Business Cultures, Bullshit Bingo, and the Outlook Calendar

In 1966, aged 16, I began work at a transport firm in Gersthofen (Germany). Since then, I have carefully observed the behaviour of my workmates. I soon noticed that some of them hurried to record their arrival at work, but then lost the sense of urgency. A long toilet visit was followed by breakfast, important private phone calls, and study of the newspaper. One needs to know what is happening before launching into work (or starting anything else that matters).

These times are gone. Our demanding meritocracy prohibits such a life. Warming-up at the desk has now changed. For people with humour “Bullshit-Bingo” is a favourite morning sport, but ambitious colleagues avoid wasting time on stupid games. They give priority to detailed study of calendars.

One first takes a look at the calendars of any underlings; (control is better than trust!). Then one checks what the colleagues are up to. Then come the chiefs, the special friends and enemies, and of course other particularly interesting bodies.

Much intelligence is won for the strategic and tactical planning of one’s career.

It goes like this:

Why are Mr. Miller and Mrs. Jones meeting at lunch? What is Wainwright doing with the union? Why is my name there (wrongly spelled!) under “concerning” and why does Miller have so many private appointments, what is he up to? And the doings of Jones don’t suit me at all. And Cooper spends all his time in meetings. And our “Dr.” finishes every day at 5. Our Mr. double-barrel hardly has an entry; does he work at all? And look there, Smith, lunching yet again with the firm SuperConsulting. I must talk to the boss. Oh hell, he is booked up for the next three weeks! …

The reality is much worse than this! In big organisations calendars are often released to the whole firm. The staff and external workers, (who are often embedded in the firm), exploit this. They snoop intensively in the calendars. Confidential data are smuggled out. Despite maximum security efforts, that is hardly a problem. To avoid being caught, coded Zip with password is good enough.

It is hardly possible to escape this. Our lives are so dominated by technique that anyone who refuses to use an online calendar will be considered totally outdated, a dinosaur whose quirks interfere with the business processes. Access to one’s calendar cannot be restricted to selected friends. That will not be accepted by those outside the circle of confidents. Once some access is permitted, this permission can never be withdrawn. That would be seen as a clear sign of mistrust.

I am convinced that public calendars, used in the groupware are one of the causes of the bad vibrations in many firms. They cause people to form (mainly) wrong conclusions, quick suspicions and irrational worries and expectations. We all know that people like to develop conspiracy theories.

I ask everyone to check his own calendar! Are there entries that could confuse uninitiated readers? We hack our calendar entries (as well as our emails) into the computer, under time pressure and stress. A clumsy choice of words can have serious effects, causing our colleagues to have dumb ideas, and false assumptions giving rise to strange rumours.

Any confidential appointment marked as private, generates curiosity and mistrust; an ideal source of suspicion, the perfect seedbed for political manoeuvring, and an important cause of uncertainty and fear. Certainly not good for the company culture!

I question the practical usefulness of groupware calendars. Perhaps with no Outlook/Exchange there would at last be less senseless meetings. ….


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