DK in Corporateland; Doubletake 1

By David Kessler

In this installment: Preamble to "DK in Corporateland"  "I Got My Head Right, Boss"  The Power of Repetition.  Don't Try This at Home.  A Judgement Call.  A Formulaic Train Wreck.  I'll Plead Entrapment!

"The gods love a good adventure.   They also love a good joke.  Think about it."  (From a hero's plaque I once saw)

News that I recently found a new job has been greeted by congratulations from friends and family. News that this job is with a large corporation nearly sent a few of my well wishers into shock.  To be exact, it's a small institute within a large corporation, but that surrounding entity is extremely large and fluorescently lit.

Now I have new ways to learn as I adapt to cubicles, board meetings, and the Audix phone system.  Only time will tell what effect all this will have on me (I have only the slightest illusions about my affecting it).  In the meantime, I can only offer those anecdotes that stand out in my mind, and a few surrounding reflections.

Earlier this year, my adventures were mountains, oceans, and pubs, all full of history, odd locals, and new perspectives.  I wish that this new landscape proves to be just as full of stories, without that fact making me rue such a dangerous wish!

The Articles of War issued by the British Navy in the 18th century were referred to for shipboard discipline at times of both war and peace.  They explain what power the captain and the admiralty hold for deciding matters such as desertion, causing a ship to run aground, delaying or discouraging a commanded action, murder, buggery, sodomy, striking a superior officer, and a variety of other actions.  No details or guidelines are given for punishing many crimes - that being left purely to the discretion of the captain - but what is lacking in detail, is made up for in consistency.  The Articles are positively formulaic from start to finish, and one of the most common phrases for condemned sailors is, "...shall suffer death, or such other punishment as shall, according to the nature and degree of the offense, be inflicted upon him".  In fact this sentence is found in the passages for all the crimes noted above.

In the classic Paul Newman prison film, Cool Hand Luke, new inmates are treated to a recitation of the rules and punishments of their new home.  The rules vary from keeping track of items issued by the prison (bed sheets, spoons, etc), to when to go to sleep.  The recitation of rule-punishment-rule-punishment... is very formulaic; over and over again, we are told that anyone found breaking the rule in question "spends a night in the box".

Repetition is the soul of memory - a wise man might point out - and so the powers that ruled over the two communities noted above could be said merely to be driving home their points in a simple, reliable manner.  They are trying to avoid what Newman's prison warden referred to as a "failure to communicate".

I was reminded of the power of repetition, recently, while undergoing a great rite of corporate passage at my new job.  Some of you may have gone through such an experience several times, but somehow I had avoided it until this week.  I went to my corporate orientation.

Now, I'm not going to paint a scary or ludicrous scene and I'm not going to make any comparisons to Dilbert.  Though I have been with the company less than 2 weeks, I am impressed with how many friendly people it employs and how willing they are to demystify any procedure I need to understand.   The fact that orientation recalled a chain gang movie and floating totalitarianism to my mind should not be seen as too dire; my story is a happy one.

The entire orientation took 3 hours and the single most formulaic portion was that on computer system security.

I wasn't surprised that the systems security speaker (say that 10 times, fast) warned us not to reveal our password, not to write it down in plain view, and not to keep the same password for too long.  What did strike me was the repetition.  He perfectly echoed the literature on representing our company well, and on sexual harassment: start the sentence how you may, the ending was always, "...will be subject to disciplinary action or immediate dismissal."

The other sections had also used this phrase, but somehow his was the voice that brought it home.  He did manage to keep a reasonably light tone through all this.  Mostly, this was done by noting how self-evident we all must find these rules.  This led to his second favorite formula, "just use your own judgement".

On the topic of the Internet, he noted how we should never use pirated software (see formula 1), and how we should be careful of computer viruses (see formula 2).  He also spent a good amount of time telling us not to browse through pornographic web sites (that's right, still number 2), noting how some past employees had visited sights from their workplace computers that they shouldn't even have visited from their homes.  That little gem didn't have much chance to sink in before he moved on to his next point; Email sent from or received at a workplace computer is the property of the company and can be used as the basis of litigation against us.  Listening to this sentence, I felt sure that he was headed down track 1 when he said, "so use your best judgement."

The legalistic train had crashed into the folksy station for a neat little wreck and my head was filled with courtroom visions of a "my best judgement" legal defense!

Back at my desk I got a call from the Sales and Marketing department about corrections for the new company directory.  Their information on my department was almost entirely wrong, so rather than take all the corrections over the phone, they said they would email me the existing information and I would send it back, corrected.  They sent it over, I opened it up, I looked at the attachment, and every newly oriented cell in my brain did a double take.

Not 2 hours after being lectured on how disciplinary action or immediate dismissal would result from sending and receiving inappropriate email, I had received and was expected to send back this company document, named "S&M Phone Directory"!

If I find myself out of a job the next time they run a security sweep, you'll know I was framed by the Sales & Marketing department.

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