I Think I Need a Little Poison

This page written circa 14 July, 2003.

Drugs are poison. I do not mean this as a metaphorical admonishment of chemical recreation, but as literal biochemistry. Many drugs act in one direction in modest concentration, but oppositely in excess. A little alcohol lifts the spirits and enhances metabolism, a lot slows you down or kills you. Nicotine in small doses calms, in larger it gives you the shakes and brings on death. Chemotherapy is a more literal example, because generally speaking it is an attempt to poison cancer cells just faster than poisoning the patient.

Jan once remarked to me that she appreciated the humour of the epithet "Managing academics is like herding cats". As an autonomous-minded academic I could see the impossibility of the task.

There is a lot in the press recently about the record EE unemployment (7% compared to under 6% nationally), high tech company values (halved, more likely decimated, occasionally zeroed), and EE remuneration (disinterest in stock options, bonuses gone, salaries still rising though modestly). A recent comment went:
Even discounting the impact of the current slowdown on their work life, almost two-thirds of the engineers who participated in this survey during the summer said that they are dissatisfied with their employers, their career or both.
Thus the maxim, "be wary of discontented employees," often cited by human-resources professionals, could well become, "be wary of engineers" in this region. The challenge for employers, then, will be in determining the source of discontent.
Some challenge: Try fear of being laid off, vanishing work resources, lousy personal remuneration.

Puzzle questions that require an out-of-the-box solution are often claimed to be questions used by Microsoft in job interviews to seek out the best thinkers. One of these goes like this:
You are in a 2-seat car, it is raining, and you come to a bus shelter. In the shelter you find your best friend who once saved your life, a girl who is your ideal mate, and an old woman who needs to get to a hospital urgently. What do you do?". In-the-box thinkers ponder which of the three to pick up first; the expected answer is to give the keys to your friend, get him to take the old woman, and stay with the ideal mate to get acquainted. Of course you could suggest running the old woman over, having sex up against the shelter with the woman, and leaving with the friend, but you won't get the job because Bill Gates already has a job there and they only need one utter bastard for now.

You do not herd cats, you attract them with food or similar. If you are thinking about herding you are sufferng from a blinkered view, thinking inside the box. Laying people off can act on a company like a drug: A little serves as a wake-up call and lets you jettison some of the less valuable people, a lot ruins morale and robs the work force of skills it may later need. When you get to budgets that cripple projects and lower the productivity of those left, it's the cancer approach: Attempting to kill the debt just ahead of killing the whole company. What is desperately needed is an out-of-the-box response to the downturn, just the sort of approach one might have expected from Bill and Dave. Sadly, most CEOs are clones reading the same textbooks and following the same inevitable paths.

If I had the poison should I use it to give a little lift? Or to kill the pain? Perhaps better to dispose of some pointy-haired managers.

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