This winter, as an aspiring professional, I attended
a course in project management; it was my first exposure
to working as a peer with professional-level employees
of my mega-corporation. The tools and techniques of
project management were the least of what I learned
over those three days. Of far greater impact was the
unintended lesson gleaned from working with my teammates
in the class: During the course of the day, as we
worked on the various exercises and as we sat around
chatting during the breaks, I found to my dismay that
my tablemates kept talking shop. Spreadsheets and
databases and purchasing and the latest happenings
in the business life of MegaCorp filled their conversation,
even when there was no apparent reason for them to
be bringing up such dreck.
I, of course, being the Corporate Subversive and
member of Dogbert's New Ruling Class that I am, instinctively
attempted to steer the conversations in more interesting
directions. Most people that I've met in business
situations tend to discuss non-business topics at
every opportunity, throwing in references to normal
human things, family, friends, fun stuff. We want
a respite from the shop talk, a reminder that we are
real people beneath the facade of Corporate Dronedom.
My teammates in the project management course, however,
did not respond as I expected. Whenever I brought
up a non-business subject -- even during break times,
mind you -- they all fell silent and stared at me
as if they didn't quite know what to make of me. Then
they went right back to their animated discussion
of spreadsheets and databases and purchasing and other
Eventually the truth made contact with my uncomprehending,
incredulous brain: These people really get into this
stuff! They aren't pretending like the rest of us!
They are genuinely enthusiastic about all of this
boring business detail!
It was, as they say, a revelation.
Myself, I always considered the minutiae of business
to be akin to doing the dishes or scrubbing the toilet:
something that needs to be done to keep life functioning
well, but not the sort of thing one would wax enthusiastic
about. In a word, it's putz work.
Putz work, of course, has its place. As I said, it
needs to get done. But surely anybody of any measurable
brain-wave activity doesn't consider it the center
of a meaningful life! Or is that the artistic bent
of my own brain-wave activity blinds me to the glories
of spreadsheeting and database management?
More likely, it's just putz work, and some people,
for whatever reasons, find it exciting and meaningful.
Perhaps it is the choice of no choice: I have to do
this, so I might as well pretend, even to myself,
that I really, really give a jolly rip about it. Or
perhaps it is a genuine limitation of vision: Wow,
I really enjoy doing this, and if you don't, what's
your problem and why are you here?
In any case, those inclined to heartfelt devotion
to corporate putz work are not especially inclined
to hearing me declare it for what it is: putz work.
Pay no attention to the bland behind the curtain.
Keep the curtain tightly drawn and be dazzled by the
really, really important-looking words and numbers
painted so stunningly on its surface! Ooooh and aaaah
at the latest vapid wizardry of the Project Managers
and the Quality Controllers and the Value Adders.
Be duly impressed. And never, never let on that you
don't buy into the consensus of delusion.
It wouldn't be professional.
e x t e s s a y -