Monthly Archives: June 2013

The one with the secret society

We (not the royal we, but the people I work with) have recently been through an office move. Lots of stickers on everything, drawers packed into boxes, shelves reassigned and a general state of upheaval. Whilst the office was being transformed I decided to employ by best attempts at channeling Sherlock Holmes in the search for a secret society I often hear reference to and have never found – they call themselves ‘the business’.

I must confess I wouldn’t want to be part of ‘the business’ because they are to blame for EVERYTHING. Anything and everything that people can’t or don’t want to do seems to be the fault of ‘the business’ so I can only think what a strange and dissociated bunch they must be…

Having worked in my current organisation for a little over 15 months I have never met anyone who claims to know or be part of ‘the business’ but yet some must be because something big enough and influential enough to block every kind of initiative and proposal, to ignore such great ideas and to general overlook everyone MUST have some members. Maybe it is so secret that people can’t even admit to being part of it?

Sorry? Everyone is WHAT? Everyone in the organisation is part of ‘the business’? This can’t be true! ‘The business’ ignores everything and everyone, doesn’t it?

Oh, it isn’t a secret society that no one can join? What do you mean it’s made of teams and groups and they are made up of individuals?! This can’t be right because that would mean that every individuals contribution makes up the actions of the business. That everyone has the opportunity however small to influence the business. That it is not a static thing that no one can alter but a dynamic thing made up of the collective efforts of all who are part of it. Well this really is quite strange…

OK, odd one-sided conversations aside, I often hear ‘the business’ being blamed for a lot of things and whilst I understand at times it’s difficult to influence a big complex organisation maybe, just maybe it’s not about one attempt and then futile resignation (possibly in both senses of the word). Surely if governments can be influenced by public opinion then organisations can be influenced by stakeholders – and if you don’t think you’re a stakeholder in your organisation then think again!

The next time you are about to blame ‘the business’ for something stop yourself, take a moment and ask yourself the following question,

“What could I do about it?”

  • It may be you need to talk to some other people and get them onboard with your idea
  • It may be you need to contribute to a meeting or forum where bigger more influential people will be listening
  • It may be you need to try something different and build consensus and influence on a positive result
  • It may be that you need to be brave and pluck up the courage to challenge someone in authority

Someone once said to me that if I didn’t vote in an election I gave up all right to complain about the activities of whomever won. Before you blame the business ask yourself if you voted…


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The one with the ridiculous question

A school friend of mine attended a leading British University to attempt to gain entry to their Medicine course. On being shown into the interview room he was faced by a man who appeared to embody the notion of an academic, right down to the leather patches on his tweed jacket. Before making any form of introduction the interviewer opened a drawer on the desk and put a brick on the table. Addressing my friend he said, “Throw the brick through the window”. My friend looked at him incredulously and mumbled something like, “What?” to which the interviewer simply repeated his original statement. Repeatedly.

My friend, keen to gain admittance to this august institution did as requested and threw the brick through the window, the glass shattering all over the floor and out of the window. He then looked over at the interviewer who asked simply, “Why didn’t you open it first?”. At which point he closed the drawer and made it clear the meeting was over. My friend exited the room a mixture of disappointed and angry and was unsurprised not to be offered a place. For the record he is now a successful surgeon having qualified at a different University.

Why share this recollection? A few years ago I bought a book at an airport. I don’t know what it is about book buying at the airport but it seems to change my criteria or maybe it was just the thought of 13 hours on a plane to China that made me purchase a book entitled “Are you smart enough to work at Google?”. A quick flick through in the departure lounge made it blatantly clear that I am not indeed smart enough to work at Google but I have received positive feedback from those who’ve found it an amusing ‘flick through’ whilst using the bathroom in our home.

Having reflected on the contents of the book I came to the conclusion that as a toilet read it served some considerable value but as an aide to selecting the best candidates it had found its correct place in a toilet… Like many I value the ability of those around me to solve problems but there’s two things I think are important to solving problems: 1. The person must believe the problem is worth solving and 2. They can take some time to solve the problem – the don’t need a solution to hand in an instant.

That said, I have never run a multi-billion dollar business so I was labouring under the illusion that Sergei and Larry et al had a requirement for such outlandish and rapid problem solving in their engineers that us mere mortals couldn’t understand the notion let alone how we would recruit for them. In this I was also wrong…

It turns out my white knight in this case was Sarah Mason who tweeted a link to an article where a ‘high up’ at Google has finally admitted they add no value and they have abandoned them. Hurrah and bravo to Ms. Mason!

So just as Doctors don’t need to open windows before throwing bricks it turns out that Google Engineers don’t need to be able to face ridiculous situations either but to save you a trip to our bathroom here are a few samples of the questions contained in the book:

  1. When there’s a wind blowing, does a round-trip by plane take more time, less time, or the same time?
  2. How would you weigh your head?
  3. You put a glass of water on a record turntable and begin increasing the speed slowly. What will happen first: will the glass slide off, will it tip over, or will the water splash out?

For the record my answers go something like this:

1. That’s not relevant as the availability of exit slots, the pilots determination of speed vs fuel usage and the availability of landing slots at the other end are far more pertinent. As is the availability of Malbec

2. I would apply the equation Force=MassxAcceleration to work out if I moved my head really quickly at the bridge of the nose of the smug person asking this, know the force required to break a nose and accelerate really quickly then I can surely work out the mass of my head

3. You work for Google – try MP3 and leave the turntables to the DJs



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