the light surely pours, who trumped the incredible Magazine with Luxuria, the most artful fusion of lyrics and music you’ll ever hear. If you’re new to it, try Mlle – I’m sure Proust would never have imagined. I’ve got a book of his lyrics that I thumb through when I’m looking for a burst of inspiration. I always find one anew.

Thanks Michael for prompting these reflections, I’ve run through some lovely memories in searching for the seven songs. If you’re reading this – its your turn.

#Untrends for 2016 – stuff that just isn’t happening

Property and workplace suffers from a phenomenon we might call “repetitive reality” – say something enough times, irrespective of whether it has any basis in fact or insight, and it sticks like a half-eaten humbug on a mohair. Thereafter, trying to counter it is like trying to repel a plague of locusts with a spatula.

In recognition of the time of year when everyone with a snowglobe and a web browser rattles off a list of trends for the coming year, here is a list of stuff that won’t be trending despite most of the soothsayers telling you it will. They are the myths I listed in a five-minute sprint at the rather enjoyable Estates Gazette offices summit last week.

#Untrend 1: it’s a time of unprecedented change. It’s more likely a time of ubiquitous accountability, created by access to a multitude of accessible channels. Most of what we think is new is a re-hash – since we first emerged from the Gorge there have been far more significant periods of societal, commercial and technological change, and there is plenty of evidence to support a slowdown in innovation. I also love the argument that the washing machine was a more important invention than the internet – once that idea is in your head, it won’t leave. For this #untrend also read “work is changing at an unprecedented pace” – same swing of the spatula.

In this dizzying time of change, of course #Untrend 2 – the office is dead – gets a regular airing. The repetitive dribble associated with this one is the “work is something you do not a place you go”. Because we know that “work” is a verb and a noun. Demand for office space is many an urban centre is rife. And interestingly but often overlooked, the more we stress the importance of social and collaborative activities as essential contributors to productivity, the more the need for people to be in the same space increases. The “death of the office” isn’t a trend, its wishful thinking sponsored by technology companies.

Which brings us on nicely to #Untrend 3: technology will replace presence. This is also sponsored by many of the same technology companies. Yet the more tech we see in a working environment, and the more “digital” the subject matter, the greater the amount of analogue space is required for effective collaboration. Hard-baked agile culture preaches little-and-often interaction puncturing periods of earplugged solitary activity. The innately multi-sensory experience of face-to-face interaction has no rival in any technology yet invented. It’s even touted as a vitamin against depression. There’s no app for that.

#Untrend 4: everything has to look like a workshop. It’s a design fad. You know the look: exposed ceilings, rough timber, raw metal, concrete, old Chesterfields, cast-off furniture from e-Bay, stuff you found on the way in. It’s like dragging a freshly-tailored James Bond behind a tow-truck through Lagos until he looks like Steptoe. Like all design fads, it’s time-stamped. And the more we see it, the harder it becomes to be original. Eclectic is tough brief – most looks like a mess. It’s taking over our homes too. Remember the day you bought a pair of Birmingham bags the day before they went out of fashion?

And everything has to look like a workshop because apparently #Untrend 5 – the TMT sectorsays so. That’s actually two #untrends. The TMT sector is an invention of uncomfortable convenience for an agency sector starved of anything interesting to talk about. It’s not a movement or a grouping with common interests and approaches any more than any other random collection of organisations deemed a “sector”. In regard to culture, management, workstyle and workplace each sector has its arch radicals and its arch conservatives and a bulk of normally-distributed folk in between. And every business is a technology business now.

And because TMT has become the byword for “cool”, #Untrend 6“cool” is something to aspire to. Cool is utterly and completely subjective, but we’re battered into believing that an empty, soulless, novelty-studded over-indulgent space is an aspiration. Cool is all about the aesthetic of sprezzatura, and nothing to do with the occupants. Yet the desire for cool seems to be plugged by those who, in the same breath, want us to know its “all about people”. In the imagery, people are blurs, shadows, because they don’t fit or belong. It is by definition without warmth. It’s not about cool, it’s about what works for you and your organisation, and if that means vanilla, that’s just fine.

In #Untrend 7 – in the gig economyeveryone will be freelance. This is intrinsically connected to Myth 1, where those who are freelance are convinced everyone else will join them in a Macbook-and latte-wielding frenzy of freedom from the corporate yoke. There is a darker side to the dream. What “freelance” often means to the less privileged is akin to the stevedores “standing on the stones” (in America called “shaping”) waiting for the chance to work. For the under-employed professionals, pay rates are being forced down by a market becoming ever more saturated. Unshackled from an employment contract, in all respects the freelancer is shackled to uncertainty. It’s a simple trade-off. The future is more likely a hybrid of the traditional employment model and the over-romanticised freelancer of today – but it’s a long way off.

Linked to the above, #Untrend 8 is that everyone (really, everyone) will be co-working in (wait for it……) co-working centres. That is, despite the fact that the vast majority of people work for larger organisations who provide workspace. Because co-working centres are “cool” (see #Untrend 6) and don’t look like corporate offices. That is partly explained by their being smaller, and the fact that people pay to use them – so their product has to appeal sufficiently for people to part with (ever larger) amounts of cash. While it has a place in the market and has helped corporates consider their workplace design, injecting a depth of personality from the more domestic and leisure influences, in its physical form it remains a niche product and idea. To a significant extent it is already moving away from its original ideal of workspace-as-mutually-supportive community, instead in many instances becoming a hipster version of Regus. At the end of the day, whichever way you look at it, without the spirit and practice of community, it’s an office.

Where there is mention of co-working, under the same stone can usually be found talk of #Untrend 9 – that Gen Y will change everything. That’s because from absolutely nowhere and with no foundation in anything approaching objectivity has emerged the idea that this “digital native” tranche of the population will bring an attitude and perspective that the insulted and inured hordes over whose bodies they now lightly tread could not. There isn’t a #generationblah tag for nothing – its bunkum, pure Age of Aquarius stuff. It could be argued that Generation X made a more lasting contribution to the invigoration of an era – and by that I just mean Billy Idol’s combo.

And so the last for now – #Untrend 10 – in this “VUCA” world providing a fantastic workplace is complicated. It’s not, it’s ridiculously simple if we just stop looking for problems and excuses for not doing something about it. It just requires the application of simple sense to create the #elementalworkplace. When we get to the point of taking blood samples to work out whether we’re enjoying a collaborative space, we know we’ve come too far. But we don’t like to admit its simple, because then there is nothing to hide behind. Time to cut the Gordion Knot.

Building into the future requires a flexible, functional and generic approach that can let everything else ebb and flow around it. Trends, untrends – if we keep it simple, they just don’t matter.


In praise of dumb objectives

After a recent development session that was both inspirational and different, I was rather horrified to be shuffled into a room to prepare an action plan based on SMART objectives. Not only did the idea of an “action plan” seem entirely incongruous with material centred on a raised state of awareness of ourselves and the effects of our behaviour on others, but SMART sounded like fingernails on a blackboard. We don’t use blackboards anymore.

The life of a SMART objective is rather Hobbesian – solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short. It doesn’t stand a chance.

It can be as Specific as it is able but in turn will be less able to take into account complex and ever-evolving circumstances that will impact the ability to deliver on the promise. It might be Measurable but without pure data, uncontaminated by others, it is unrecognisable. In a world suffocated by data, there is always a stat to support its success, and a stat for its failure. It might be considered Achievable but in reality it will either have been too easy, or too difficult – as the aim states, by definition it will usually be the former. But then again if the measurement is flawed, how will it prove itself anyway? It may strive to be Realistic but faces a fundamental philosophical challenge over the idea of reality. If “there are no facts, only interpretations” (as Nietzsche might say) it’s in some deep water. And finally it can be Time-bound, but that depends on the unfolding complexity of the journey – our map of the unknown is only good until the first bend.

But this isn’t another hopeless circular punch-up like that over the annual appraisal where no-one seems to like them nor have a workable alternative. Force-feeding an acronym, how about DUMB objectives?

The objective could be Dynamic, embodying change, able to sustain twists and turns, to adapt to the contributions of those we engage with and the effects of other uncontrollable circumstances. Even Chinese butterflies. It could be elastic and nimble, rather than hewn from granite. It might even acknowledge the likely contribution of others rather than being stapled to our forehead. It could be Understandable, stated in simple, human terms, rather than “business” guff – so we are able to relate to it, as can everyone we share it with. The ultimate test – you should be able to show it to a friend in the café, and they get it without the need for a rambling contextual explanation. Imagine if it was Motivating, it made us want to try harder, achieve more, improve ourselves, benefit others rather than sigh under the weight of the expectation, or dread having to do what’s necessary – to make you want to get out of bed, not get back in. And consider if it were Believable, having a direct relationship with us and what we do, capable of an emotional commitment, rather than a quest dreamed up by a corporate gandalf.

We might then be able to look at aims that we think are reasonable, flexible, will stretch us and we’ll enjoy achieving.

Being free of snappy acronyms might be enough to make this possible, but I didn’t start it.

While it might be saying that SMART objectives are dumb its not saying DUMB objectives are smart only that it might be smart to stop thinking SMART is smart and considering that a DUMB approach might not be so dumb and might be smart. Could be a tricky sell, though.


If change managers were organising Christmas

They would at first point out that they were not here to “manage” Christmas but to facilitate it using your natural skills and resources. Especially your financial resources.

The programme would see Christmas Day on 23 January, because they really should have been brought on board earlier to have been effective. If Christmas Day has to be 25 December, all contracted deliverables are void.

They would organise an all-expenses paid trip to interview Father Christmas, to understand his vision, motives and world view. In Selfridges.

Expectations would be aligned around a common goal. Like a heated massaging footspa, for example.

The importance of disruptive behaviour would be encouraged. Like drinking advocat.

They would convince everyone that without their involvement Christmas would be a total disaster, and that old habits like giving and receiving presents and pulling crackers would continue.

They would encourage the use of positive language at this time of year. Like “Merry Christmas” and “Happy New Year”. Nice.

Its important to be yourself at work.Post-Christmas party moral bankruptcy would be handled sympathetically, through the posting of pictures on a specially-constructed Authenticity Board. And Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

They would superimpose the Grieving Curve on the whole thing. The low point would be unwrapping the heated massaging footspa having asked for a PlayStation.

Carols would be replaced with crustacean mating calls. They’re tricky.

They would deploy a troupe of Associates (all available) to convince you that the heated massaging foot spa was far more what you wanted than the PlayStation you actually asked for, and that you are actually eternally grateful.

A session would be planned for Boxing Day on “letting go”. Of the TV remote.

The appointment would be extended until Easter to ensure all behaviours were bedded in, and that all of the advocat had gone.

They would be returning next year, free of charge, for more of the same. Because it was the best fun they ever had.

Back in 2015, Happy New Year!


Jumping someone else’s train

In a bold move that has shocked the hipster community, LooChoob, manufacturers and distributors of vital cardboard toilet roll inners, has pushed ahead with the conversion of the company to ochlocracy.

Replacing traditional hierarchies and management structures with the irregular assembly of a fickle, angry mob demanding things, they have once again demonstrated why non-one has actually heard of them.

“By adopting a pathological approach from the outset we stripped out multiple layers of corporate deterioration through misguided decision making and lack of training and development, hence getting right out ahead of the competition” said Larry Schlepp, mob ringleader (formerly Chief Executive). “Those guys at Zappos who’ve done this holacracy thing, but that’s all very well when you’re making flashy lighters. We are a traditional business, being trendy for its own sake. We are installing a slide, too, like everyone else.”

After a short break to quell a civil disturbance at the tea point, Larry returned to the gazebo. “We modelled this approach on what’s really happening out there. You know, in social media, places like Twitter. The term has been around since the 1600’s so it was high time we pretended it was something new and claimed it”.

Challenging the top-down tradition, ochlocracy is a sideways-in approach, allowing emergent ideas to surface and gain credibility if enough people are really miffed about them. Work attains a new meaning, defined by ill-informed collective prejudice and unpredictable knee-jerk shifts in power. Stress-tested across centuries and continents, it has proved one of the most resilient methods of dispute resolution. Even if it created most of the disputes in the first place.

“We wanted to make the organisation more like people.” Larry paused thoughtfully.

“And let’s face it, they love a bandwagon”.

If architects were organising Christmas….

The Christmas Tree would be the highest in the world, requiring a section of the house roof to be removed, but only 2mm higher than their neighbours who installed theirs last year. Who is also an architect.

And it would be called the Pine Needle.

But there would be snow in the master bedroom.

Father Christmas would be dressed in a black polo neck, and once-black slightly faded lived-in-look cords, washed too many times at sixty degrees. All from Cordings.

A full scale model of Lapland, complete with lacquered elves and reindeers running on LPG would be constructed, in order to test getting presents down a chimney. Which we all know doesn’t happen. Or wouldn’t work even if it did.

Christmas would be late, due to entirely unforeseen delays in the supply of custom ribbon only made in a small village in Mauritania albeit indistinguishable to the naked eye from that sold in Paperchase.

The Christmas pudding would be entirely sealed in a glass orb and flambéd from the inside at the press of an Italian-made walnut-finish ignition switch placed within the orb. Oh.

The nativity barn would be condemned for not meeting fire code and (more importantly) not being very nice to look at, replaced by an all-new concrete and glass box perched on the edge of a wooded slope by a lake in southern Chile.

And be called El Buen Granero. Which sounds great in Spanish, but naff when translated. Like most things.

The Three Wise Men (Quantity Surveyors) would be turned away at the door of El Buen Granero, despite an arduous trek across country on llamas, for suggesting that Christmas was running over budget and that value engineering was necessary. They would be told to go and sell the gold, and find out what myrrh actually is.

Co-ordination problems with the subtle and witty juxtaposition of Christmas Day and Boxing Day would result in the insertion of an extra day in between. It would be left grey and nameless so as to accentuate the possibilities and uncertainty of our precarious place in a formless universe.

Or something.

Merry Christmas!

The Workplace Brief Generator

Professor Brainstawm, Professor Piehead, stand aside. At last, a device has been conceived that removes all of the uncertainty and pain from developing the dreaded Workplace Brief, generating exactly what you need with the minimum of time, money, emotional turmoil, heartache and thought-shower retreats in the Cotswolds. We are indebted to our friend and collaborator Simon Heath (@SimonHeath) for the the excellent illustration, should you decide to try it at home. Which, like kung fu, is not recommended.

As the saying goes, paper in, paper out.

Your crisp white wafer first enters the Mandate Maximisation Modulariser, for the project leadership team, to ensure that they have the required PSI for their destiny [editor’s note – it is odd that PSI refers to inflating, yet the Greek letter psi looks like something that would puncture just about anything]. Consider this the very oxygen of the project. And breeeeeeathe. Okay. Ready to move on?

Workplace Brief Generator

Next, it moves straight into the Requirements Exponentiator, proven in trials over many years to serve a vital purpose in applying a geometric algorithm to reasonable requests to produce a series of unsatisfiable demands against which the project’s success will be evaluated by st peter at the pearly gates.  Or at your next appraisal. Whichever is sooner.

The output is then fed into the Inference Engine, a powerful piece of kit that is able to take a series of statements from which it’s able extrapolate entirely inaccurate assumptions that will form a vital part of the Brief. Due to a typo in development it was drafted as Interference Engine when submitted to the Patent Office – however as no difference to the outcome was observed and due to the costs of re-design the term was left as is. The Patent Office don’t yet seem to have replied. It works in subtle (yet fairly noisy, at this stage) harmony with the Flimflam Flagellator that takes a series of overly-used and entirely misunderstood phrases, chops them up and flicks them wildly into the Engine. We are not actually sure what this does. However, work is a place you do, not something you go.

It then passes through a Fiduciary Dreamscaper, which draws lots of little equal-sized squares on the paper and requires a biomass quantity of beans (white, borlotti or canneilini will do) and generates a cost plan out of all proportion with the importance of the project or the available funds, paving the way for a repeated passing over of the Asynchronous Value Extractor which removes the beans associated with all of the useful and important enablers leaving disproportionally aligned and slightly unsafe aesthetic abstractions and some nice but uncomfortable chairs for Reception. Firmer than they look.

At varying stages of the generator’s activity the Decision Deferalation software patch kicks in, as there have been hazardous leaks on previous projects where one or two firm decisions have been made and communicated to the project team, causing confusion and delay. Following counselling and a long period of prescribed rest in Customer Service, a full recovery was possible in each case with only an irregular twitch of the left shoulder leaving a clue as to the trauma experienced.

The Engagement Simulator ensures that a calm feeling of having consulted occupants of the new space spreads evenly across the project team. It is uniquely powered by a small survey monkey in an up-cycled lampshade, chasing relentlessly after a majority return. Thankfully the survey monkey has a very a short memory and is able to maintain consistently meaningless output. No survey monkeys were harmed in the drafting of this blog post.

As Facilities Managers do so much like to mention that they weren’t involved in the project – usually long after it has finished – the Operability Obstructioniser is just for them. It enables the project to remove all opportunities for the space to be manageable, or for spare parts to be obtained from countries other than those without an operating export function. Applying the unit makes certain that FM’s have plenty to mention – and even enables them to mention it at the point the Brief is concluded. Which negates mentioning it at all.

To ensure that as design develops none of the drawings from the various consultants bear any relation to one another, in comes the Co-ordination De-coupling Unit to do its bit. It facilitates entirely isolated design development, and where any such slips the net it takes completed design and adds the required level of discord so as to de-relationalise the outcome. Dizzy.

All the while the designers will love the contribution of the Reality Distortionator that will exceed the impact of even their most randomly generated solutions. Operating like one of those halls of wonky mirrors on the structurally unsound end of the Pier, it avidly consumes sensibility and outputs a surreal depiction only explicable to the artificial eye. It also has 256 colours.

Note you may experience a slight tingling sensation that will leave your clothing damp when operating the Generator – don’t be alarmed this is simply the Dehmanising Defrag Spray at work, making sure that at every stage the relationship between the individual, their needs and their identity and existence as a human being is separated from the detail of the final Brief. It also provides a list of mitigating circumstances on a carefully integrated loop tape.

Approaching the end of the cycle, the Solution Solidification Kit makes sure that no-one is ever able to change anything, either at Brief stage or several years after completion of the project, administering a range of electrical shocks from the slightly uncomfortable to near-paralysis for anyone that considers the team may not be irrationally wedded to the solution.

Finally, just before the end product emerges is the Pizza Ordering Button. After all, you’re worth it.

The output in beta trial so far all looks strangely similar. Success, surely.


 For more of Simon’s superb work see

It is what it is, & nothing more

It’s a funny thing, “bullsh*t”. It is an everyday expression. Everyone laughs at it, everyone groans at it. We play Bullsh*t Bingo. Yet it doesn’t go away.

In a world obsessed with brand, growth, positional advantage and market share, it is hardly surprising that we wade daily through a quagmire of the stuff to get to where we are going. Its amoebic ability to freely multiply means it is only getting worse. The workplace sector is particularly prone to its shallow charms.

Of course it’s not all the same. There are several particularly invasive and excruciating types of bullsh*t in workplace. So let’s have a new term for each of them, and a typology. That’s a great word, “typology” – a list of different stuff.

  • Identikitsh*t – snappy and irritating terms that essentially all mean the same like “flexwork”, “smartworking”, “workshifting” and “futurework” because there are just not enough in the world already
  • Shinysh*t – the creation of expressions to essentially describe the same thing but that make it sound like something new and better – like “agile working” and “activity based working” – all just variants of “flexible working”, a term that was fine and which we were still really only just beginning to explore and understand before it just wasn’t enough
  • Lazysh*t – the misuse of under-researched terms with a meaning already pre-established – things like “presenteeism” and “third place”
  • Puffysh*t – the creation of an over-inflated phrase or expression to make a simple (and already-known) idea sound interesting, or to lay claim to intellectual superiority – like last week’s gem, “productivity toxins”

Did you see what I did there?

Some of the resulting problems of the proliferation are that:

  • We believe that because we have named something we have described it – we haven’t, we have just named it, but talk as though we understand it
  • Because we create a false belief that that we understand something without bothering to try and understand it, we repeat it everywhere we go and then others do exactly the same
  • We spawn events and papers focussing on something purporting to be new, that isn’t – and waste everyone’s time and money as a result – but still go on doing it
  • We actually go backwards – we become less enlightened, less intelligent, less observant – dumbed into believing we know more than we do, because we simply talk like we do (and don’t want to appear that we don’t know)

We should:

  • Make sure we understand what we already have before we try and immediately re-bottle it so as to sound more enlightened or advanced than the people using the previous term – not every miniscule difference justifies a new term
  • Challenge the bullsh*t we see proliferating, and refuse to  be drawn into the irrational fear that we are being left behind or not using the right language
  • Be aware of and avoid profit-making events that overblow a new tag, because they have something to gain from it
  • If/when we see something new to us, research it – it’s not too difficult to be inquisitive and curious, and establish what it really means for ourselves
  • If a friend or colleague uses it, take them to one side and let them know it’s a tiny bit embarrassing – like we would if their clothing was gaping inappropriately or they had bad breath – which we all do, don’t we?
  • Stop inventing new terms for different type of bullsh*t, its all the same

Enough really is too much. If it’s in our mouths, it’s in our hands.


All tomorrow’s parties

In a change from the advertised programme, eschewing pointless predictions and tyrannical resolutions, the workessence team sent an investigator to take a look at the ever-proliferating conferences and smattering of blog posts on work and the workplace about to occur during 2013, to save you the bother and expense of attending or reading anything. Just think how much of your life you can claw back.

Instructions: read as quickly as you can. It’s more fun that way. And you’re probably on a conference call.

The future of work: it’s going to be dispersed flexible agile dexterous and very bendy and driven by presence-mimicking technology and sophisticated collaborative tools replicating our everyday functionality that mean we don’t have to be in the office at all ever again (hooray, maybe) so we don’t need to commute with all of the other people who don’t have any choice because they are condemned to process monitored roles in the taylorist tradition like this black and white photo of an old office with people sitting in rows at typewriters and so our carbon footprint shrivels to that of an amoeba until we take the whole extended family on holiday to the Caribbean and yet the office is actually quite useful and brings us together because there is really no substitute for genuine face-time especially if you have a café with real lattes and of course you can’t go for a beer online and so we may well need the office after all because it’s a club and a club is a good thing. Isn’t it?

Technology: it’s great because its liberated us from all sorts of stuff that we can’t think of and we have social tools and channels we never had before to meet new people and expand our networks and share pictures of glasses of wine we are having with other people or probably on our own wishing we were with other people and we can all quip about our favourite operating system which of course isn’t windows as a matter of principle but then again its maybe not such a good thing because we are always on 247365 despite the existence of the off button or a flat battery and we will never get another job again because of that beach party photo on facebook with the swedish volleyball team we’re dopamine slaves it’s like our lives have been intruded upon irrevocably and will be a lot more and the next thing our fridge will be online and spying on our eating habits and reporting them to MI5 or someone else secret and untouchable and so we should be very frightened. Probably.

Workplace design: it’s all about collaboration and team spaces because we all work much better together and no-one wants to sit at a desk and do e-mails because that’s all so last year we want to sit around in huddles on soft things with culturally obtuse names that took longer to source than the product took to design so we cram all of the desks over in the corner on top of themselves because they are so not de rigueur and instead put in slides and tabletennistables and climbing walls because we all spend the majority our lives at the office or maybe don’t anymore and everything has to look like a poodleplex or it won’t win an award but it’s been proven that some people work better alone there was a TED talk about it along with a talk about everything else and we can’t forget that personal introspective time is vital because we lose 95% of our productive day being disturbed by unproven statistics based on a representative sample of five people at the burger van on the A13 and we shouldn’t shun the quiet unsocial types and need to design space that suits them too because there is a chance that under their enormous noise-reducing headphones they may be doing great work even if they can’t play tabletennis. Potentially.

Wellbeing: will be the issue of the decade because it’s the silent killer but not so silent because of all the documentaries on junk-view TV about it and at last a major feature in a quality publication this time the Economist but no-one can make up their mind whether the causes are socio-economic or a matter of personal lifestyle choice and whether any form of treadmill desk or tea break boot camp or having your bonus based on your resting heart rate impacts our fundamental freedom of choice or whether we are in reality helpless pre-programmed snicker-snorting drones so we’ll carry on talking about it and burn a few calories worrying about it but probably not actually do much, or anything. At all.

Engagement: it’s all about engagement to avoid the enragement and estrangement of the derangement of the times, our working lives need to have meaning and purpose injected into soft tissues so we don’t fall into the existential abyss because we couldn’t possibly take any personal responsibility for all this because it’s our employers responsibility or maybe it isn’t and our emotional intelligence could be our bungee cord that offsets the discord or we could solve it all with a survey and bake four and twenty questions in a pie chart and put it all in a massive slide deck and slide out the laundry chute and dust ourselves down pretend we were never here and go and have a coffee and think about it. Or not.

But do enjoy the year.

In Arcadia ego

Our discipline is constantly searching for typologies and models, each of which following the limpest scrutiny end up fitting like a Byrite suit. Therefore, as aimless as any Conference South punt upfield, comes a new model – the Four Ba Blues.

It starts with some promise: the concept of ba. This idea was proposed by the philosopher Kitaro Nishida (1870-1945), using the Japanese word loosely translated in English as “place”. It means a shared space for emerging relationships that may be physical (office or other workplace), virtual (cyberspace) or mental (ideas), or any combination of the above – that is, in existential terms, a context that harbours meaning. When knowledge (which is intangible) is separated from ba, it becomes information (tangible) which can be shared, and resides in media. As you can imagine, it gets hellishly complicated from here on, but the key idea for workplace and social business thinkers alike is the vital and inseparable relationship between physical space and the virtual and mental. Vital stuff.

If ba is progressive, then its spiritual opposite, bah, isn’t. This is an essentially British approach, exported globally, that holds that all ideas of whatever form are fundamentally rubbish, especially those with very short names that sound uncomfortable when you use them in casual conversation or meetings. It is immediate, uninhibited and without pretention, albeit in most instances fundamentally missing the point. However, the point is not important as it would inherently contain context, which bah holds to be irrelevant. Unsurprisingly and evidently, it has underpinned many workplace projects of the last decade and thrives in prevailing empirical management culture. For a while yet, at least.

This leads us to the inverse negative of bah, often called baaa. This doctrine holds that original ideas and thought are ostensibly for others, imbued as they are with risk and requiring of some courage to articulate and action. Practitioners and adherents instead indulge in the vast quantities of freely available “case study porn” (as @euan terms it) – usually alone – providing access to that which has been thought or enacted before, and all of which is deemed unquestionably brilliant (by the proponent). The movement is essentially built on myth, in reality unsubstantiated guff, endlessly repeated by its followers in near-trance-like state at their ritualistic and institutionalised gatherings – annual conferences.

Finally in our quixotic quartet, the idea of bar. For converts to this approach, there are other priorities. Essentially focussed on the social (who is at the bar?), with reference to the physical (where is the bar?) and on the odd occasion the mental (how am I going to get to the bar?), all outcomes are inherently transitory. Well they are – aren’t they?

Because as Howard Devoto once said:

You killed me off in theory
et in Arcadia ego….