A few years ago I was running my own research/advisory firm. It’s work I love to do.
It was also struggling, in an era when there are lots of advisors, and organisations are spending less for advice.
A good friend of mine made a comment trying to help. He thought I should put something like this on the company’s home page:
“A large multinational company had this problem: their senior managers were turnip-headed bozos and the business was in the toilet with management swinging enthusiastically on the flush handle. The CEO called in our company. We did clever stuff. The bozos jumped out of their idiocy and turned into Einstein-class mentation monsters, and it all turned to flowers and loveliness.”
Yeah, right, as if that would be believable.
Still, I note it because the first part precisely describes how I feel about the world, most days.
Bozos, the lot of them. This does make it difficult to “demonstrate the proper humility and respect toward my betters”.
Not even knowing they hold the purse strings and it is their favour that is required for the strings to loosen and a few coins drop my way makes me want to offer it.
Apparently I was not cut out to be a courtier, although today’s managerial culture, which permeates all aspects of Western life, definitely demands it.
This is why I often feel that I fit so poorly into this world I live in.
Much though I am proud to be a Canadian, I often despise the country’s culture, which crosses neo-feudal attitudes with the insecurities of the provincial and the colonized to translate into a pseudo-class mentality that has no bottom (in the British English sense) at all. Sigh.
Earning my way in the world in and around corporations and other large scale institutions, however, does constantly bring up the idea of a complete change.
This is why, for instance, I ultimately closed the business, and went to spend two years in academe. That had its moments, but all in all wasn’t the answer either.
For years I’ve had that yearning, but no idea as to “what the new” ought to be.
Lately it has become clear: on my last trip overseas, while filling out the landing card, I had an epiphany of sorts.
Writing “research advisor” always got me into a long discussion with the immigration officer, if only because they wanted to know what that meant and the more I tried to explain it the more confused they got.
Writing “management consultant” brings on a whole different pack of questions, since that looks an awful lot like someone who might actually work while they’re in the country, which is just not allowed without all the requisite paperwork.
In any event, thinking back on the over 3″ (7.6 cm) of double-sided printouts that were my writing for the past ninety days sitting on my desk, I decided to just fill in “writer”.
Doing that got me no questions at all, just a “enjoy your stay”.
Brilliant! — especially since anyone who can write over 3″ of material in that period of time must be doing something right, especially since some of it was even paid work (columns, subscription products). Therein lies the future: writer.
It’s amazing how much disheartening soul searching, how many nights spent playing “what if?” games, disappear, when a label appears that makes sense.
It reminds me of my favourite Zen koan, one of a monk holding a book up in front of another monk:
“If you call this a book, you oppose its reality;
if you do not call it a book, you deny its existence.
What do you want to call it?”
We seem to need labels, just as we seem to need stories, to make sense of our lives and of the world.
Writing, of course, opens more doors than just what I write professionally.
I might well be paid for writing on management and IT issues, but the subject can get dull — the more so because things I might have said thirty years ago are generally as true today as they were then. Still, needs must, and I’m sure that as Robert J. Sawyer celebrates 2,000,000 words in print next week he reflects on how many times he’s dealt with the same issues over and over, too. So, too, with academic papers and books: you can never presume, so you repeatedly go over the ground.
I do enjoy helping small entrepreneurs, but I learned several years ago that getting well paid by people who, no matter how much they respect you and what you can do for them, simply can’t bring themselves to either stick a crowbar in their cheque book and make the investment they need to make — or to pay their bill (accounts payables being a significant source of financing in the clutch) if they do engage you.
These, paradoxically, will probably be the survivors as the big organisations implode: those great lumbering eating machines with (as my friend says) turnips for brains will smash their way along through the forest of society.
Or, as Heinlein put it, in Time Enough for Love:
A committee is the only known form of life with six or more legs and no brain.
Despite the business magazines giving lead articles and cover shots to individuals, the reality is that one person seldom runs anything big solo.
The truly bright, the innovative and the quantum jumpers must forage in their niches by night, like the mammals in the Cretaceous avoiding the dinosaurs.
This end is very near, nearer than any government wishes to admit, nearer than any letter to shareholders wishes to admit.
It has to be such: the truly large need horrendously large increments of “growth” just to hold their position. The small can prosper quite successfully on much smaller increments. Taking a $750,000 per year small business to $1,000,000 is a delightful 25% growth rate, open to good ideas and stellar execution even when the economy is headed into the toilet. Finding 5% for an Apple — another $5,430,000,000 this year on top of last year’s $108,900,000,000 — well, it’s not hard to see that limits are close when the numbers get that large.
Just as continental drift changed the climate, drying up the land and putting the great reptilian populations under stress, so too neoconservative liberalism has knocked down the barriers and allowed its globalist ambitions of economic colonization to press their giants to their limits — far beyond any Ronald Coase talked of — as well.
The end of cheap energy, now upon us, is our time’s comet or asteroid, providing an inarguable external force that will once and for all bring these large, expensive dreams to an end, along with their hypocritical institutions.
For what is today’s CEO but a rajah of old, running his fingers through bowls of gems, ready to steal a peasant’s last few grains of food simply because he can? That it’s done today by offshoring the employment and unleashing patent lawyers on innovative upstarts doesn’t change the game one iota.
When I think of the power of writing, I think back on Ayn Rand, who, to tell her stories, had to work out a whole philosophy. You don’t have to sign up to it, to admire that kind of work just to be a novelist.
She was right, too – capitalism has never been tried (or at least not for long).
What passes for it: legal trickery, financial engineering, and looter’s mindset, shall join the dustbin of history. With it, of course, goes much of our society.
Whether something rises in its wake — as Carroll Quigley noted in The Evolution of Civilizations, the price of renewal is a new approach to economics and production — or whether we just take the long slide down into oblivion as with all the civilisations before us, remains to be seen.
Oh yes, there are words and enough to write!
Community in the sense of Western Civilisation has long since been destroyed. Without the mass world: mass shopping, mass entertainment, etc., the consumptive passengers that surround us will, too, be lost.
My schadenfreude at the Valkyrian immolation of the money managers, the imperial CEOs, the anti-life mega-machines of the world is immediately tempered by thoughts of the violent refeudualist outcome of a Gotterdämmerungian world of societal blind violence. As Michael Ruppert notes, the problem is not today’s state, or the future state, but the transition between them.
You want it to be fast, so that much of the infrastructure is usable on the other side. But fast is also more violent: the violence of impoverished denial of entitlements and the whimper in the ruins of the injustice of it all: T. S. Eliot’s future writ large in the dust of the ruins of the consumption dream.
A management thinker will be as useful as teats on a bull in such a world.
A writer who can show the world as it might be and ought to be, may well thrive. To pretend that such is possible for me is a challenge indeed! — but certainly takes me far away from that which bores me and frightens me, simultaneously.
There is, in every ending, a new beginning to be had. One can carry on and quit at the same time.
As always with the real world, it is both/and at the core.