Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Of Abe’s Slaves, Buses and Diverse Perspectives

So I made it - the editor didn’t ask me to resign, the article was published and I have actually been asked to write the next article in a series of light contributions for The Executive.

Either the piece I penned about management was funny or the editor is nicer than I ever imagined. And won’t show me the door. Mind you there were times I think I was shown the door and I just blurted out “how lovely the door is”. This, I imagine, is called managing to not let adversity affect you too badly. The worst scenario was when I was shown the door and I said “nice door but needs repainting and new hinges too.” This was when the exasperated shower of door showered me with poetic expletives before kicking me out.

Back to my brief to write a light article and preferably have it nice and polished. How light should “light” be? Does one get hold of the article and place it on scales? Let’s imagine we are organising a conference for high-powered gentry. How gentle on the palate does one go? Because as with everything else under the sun my light lunch might be the next man - or woman’s - gargantuan meal. So that’s another management theory which has been debunked. No theory fits all so whatever one theorises and however much one sweats to get theories into practice always be warned that what is a heavenly meal for you could be poison for your next door neighbour. Let’s ignore the fact that most probably it is poison even for you if you consider the calories it contains, calculate the fats and check the salt level.

In this vein Abraham Lincoln had it quite interestingly right not about food but about different perspectives. When he was sort of trying to rid the USA of slavery some slave-owning association contended that slavery was good. Lincoln said words to the effect that yes it is good but for whom? It surely wasn’t good for the poor old - and even more so the young - slaves. Change perspective, Abe seems to be implying, and all ideas and ideals can be overturned or overruled or thrown overboard.

Let’s get topical and get Arriva into the spotlight. Not that we need to do much more to these beleaguered engineers of our bussing present and probable future. No don’t worry this won’t be another excruciating essay on how Arriva, the minister or some backbencher stole the limelight and managed to get a Task Force in place that included our own Air Force to get the buses to their destination on time.

Let’s be more mundane than that. Perspective is all I was trying to prove - that if you look at a problem or a solution from one angle it can look completely different when seen askance or from a different direction. So what am I arriving at? Please excuse the “arrival” pun - I realise we have had an overdose of Arrivaderci word plays to last us a few eternities.

This proved another rule in management- what could have been(but wasn’t) a good pun/joke/ironical quip was lost and worse than lost because the reader has been overcome with loads of similar, or better but still-in-same-vein, jokes. Ennui kicks in if you overdose on anything good - or bad. Imagine I am given a great feast of a meal by the 200-star Michelin el Bulli man, at least when he was still plying his trade and feeding the moneyed few. After feeding me I repeat my thanks so many times that he is exasperated to the point of wanting to hit me. But his partner - who most probably is way too polite to be seen hitting anyone and in all probability is a much better chef - hears the commotion and comes over to placate us both. On his way he also gets hold of another plate-ful of bullion delicacies which he presents to me in all its glory. He - the nice guy –says “how nice of you to be so effusive in your congratulations. I have been touched and on behalf of el bulli himself have purposely come to offer you another dose of food from our kitchen.” It could be heaven’s own food but enough is enough. So, you see, like over-wrought jokes and over-wrought food over-wrought plans can come a cropper.

Back to Arriva: whatever the controversy the main silly thing that needs looking into in our investigation of different perspectives (think of Abe Lincoln’s quip about the slaves) is the tourists’ perspective. Many tourists said that we should be ashamed of ourselves - not for having the Arriva buses inflicted upon us. No, the tourists’ great gripe was that “hey, look how cute and quaint the old buses were - now they are efficient with well-dressed drivers but ever so boring and colourless.”

Two perspectives: one from a tourist’s point of view, the other the local one. The tourists, God bless their souls and their much-appreciated custom and accompanying coffer-filling, have time in easy supply. They want to go slow, enjoy the view even if it is a bit hampered by the chugging fumes of the old buses. We the locals need to get to our destination on time and hardly on some carcinogenic bus that makes walkers, cyclists, drivers and passengers fume.

So quaint, alas, is not always too engrossing when it involves a gross part of the equation and having to live with the fume monsters day in day out –unlike those lovely tourists who just come here for a few days. It’s not too much of a moot point that the Arriva
brigade doesn’t actually get passengers to destination on time. But that, as they say, is another story - best looked at from the parliamentarians’ new offices or the ministers’ big chauffeur-driven limos.

So theories and all else are subject to another rule - that one can’t measure all distances with the same ruler. This rule of course is also subject to review and to being dumped. So go on all you gurus out there - have a field day and send me theories that disprove my theory. Management is fun mainly because it is so diverse and so difficult to pigeonhole.

Final warning: I have said all this with tongue firmly stuck to cheek. So nothing should be taken literally in the article above: even the jibe on Arriva not being there on time and the story about Abe’s slaves might not be completely true.

This article first appeared in the November 2011 issue of The Executive

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