The older I get and the more experience I get in life, the universe and everything, the more I start to see that the workplace is often akin to a schoolyard. The suits we wear define us as members of a particular [exclusive] branch of society. The common subjects, topics of interest, hobbies and elements of our belief system that we share build communities which are often sympathetic and conversely very often hostile to those we don’t see as fitting in. Like leaving them on the wall in gym class, this naturally creates a sense of exclusion in those we leave outside the circle and in the most extreme of cases, can lead to social isolation, resentment, self-esteem issues and worse.
As a society, we don’t really grow out of that style of being. We form allegiances in political parties, sports teams, workplaces, professional and personal relationships, neighbourhoods and more all the time. By school framing our thinking and social behaviour, this kind of makes sense the more you think about it. By making sense, I certainly don’t mean it’s in any way always right outside keeping the consistency with the rest of the life-skill learning process we’ve been through, but this behaviour is fostered and nurtured in the schoolyard. Something the learning establishment and educational psychology has been telling us for decals.
Roller coaster loading…
For those folk who don’t spend much time thinking about it, they get carried along for the ride. Responding to their emotions in a potentially magnified or suppressed way as they get older, thinking that this now defines them as responsible adults as opposed to children. However, the same behaviours exist in professional relationships. You can get extrovert consultants who are attention seekers, plagiarisers and cheats, willing to find and sell work that isn’t theirs and perhaps their own grandmother and the kitchen sink to make money. Introverted real analysts, the type with the backgrounds in statistics that only a very few have, who classically often produce the work entire enterprises hinge on, but never get close to the credit the consultants who sell it (and have no idea what they’re selling) achieve and of course, the money they make. You get all the traits that you see in the playground, just in the workplace. Hence, the workplace is a community of children or the playground is a community of young adults. The latter is probably the way we’d like to think about it, especially as time goes one way and we may have children we’re trying to nurture ourselves.
Suppressing natural emotions often leads to passive aggressive behaviour in the old ‘suppress and simmer’ way, or potentially builds up until one day it explodes, leaving the individuals caught up in the ensuing storm wondering what on earth just happened. This sort of experience is morale sapping for a team and is no good for anyone. So often the call is made to remove the individual, potentially by the individual themselves if they’re enlightened enough to pull their involvement, no matter how good they are at their job. Very often, this is a huge mistake for communities, as these folk keep the honest and sane eye on proceedings and without them, companies spin out of control or change direction negatively.
the value of good risk management, monitoring, analysis and number crunching people only becomes visible via the effect it has on other people when it’s not there
Most shallow thinking vocal ‘extrovert types’, sales people or consultants may not see this and as a society who value aesthetics over competence, and may even verbalise their disagreement, we only need consider how the credit-crunch and ensuing austerity measures still affect us to this day. In the UK the bank bailout cost the taxpayers £36,000 for every one of the 60 million men, women and children in the UK. Some tier-1 bankers are remunerated in the hundreds of millions of pounds a year. Back-office functions which could have prevented the crisis rarely garner much over £150,000. If ever there was a time to show the real value of the introvert analyst, it’s times like the banking crisis.
After all, the value of good risk management, monitoring, analysis and number crunching people only becomes visible via the effect it has on other people when it’s not there or fails to reign in poor performance. Introverts don’t speak up, extroverts don’t shut up. So the ones who are most likely to keep their jobs are the people most likely to have grown up having to defend their position (read grades) and perhaps cheating were needed. The sales folk.
Becoming increasingly more adept at these activities as they grow past their early to mid twenties. We tut-tut and look down on such behaviour, even posting memes about it. However, in the workplace which fosters automatic trust in the community it attempts to nurture, where whistleblowing and calling out are discouraged or even punished, when you are presented with work from someone how do you know at the time that it belongs to them? A Google Search? A forensic exercise? Asking people?
This opens the door to a wider set of potential questions and concerns. Does this undermine the trust in employees? Can introverted colleagues call-out or challenge the bad behaviour of other colleagues without fear of exclusion by an influential set of extroverts? Did the introverts get a fair say in any decision to exclude them? Was all the evidence presented to any panel deciding the fate of the individual, including all verbal evidence? Was the accused then allowed to represent their argument or did the group listen to the words of only a single individual?
The Liars, the Cheats and the Dirty Dirty Bleets
In recent history, consultancy organisations have started to form purporting to act around collective values as opposed to membership and hierarchy, despite having a central company vehicle at its core. Terms like ‘adhere to our values’ or ‘share our ethos’ have been banded about willy-nilly without a thought to the sociological dynamics and what that actually means. It stands to reason in some ways, since human behaviour is somewhat chaotic. Plus, most organisations often start from cliques of people who’s bonds and background can naturally mean it’s hard for anyone not behaving exactly the same to enter that group. It’s far too hard for the clique to shake off that mentality and include people who share the values, perhaps have significantly more experience of doing the thing they’re trying to do, which is the competence they need to grow, but exude a different behavioural presence. After all, imagine a nerdy mathematician who is good at sports, or perhaps an auto-didact bouncer who becomes regarded as one of the smartest people in the world. These people do exist outside the screens of Hollywood, have given the human race some of the most important advances man has ever seen, have won world wars, but are extremely rare and are far too far a departure for most with a limited background to cognitively bridge to, which is the vast majority of us going through our pretty standard grand timeline of life — school, college, university job, family etc. Anything that departs from it is outside our model of the world. We see them as a walking contradiction that doesn’t make any sense. It’s not like us, not like our community, so we don’t trust ‘it’ from the outset.
“Why is she 40 and doesn’t have kids?”
“He’s questioning Kent Beck, what a pariah!”
“She’s fat! Why is she on a beach?”
“He has brown skin and green eyes, how does that work?”
I’m not that shallow, honest!
This same mechanism allows us to develop a cultural distance between people, meaning we view bad news on TV with pity, but it’s ‘happening to someone else’. Also because we understand numbers much less than we intuitively understand our neighbours, culture, skin colour, religion and gender, we basically believe anyone just like us over any reasoned information. Hence, we can form xenophobic, bigoted perspectives despite the data to the contrary and of course, it means that the very smartest, those who can seemingly effortlessly conclude what it can take others years to conclude and contribute the most to the community they in, can easily be excluded by a voting populous of homogeneity. It’s a popularity contest. The smartest never win against those who talk and look the same or possess anxiety and fears about losing out on membership of their community by speaking out against bad behaviour or processes which stand to detriment the community or subgroup unnecessarily. The silent middle who effectively hide under going with the flow.
The extroverts have by far the biggest advantage, especially if there is no counter representation from anyone on ‘your side’. The vote will swing with them pretty much every single time. ‘I’m not racist!’ Doesn’t extend to cover ‘I’m not working with anyone who is smart who doesn’t let me use their stuff and challenges everything I do, even if they mean well and have way more experience and knowledge than me’. Equally, for those of us introverts who over-compensate, we won’t work with people who misrepresent us and the accurancy of our work and who have it in for the the community we are part of. However, if the person you tell this to is your boss or an influential member of a pseudo-collaborative community/cult, who’s standard frame of reference is traditional/classical, you can’t expect to last long standing up for what’s right for the whole membership, for patients, for employees. Civilisation isn’t that just. Rules are written by those in control. History books are written by those who won the wars. Unacceptable behaviour is written by those who define the community, even if they claim at one point that same behaviour is supportive to the community. This is often a proxy for saying ‘be supportive to me’ but they know they couldn’t defend that to those who are even mildly community driven.
The vast majority of communities share so much (including mediocrity in some spheres) that as long as the extroverts can sell it that far to the majority, without anyone picking up on problems, they can infiltrate the community and subtly exclude existing folk from the community (this necessitates the community possesses analytical mediocrity and unconditional trust — so get rid of anyone smart and honest). Such social engineering is how both Hitler and Saddam Hussain first joined their respective parties. However, their final leadership positions were not even close to being in keeping with the values the original party had before they joined. Could the parties exclude them after sleep walking into that position? Well, the rest as they say, is history, and history repeats.
These miscarriages of justices are compounded because introverts don’t stand up for and represent themselves well, if at all, to the vast majority. Sales, sound bites, tabloid headline sells to the majority. Reason doesn’t [mis]represent. Data doesn’t [mis]represent. Statistics doesn’t [mis]represent. People do the [mis]representation. An introvert, stand up and be counted? After the last time this happened to that individual outlier? There is a reason we don’t normally put our hands in a fire… But make no mistake, extrovert voters would sure as heck use the introverts collateral without handing over any credit! So the ‘bullied’ gets hit twice. Is it fair now it’s known about? No, but it’s happening to someone else.
Research, Plagiarism, Consumption and Cheating
If you’re someone who has experienced some of the jobs that appear on freelancing platforms, you’ll know cheating is rife. There isn’t much that is truly innovative. Everyone wants to Uberize the cat, the vacuum cleaner and the cat vacuum cleaner. In the IT world, specialist technical skill has given way to a level of mediocrity never seen before in that space, but risen experience in integration and change processes to new levels which naturally pushes new products in that direction. We use services to deliver more services, much more than we build from scratch in-house. This naturally lowers the required skillset and sets up multilayered skill bands, which are sold as if they are one. Hence ‘solution architect’ can mean a dozen things to a dozen different people. As a society, can we get past our ability to exclude people? To trust the years of experience we have over the brand new skills we haven’t? To value something that is not in our spheres of reference? I suspect not, since history shows us we only find ourselves a other demon to target, whether we are right or wrong about that target or how we go about it, appear to be immaterial.
But hey, we make the rules!