Monday, July 18, 2005

Love and care...

I may have mentioned it a time or two, but though I spend a large part of my life in Tokyo, I don't live there (the use of there meant to suggest, rightfully, that I am not in Tokyo at the moment). I live in a little hamlet of around 350,000 souls called Utsunomiya.
I had a house built here for I and my family last year. One of the things that happened was that we ran out of money, or rather decided to spend less on the landscaping and more on the furniture. I have spent lots of time since on the landscaping. I built a deck, a marble(ish) patio, and a further patio out of paving stones, as well as a long flower bed. In the process, I have gained valuable cement-mixing skills as well as less-welcome back pains.
Yesterday, my wife and I, with our son and nephew in tow, went to the house of one of her friends. This friend and her husband are splitting, divorcing, and will move out of their house fairly soon, it being too big for their new single lives. He says he wants to move into a 'mansion', which means a condo in Japan, and she will move in to her parents house. He also plans to give up his Mitsubishi Delica van in favor of a Nissan Fairlady Z sports car. Single indeed.
I have known my wife's friend since the day I met my wife, and known of her unhappiness with her marriage for nearly as long. It took them 12 years from when I met her on August 13, 1993, until now, to throw in the towel.
They had spent a fair amount of time on their yard, and it was really nice. Lots of plants, trees, and shrubs that I don't know the names of. And, to make a long story short, many are now translplanted to my own back yard.
They join some other shrubs that came from a female friend of mine who lived near where we used to live before moving to Utsunomiya, a much smaller village of around 30,000 people just north of Utsunomiya. Actually, to say that she or I lived there is somewhat inaccurate: Both of us had family there (her husband, and my wife and son), but lived in Tokyo during the week. We had, in fact, been room-mates for about a year. I moved back here last year, since from Utsunomiya it is now possible to commute, whereas before the lack of local trains made it difficult.
My friend and her husband were at a crossroads: She had enough independence and money, as well as enough dissatisfaction with certain parts of their married life, to be seriously considering the pros and cons of being together. He is basically inscrutable, but whatever: She is my friend, so I am going to take her side in any case. But it looks as though they may have patched it up: He got a transfer to Tokyo, and they are once again living together, and I hope that they are happy.
So, I now have a yard filled with plants that came to me as the result of friends' marital difficulties. The irony is that, in both cases, the plants were given more care than the marriages, so they are in good shape, while the lives of those who raised them are less fulfilled...

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Once we are born, only one thing is certain...

I mentioned before that I had gone to the hospital, and would need to go back on Friday, yesterday. I ducked out of work and went there by my appointment time (I was previously mistaken: They do have appointements!) only to...wait! I am not sure what the point of having an appointment is, but well...
In the waiting area in front of the urology department, I noticed a couple of gaijin, which I thought was unusual. One guy, who looked maybe in his 60's, sat at the back with a young caucasian woman. I recognised the guy, but couldn't place the face. The PA announcement asking him to go into the examination room was so garbled I couldn't hear the name, and in any case I had brought my PMP study book and was engrossed in the study of scheduling. He had been in the examination room for perhaps 5 minutes, when he came out and gestured for his daughter (that is my assumption, and I could certainly be wrong) to come join him. I didn't think much of it, but was quite sure that I had seen his face before.
Not long before I was called in, he came out with an older Japanese woman, which I guessed he must have gone in with. The daughter hadn't come out yet. I wasn't actually called into the examination room, but to a bench in front of the examination room where I had some more waiting to do. The woman who I had assumed was his daughter was sitting on the adjacent bench, her face somewhat red, as if she had been crying. She was speaking with an older Japanese woman.
"He is planning to start his book, you know. I don't know if that is the right thing right now...I have always been the one to push him, but..." the older woman said.
"I don't know either...I want to hear the prognosis first. I guess I am worried that his last bit of time is not spent in hospitals...there is a time when we probably just need to say that the quality of remaining time is more important than fighting it," said the younger woman.
"Well, yes, but let's wait to hear the prognosis," the older woman said.
"Yes. I know the doctors are good, and they want the best, but I also know that part of this culture is to fight until the end. I don't want that for him."

Some other things were said. I was not trying to eavesdrop, but was perhaps two feet from them, and so it was not possible not to hear what was said.
It turns out that I don't have liver cancer, or kidney cancer, or whatever it was that they were concerned about.
On the way back from lunch, I remembered where I had seen the man, which was not as I had first thought, at an ACCJ even or something, but on television, on a program called The Broadcaster, where he was a regular. He was a perfectly bilingual guy, with a very thoughtful and softspoken manner that I had always liked from what I saw on televsion. His name is George Fields, I learned once I had this hint, and looked it up on the internet.
I guess I tell this story because of the impression it left on me, which was of the oneness of humans, whether they have done great things, as I believe that this man had, in facing the hard things in life. And a real impression that he was doing so with a kind of grace, in the way that he treated his daughter's feelings and just in the way that he was with her, that I hope to be able to show in the face of death. And the oneness of those of us facing the prospect of losing a parent.
I hope that I have people around me who show as much respect and care as those around Mr. Fields seemed to, as well. He may be a big shot TV personality, but in the end, the thing that will matter to him is what he has shared with the people he loves. I think in his case, just looking at the brief encounter, that he will die a happy man, and that those that loved him will celebrate his life, while at the same time grieving.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Love thy customer

I was in a meeting today (normally that wouldn't qualify as it's own sentence, but recently I have been extremely geeky [read: depressed] and haven't been much on the old 'let's sit down and shoot the shit' game). Anyway, we were talking about one of the features of a certain Intranet service that I am in charge of, and one of them was called 'Portal out of the box' or PoB for short. Basically, this gives any department or global entity the ability to create their own portal site, using standard modules and interfaces.
The comment of the woman in charge of internal communications was 'we have chosen not to use that here, because we worry about the consistency of the user experience.' What was really at work is that it allows departments to communicate without that communication being mediated by the internal comms folks, which is a threat to their control. It is probably a safe bet that my future as a corporate blogger is limited here...
Fast forward to a posting that I saw concerning Dell computer's customer service. I think that this guy made some very good points. This guy seems to be pretty influential, and within a week of his post, Dell announced that they were shutting down their cutomer care messag boards.
I don't know the story, but he communicated directly with a senior director, and mentioned aspects of legal liability that obviously got someone to over-react. It was mostly about the at-home service guarantee, which, if you looked at the boards, looks like is worthless, because the technicians don't bring parts. This blogger correctly pointed out that saying you would do one thing, and then not doing it (at-home computer repeairs) is fraudulent, but rather than really looking at why a customer was accusing them of fraud, they immediatly looked for ways to elimenate any exposure they might have, which apparently included elimenating the customer care mesaging boards.
I had an all-around disappointing customer-service experience with First of all, I ordered the MCSE test preparation set through the U.S. site, becasue the Japan site doesn't sell it. Ok, whatever. So, three days ago, I got one of those notices that the post office leaves when you aren't at home (what do we call them in English? I know the Japanese word, but not the English..) So, I asked them to bring it at a time when my wife would be home. I got home that night, and ripped open the package only to find a boxed set of the Little House on the Prairie books. I was understandably confused, so I looked at the address label, and it was addressed to someone in Fukui prefecture. How, I wondered, did this package end up at my house? It turns out that it came in a white bag, which had it's own label. Somehow there was a mixup.
So I went to the website to find their customer service number. Hah! I may have spent thousands (easily: I would reckon probably in the neighbourhood of $10,000 during the last 9 years that I have been shopping there) of dollars at their store, but they have decided to force me to use a cluggy e-mail tool that slotted problems into types that were not describing my issue, which was that I wanted to make sure that the lady in Fukui got her book, and that I got mine.
The nice thing about google is that if something exists, you can probably find it:
(800) 201-7575. The disappointing thing wasn't that the woman was rude, only that she didn't seem to have a clue. I wanted to do the right thing, and she just didn't seem to get it: I wanted to tell her the name of the person who did *not* have her boxed set of Laura Ingalls Wilder because of the screwup, so that amazon could re-send it, since she told me that I had to send the box back to, fronting the international postage until they gave it back to me in a credit. She didn't want to know the person's name.
"Well, what about her book? She is going to get it much later than she should. Don't you think that if you know she isn't going to get it, because you are telling me to send it back to you, that you should re-send hers?"
"Don't worry, your MCSE set should be arriving in a few days."
I ended up telling her to escalate the matter, and then she comes back and says "if you are willing to send it to this other person, we would be very grateful." Being grateful to me, rather than simply clueless, seemed an improvement. The basic issue, though, is that she never seemed to think about "what will make this customer and the other customer, who hasn't raised a trouble ticket yet, but certainly will since her books definitely won't make it to her, the most happy?" She seemed mostly concerned with closing the trouble ticket, not doing what is best for the customer. That is not the same as the old, whose customer service was amazing and unique: I got a copy of The Ruling Class DVD included in one order just because someone there thought I might like it (I did). In Japan, they used to put paper book covers on each book they shipped. You really got the feeling that they cared about customer service. I did not get the warm fuzzies in my most recent delaings, and I still do not have the MCSE test set...I have actually run help desks, so I understand the importance of measuring performance with hard numbers, measuring what you are doing, and using quality control to make sure the answers to standard questions get answered the same. But that is no substitute for a human who cares about me. In this age of outsourcing call center work, I really wonder how often the question gets asked of call center staff: Do these people love our customers? And will that love make itself known? used to be able to say that.
In my very brief sojourn to another part of our company, I was in charge of a web site for partners. One of the things I was working on was getting forums up and running. The hostility to the idea from nearly everyone save me and my (not official, but nonetheless) boss was interesting. I felt that considering the small number of people we had dedicated to supporting partners, it made sense to do something that allowed partners to participate in a community, and help one another by answering questions for one another. The objections basically boiled down to "nobody will use them," "that won't work in Japan," "this poses big legal risks," "who will make sure nothing untoward is said?" and so on. There are always five reasons not to do something, but I will almost always take doing over not doing. The thing I dislike most about lots of people in my company, and, really, in this country, is that they are so averse to any kind of risk, that the risk of doing anything ends up greater than the risk of doing nothing almost every time, and they take the less risky course of action.
Letting go of the power you have over your users or customers is the hardest thing in the world, but the old adage, 'if you love someone, set them free,' is true here: The love will be returned. Both Dell and used to get this.
Interestingly, there is also wiki application that global has implemented. I can imagine the local howls at any of our people actually using it...all the more reason to do it!

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Is Your Boss a Psychopath?

A facinating story in this month's Fast Company magazine, entitled Is Your Boss a Psychopath? The story hits a lot of interesting points, but near the bottom is a phrase that, in reading the story, had already occurred to me:

"She points out that psychopathy has a dramatically lower incidence in certain Asian cultures, where the heritage has emphasized community bonds rather than glorified self-interest."

My last boss here in Japan, an Australian, was in fact a psychopath. No doubt. I have met a couple of others here in Japan, where, because their behaviour is so antithetical to the cultural norms, it is fairly easy to identify them, whereas I am afraid that in the U.S. they are seen as perhaps a little on the extreme end of of things, but their qualities are often identified as good ones. In Japan, individualism in general is frowned upon, and the ruthless disregard that sociopaths/psychopaths have for the pain that their actions might cause society or others is much less acceptable. I would, incidentally, score my last boss as a 16 on the quiz they give in the magazine, which means 'be very afraid,' which I was.
A couple of years ago, when I was between jobs, my housemate and I were brainstrorming ways to make money. Our had just gone bust (the result, I should add, of our CEO's psychopathy being discovered, rather late, by a company which was just about ready to acquire us) and we were broke. There was, however, a big shitload of Hermann Miller office furniture still sitting in our former company's office, that was going to get tossed out. So, I put two and two together and suggested that we call the company that another of our hosemates had just quit, because they were planning to move offices, and might need office furniture. I won't take all the credit, but I thought that I deserved some. I had to, however, make a quick trip to San Francisco to take the oral exam for the Foreign Service, and couldn't take part in the hauling of furniture. I got back and found that my housemate had made around 500,000 yen on the deal. I was waiting for my cut, which should by rights have been half minus the costs of labor and the rent a truck. He handed me 10,000 yen.
I had thought that we were friends, and I guess that we really were. But his ability to completely screw me on the deal, and to separate that and say 'it's only business, mate,' which he did in fact say, shocked me. 'It's only business,' is a distinctly western concept, and not one that I like. It is akin to saying "in this realm of unbridled competition, any behaviour is acceptable, and you are a wanker for getting upset. Don't take anything that happens in this realm personally." At least in one area, I really like the value that Japanese put on personal behaviour, and the real lack of tolerance for this type of behaviour. To some extent, it means that Japanese are better at concealing it, but the real stigma attached to it, and the professional and financial disincentives, mean that there is less of it here.
Yeah, I found something I like about Japan.

Saturday, July 09, 2005


I spent most of this afternoon in the Jikei University Hospital. My test for gout last week didn't turn up any telltale signs of uric acid, though my big toe still hurts, but did turn up something else, which the Roppongi Hills Clinic didn't have the facilities to test further for, and which I don't want to talk about in a specific way, this not being an octogenarians log of ailments but a hip, trendy, always fresh look at Tokyo (yeah, well...).
I hate hospitals, and I hate them in Japan even more. When I was a kid I had this moribd fear of needles. It took John, the 300 pound janitor (I am dead serious, and he is probably just dead at this point), to subdue me when it was flu shot time. I also hated the dentist, who got so fed up with me, that he threatened to drill a hole in my tongue if I didn't stop screaming (he either forgot the novocaine, or I was sufficiently scared of the shot that I wouldn't let him give it to me--I have chosen to forget which). Everyone hates dentists, though, so that is not so strange.
I got over my fear of needles: A very large number of rabies shots in the stomach were required after I got bit by a rabid dog when I was in Thailand, and though I was not exactly thrilled, compared to the other choice, which was that I would start foaming at the mouth in a few weeks, and my brain would waste away and I would die a horrible death, I was willing to put aside one fear in the service of a much bigger fear. Once I had put it aside, I was able to do it again, and once I stopped fearing, I didn't become a junkie, but I did sell my plasma right after I graduated from college, which involved needles twice a week for several months. Now I can look disspasionately at the needle going in, and generally calmly suggest the best place (they probably think the scar on my right arm is a junkie's mark, instead of just the mark of a poor white boy who sold bodily fluids to make his rent...).
Anyway, what I don't like about Japanese hospitals: (yes, list time: Letterman does it, and so do tons of other blogs, so why shouldn't I (which makes me think that a top-ten list would be even better))
10. Too many kanji for body parts that I don't know and don't want to know
9. Too damned many sick people
8. Doctors tell you the German or Latin name of an illness and take it for granted that as a gaijin you will understand. News flash: White skin gives one no advantage in foreign medical gobbleydegook.
7. They make you write all of your personal information each time you go in. Apparently computers are not reliable enough.
6. You can't get an appointment: They don't believe in them, apparently. So you just have to go in and wait.
5. Whilst waiting, they never seem to have comfortable chairs in their waiting areas.
4. Stupid questionnaires that ask questions you would expect the doctor to ask, maybe, if you had a very different problem.
3. Too many tests: This is apparently a big profit center, but it seems like not so much would have changed since last week, of which test results I handed them.
2. Waiting: Waiting at reception, waiting at the departmental reception, waiting for the test, waiting for the test results, waiting for the doctor, waiting for the CT test, and finally waiting a very long time to pay my bill.
1. Japanese doctors: They must, as a group, be the biggest bunch of idiots in Japan. I have had so few good experiences with them, that I can only assume that their education or selection is so poor that it is not their fault. I don't really care though: Vigilance is absolutely essential, because you never know what sort of lunacy will make it's way into a prognosis or lack of one.

I will be going back next Friday. Oh, what a stroke of luck! Well...

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Solutions or bigger headaches?

I have spent the last two days being really geeky: Installing open source solutions on a Linux server. One solution, or rather application, is a project management application for groups called dotProject. It is pretty good for free, and looks to be able to integrate with our environment, since it supports LDAP. I am getting one of the translators which work in our department to do localisation work, so it should be comprehensible to my co-workers. It has a pretty good translation interface, so it is easy to do. The other application I found is called Dokeos, and is a SCORM-compliant eLearning application. That means that compliant content should work on it, and content created on it should work on other platforms.
Installation is definitely the bane of open source: Because packages tend to be deployed on a wide variety of OSs, and there are a fair number of different environments even in Linux, there tends to be a lot of tweeking of installation, web server settings, database server settings, and so on. It took me far too much time trying to figure out why a perfectly legitimate password didn't work, and why I couldn't get into the system. There are still a couple of bugs that I need to solve.
I put my son to bed this evening, and was sort of idly thinking that I would really like to form a new web solutions group in our company that provided robust solutions quickly to our business users at a very inexpensive cost. The trick would be having integrated building blocks of solutions, and sharing certain resources like database servers, LDAP servers (better yet, use the LDAP functionality of Active Directory), so that all of the basic pieces were in place, and it was just a matter of plopping a new instance of the application down. Even with lots of customisation, applications could be quickly rolled out to customers. If you had your mail server, database server, LDAP server, and others ready, it would be a relatively simple thing to put up an application that you had already configured to use those servers.
I want to create. Even though putting applications up is not necessarily creative, it is providing a solution to certain requirements. I miss that kind of thinking. I want to create a can-do group of people who say 'what is your requirement', and then gets the requirement done quickly and with good quality, for a reasonable cost. Then, the kicker, we provide a high level of support, with SLAs. This would be a helluva lot of fun. Think I will propose it next week when my boss gets back from the U.S.
I got a response from the Netherlands HR person: You are too senior for this role. I wrote back, basically saying 'screw seniority, I am not that concerned. What could be a more important factor is salary, but let's talk about it.' I haven't heard back from her yet.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Are you hungry?

An interesting story today in eWeek that somewhat suspectly tied overthrow of African dictators to high mobile phone penetration. With over 20% penetration, the columnist posited, dictators began to fall. He does not quote a source for the statistic, and used it to rather annoyingly make a connection that didn't actually exist, and which he didn't actually admit until the last sentence, but it definitely makes one think (Rodin's Thinker pose) about the changes that modern communications are wreaking on the world.
In India, China, slowly in Africa, much more quickly in South America, distance and lack of communication are no longer synonymous. Americans and Europeans take it for granted that telecommunication is reliable, widely available, and reasonably priced. Until very recently, however, that was more often than not untrue in most of the rest of the world. As an exchange student in Thailand, once in the 80's, and again in the early 90's, nothing could have been further from the truth. In a country of over 50 million, there were less than 1 million phone lines. An application for a fixed line phone either required 5 years to process or a bribe. The cost of a 3-minute phone call to the U.S. was about $10, and required going to a post office, during business hours, to make.
A decade and a half later, mobile phone lines outstrip landlines, and one in three Thais owns one or the other, meaning almost every household has acceess to telecommunications of some sort. I don't know if, in the case of the rural society that I lived in, that is a good thing or bad: I remember sending a letter to a remote temple asking if I could ordain as a monk there. I didn't receive an answer, which made me nervous, as I had to plan, or so I believed as a westerner. My host mum told me to chill, and just go. The abbot of the temple, when I arrived, said something like "oh, yeah, I got your letter. I didn't write back because we never turn anyone away who wants to ordain, and it would have meant walking 5 kilometres to the nearest post box." I shudder to think that the same monk might today be gabbing away (one of the Buddhist sins: Un-thoughtful speech) on a mobile. I doubt he is, but what about the young guys?
But as to the political dimensions: Making laws, as most dictators, and even some so-called democracies do, which limit the right of it's citizens to gather in large groups becomes meaningless when virtual gatherings, using SMS, e-mail, audio telephony, instant messaging, chat, or whatever, become widely available. A reasonably good example of this was in the Phillipine 'people power' revolution a few years ago, which toppled Joseph Estrada. It was largely driven by SMS. More recently, large-scale protests in China against inaccurate depictions in Japanese textbooks of Japanese atrocities in WWII were largely organised online, in chat rooms, and by text message. Certainly, in both cases, mass gatherings happened, but there was little, short of turning off all communications methods, that authorities could do to stop them: They couldn't break up organising meetings, because there were none. Arresting organisers might have been possible, but both were more viral in nature, and though there were definitely organisers, they were able to effectively conceal their identities. So, sudden gatherings, which sometimes turn into violent protests, and which are difficult to stop, are probably the rule going forward, at least in repressive countries where citizens have access to communication technology. I would still like to see the statistical data to prove it though...
But what about so-called developed countries? Are our governments and institutions so perfect that a little people power is unnecessary? Probably not. But, generally, there is also nothing stopping us from protesting. The convenience of organising protests, for the most part, hasn't meant more of them. One notable exception is the protests against G8 and the WTO, both of which benefited from communications technology. The real irony is that freer world trade is actually narrowing the gap between the 'have' countries, and the 'have nots.' There was a good column in yesterday's International Herald Tribune about the trend in western countries to work longer hours. It suggests that one of the reasons is that western workers are competing more directly with workers in India, China, Indonesia, or Brazil. Though there will probably never be absolute equality, a much more equitable future is now possible because of freer world trade and, ironically, great improvements in communication infrastructure throughout the world. What is gained is less poverty and greater economic and political empowerment. But something is lost, too.
I remember making a trip from Japan to Chiang Mai about 13 years ago. It was a fairly sudden 'visa trip': Leave the country for a few days prior to the expiration of your 90-day tourist visa and come back on another. I didn't have time to write a letter, pretty much the only way to communicate with my former host family. After a grueling train trip from Bangkok, which included a head-on collision and derailing, a bone-jarring ride in the back of a log-poacher's pickup truck, under a canopy to protect us from the dust thrown up, and then a fairly uneventful bus ride into Chiang Mai, I got off the bus in front of the Wararot market. My host family had a stall there, selling sweets. I hadn't seen them for about four months, but when I went up to my host sister and said 'hi', she said 'oh, it's you. Are you hungry?' People talk about the immediacy of mobile communications, but what can compare to the immediacy of an outheld hand offering a sticky rice and mango desert?

Monday, July 04, 2005

Time to buck up, sonny!

I realised today that I probably am sounding a little whiney. I hate whiney people, and really don't want to sound like one.
So, I decided that I need to be making forward progress, which could mean a lot of different things, but right now means that I want to be adding to my qualifications. I got turned down for our company's project management course, which is a bit of a joke, since I have been doing project managment for about three years now. Actually, the reason I want to take the course is to get the formal classroom training that I need to get the Project Managment Professional (PMP) certication from the Project Management Institute. I have met the experience requirement for the PMP, and if I work at it, should be able to get the certificate by the end of the year.
I also want to get my MCSE qualification. Don't ask me why, except that I am a geek, and as far as I know, no one else here has it. It is useful knowledge, and for a manager having a technical qualification, the more difficult to get the better, is useful for demanding respect from the troops (of which I am currently without, for reasons mostly having to do with the events I described in my last post). It is not an easy qualification, actually, and requires taking six different fairly difficult exams.
After I am done with that, I will look at getting the CCNA, or the Cisco Certified Network Architect, mostly because it is useful in the industry that I work in, and would be useful knowledge. When I am done conquering the world, I will be ready to sit down at get the first level on the Japanese language proficiency test, which is the test used for college admittance of foreign students. In fact, it is fortuitous that I should look at their web site today, since today is the first day that applications are being accepted.
Time to go home.

Back at the start, again...

From my desk at work, I wish you a happy fourth of July. For some odd reason, this holiday is not recognized by all the world, and I have, <gasp!> WORK today.
I did not, as per previous posts end up at the embassy: Couldn't be bothered. There was another celebration at T.Y. Harbor Brewery that was apparently good as well, but making the trip into Tokyo with my son in tow is not my idea of a restful holiday. Actually, neither is varnishing my deck, which is what I did end up doing.
My excuses for not posting are mounting, and none are particularly great, except perhaps a general malaise that is infecting most of what I am supposed to be doing. Call it the rainy season blues.
On Friday, the president of the company gave a speech on the new strategic direction of the company. When I came here two years ago, there was a one-day orientation. In that orientation, someone from HR told us all with a straight face that we were going to double our customer base in three years time. I thought it was a joke, as would anyone who actually knows this market. But there was such a serious, positive attitude that of course we would make it, that I put aside my initial doubts that perhaps a couple of executives were on crack. I shouldn't have. Two years later, we are barely where we were when the goal was made. At the time, I did question the goal, asking 'what is the strategy to actually double our customer base?' There was none. Or, rather, there was this strategy called 'aim to gain' which was so high-level as to be useless, and cannot really be called a strategy as much as a motto.
Friday's speech gave some hope: The goal, while nowhere close to doubling our market share, is nearly as challenging as the previous one, owing to a slowdown in new subscribers as the market has become saturated. The difference is that there is an actual strategy to achieve the target. I actually had lunch with the president last Monday, in a session called 'speak your mind', which included seven other employees from various parts of the company. I was really impressed with his ability to listen. He didn't try to dominate or change our minds, he just listened, asked questions to clarify points he didn't understand, and took lots of notes. My question was one that I considered to be important, but the look on his face suggested it wasn't one that he was happy about. It turned out that was because he actually considered that one of the major problems facing our company, and he referred to my question in his speech.
I am feeling somewhat better about the direction things are going. I think that if our current president can stick around for a couple of years, and if global doesn't muck around with us, that we have a brighter tomorrow than today. That is a good feeling, and I hope that it is justified. Then again, I have this sinking feeling that there are too many really lame people, and worry that no matter what the best intentions of top management, they will still be lame. And I worry that my lack of motivation will make me one of those lame people.
My boss sent me a job notice from the group company in the Netherlands. Generally, this is not a good sign: Is she trying to get rid of me?
Actually, I think that it is not the case that she is sick of me and wants to see me gone. I was asked to join another part of the company several months ago, a part of the company much more in keeping with what I had done previous to working here. There were several changes, though (both of the guys that interviewed me, my new general manager, as well as his boss, the division head, were asked to leave), and the paperwork was typically late, so that it got stopped after the changes were effected. There was, additionally, a very strong element of racism in both of the people who took over from the former managers. They were very nice about it, but explained that people in their division were sick of foreigners, and that they didn't see how they would be appointing one a manager. I had actually taken over the group, and were managing them, since they were without a manager, and both my division head, and the other guy (who was replaced) had agreed on the transfer. Things were going fairly well, considering that it was a completely new job, and there was a pretty heavy learning curve. And then the lack of progress regarding the transfer paperwork just pissed off my (official) boss and my division manager, and they told me to get back.
I invested a lot in doing the other job: My hopes, my position within my division, my energy. I am lucky to be back with no real reprecussions (the division head, who is a very traditional Japanese guy, told me that if he thought I had gone around him to get a transfer, he would have fired me: In this company, your loyalty is to your group, rather than to the company as a whole.).
When I returned, my boss and I spoke really frankly, and she told me that she thought that I should look abroad if I wanted a career in the company. This was not long after the evaluation 'levelling' took place, and I am reasonably certain that I took a hit there (again). It is ironic: I have achieved all of the projects that I have been assigned, on time and under-budget. Until recently I was in charge of activities which were vitally important to the way that a half-billion dollar decision was made, and which were not being done before I saw the need and took it on. The fact that the decision went in such a way as to elimenate my job was fine with me. I am not saying that there were no problems, no failings, and nothing I could have done better. I think that my boss is right, though: This is a company that I probably cannot succeed in progressing in. No matter how much I respect the president and trust his ability to bring us up again, I don't fit in. I am a foreigner, which is one problem, but the other is that I don't feel a need to make things more complex than they need to be. In I.T., where I am now working, they make simple things incredibly complex. Most people don't do development, deployment, or other value-added work, so what do they add? Complexity. We are in the complexity business, and by selling complexity we maintain our positions, our budgets, and our stranglehold on how others in the company can work. I would rather be in the solutions business.
Call it the Monday blues: It is raining outside, and I can barely see to Tokyo bay from my position at the top of the highest building in the neighbourhood. One of my colleagues did pass the leadership program test, and I am happy for him, but a little blue for myself. Tomorrow we move our desks, back to where I used to sit when I started in the company more than two years ago. I guess I feel like that mystical doubling of customers: I have had my ups and downs over the last 2+ years, but end up right back where I started.