Start with Incompetence

The more I consider the current state of the American job market, the more I realize that its most astonishing failures are simply the result of incompetence.

American business management doesn’t train employees. Why? Because they don’t know how. They can’t find qualified candidates for jobs? They don’t know how. They can’t build a quality product and make money with it? They don’t know how. They use layoffs as a routine cost-cutting measure? They don’t know any other way.

This is all quite strange considering the obsessive and paranoid mechanisms workplaces have established to weed out anyone who isn’t quite frankly perfect in every possible way. We’ve all been treated to stories of how employers scour social media, conduct paid background checks, perform credit checks, insist on excessive references and so on. It’s almost as if they are more interested in disqualifying candidates than hiring them.

Anyone who has looked for a job in the last five to ten years has experienced the inexplicable delays, the unresponsive hiring managers and recruiters and the cumbersome, exhausting siege job candidates are forced to endure. And even if they succeed, what do they have? They are guaranteed to be underpaid, overworked and have no job security at all.

From a social and political standpoint, America is a warehouse full of gunpowder and dynamite right now. People are angry, frustrated and scared out of their minds. And when I say people I mean a lot of people. This broken thing we call the employment market is the box of matches in that warehouse. This is the thing that will be the end of us if we don’t get it locked down in a right now hurry.

It’s a complex problem, which means there are no easy solutions, but the one thing we need to put an abrupt stop to right this second is this perfidious myth that it’s the workers who are to blame. We have the best educated and most skilled workforce in the history of the human race in this country. Tens of millions of Americans have college educations, and the overwhelming majority of the workforce is literate and capable of all kinds of creative solutions to the problems we need to solve as a country.

This alternative theory that Americans are a bunch of feckless layabouts with worthless degrees and no skills is a message designed to consume what’s left of your hope for a brighter future. It’s patent nonsense perpetrated by lazy managers and shareholders who don’t want to pay their dinner check.

Our future may be as simple as something I read in a discussion of automated hiring the other day: “In the future, nobody has a job, but they can’t find anyone to blame but themselves, so they just starve to death quietly.”

While I don’t want to encourage people to spend all their time looking for someone to blame, I will point out there are millions of people in this country who not only want work, but are qualified to do amazing things, and they are all sitting idle because there is no practical way to penetrate the fortress of confusion corporate America has erected around gainful employment. And again, even if someone manages to achieve the impossible, they have only layoffs and pay cuts to look forward to.

Is that the country you want your kids to grow up in? Me neither.

It Has to be Said

I have withheld much of what I’m sure I should be writing on the grounds that it might not be what my ostensible middle grade fantasy audience and their moms want to read, but the truth is those middle graders may not have much of a life to look forward to if we don’t fix some of the problems we are facing in these United States.

I’m a science fiction and fantasy novelist. As much as I would prefer to avoid political debate in the interests of not upsetting my readers, we’re rapidly reaching a point where nothing else I or anyone else does at our day job is going to matter. If we keep avoiding the room-sized elephant, the situation will continue to deteriorate. I’d like to think my characters and stories would influence society for the better, but I can’t help but wondering if I am holding one of those little battery-powered propeller fans on the beach during a category four.

So far, I have written around the edges of the problem. I wrote an article on the problems faced by gifted children and followed up with an article about the colorful personalities populating our workplaces.

Nevertheless, we live in a society where a man who wants to work and who is clearly qualified for many a vocation is treated with such skepticism that even amateur psychologists inadvertently bark the word “paranoid” when describing their associated hiring managers. It is not hard to imagine a man applying to work at a supermarket and being asked by an alleged grown-up if they have any shelf-stocking experience.

I have considered and may yet pursue a series of articles making fun of certain online job ads. In fact, I’ve recently written about the special kind of paranoia that inspires most employment ads these days. It is not hard to imagine the people engaged in this juvenile suspicion club to be participating in some kind of informal contest where actually hiring someone counts as a penalty. By all other criteria, they certainly have no interest in placing qualified people in productive roles.

You see, I grew up in an America where it took my mom a grand total of about 40 minutes to get hired into a career-track job she held for 36 years. It was no different for my father. My mom’s title was “Features Editor.” My father’s was “Investigative Reporter.” Their actual grown-up adult jobs with real paychecks and no layoffs or workplace stupidity are two of the main reasons I grew up in a four-bedroom house with a swimming pool and graduated from college debt-free. It’s been a long time since I’ve lived anywhere with four bedrooms that wasn’t a hotel. The opportunities my parents had, like jobs with grown-up titles and managers who were adults with character and integrity, are sadly no longer available.

The truth is our job market is a mental hospital. When combined with the total absence of job security, the chronic underpayment of employees and the tightening hand around the neck of the Internet in general, the future is becoming rather grim. One need only look at the recent news from Activision/Blizzard to see what happens to employees who do a good job. The senior executives at that company only consider their spreadsheets when they make destructive decisions like that. They don’t consider the corrosive effect it has on the rest of society. If doing a good job no longer matters, and the proof is being published under loud headlines all over the web, see if you can guess what happens next?

We’ve all been entertained over the years by extinction events on the big and small screens that populate the short-range distances between our noses and the rest of the world. This persistent disconnect between employers and the rest of us is exactly like that Texas-sized asteroid. There ain’t no Bruce Willis to save us this time, and that rock isn’t slowing down either. It is no different than the near-disaster the credit markets experienced after the housing crisis. Nobody trusts anyone else and everyone is trying to protect what little they have left.

With the credit market crisis, it was the end of capital. If nobody can find or keep a job, it’s the end of the republic.

Black out.

Is Arrested Adolescence the Problem?

Occasionally I come across a video on YouTube that inspires me to consider a problem from a different angle. Last night was one of those videos. It was on the subject of personal development and its host correctly observed that some people are never taught responsibility.

One of the problems I have long struggled with are the broken, paranoid workplaces we tolerate in these United States, but I believe I am slowly zeroing in on the problem.

I discovered relatively early that I would never be able to rely on a job to provide for myself or a family. It wasn’t long after the CFO of the gigantic company where I had just started my 401k became the target of an investigation for cooking the books that any hope of a long-term career was swept away into ashes like the unfortunate heroes in the last Avengers film. We all live in a short-term economy now where jobs are acquired and discarded (or swiped) like paper towels, and are about as valuable.

Because my working life started out in a brokerage firm, I’m a little more sensitive to money topics than most. I recognize, for example, that motives gravitate to money. If something makes a person $2 rather than $1, they will do the former in almost every circumstance, no matter how theoretically destructive it may be to themselves or others. Money is the lens through which you can accurately discern nearly any motive.

So when trying to determine the why of a situation, I almost always start by asking “which option gets the decision maker more money right now?” Why was Toys-R-Us burned to the ground? Because it was worth more cash dead than alive. Why are so many women working now? Because employers can keep more money if they use 100% more staff as an excuse to underpay both men and women.

Why are so many people having trouble finding stable careers? Is it possible you’re worth more unemployed than employed?

This isn’t a simple topic, because it weaves together a number of problems into a cohesive whole. For openers, we have tremendous trouble getting people to take anything seriously in this country right now. The juvenile constituency we apparently turned the Internet over to at some point is far more interested in making rude noises and throwing things at others than they are in tolerating grown-ups or their boring ideas. That’s why sites like The Onion and Reddit and imbeciles like John Oliver have a place at the table (and a perceived security council-esque veto) in our vital public discourse. People who behave in a grown-up manner are treated with either ridicule or suspicion, at least until everything goes to hell, then all the kids run to dad to make it all better. That’s fine in the average family. When the kids outnumber the dads three million to one it’s a little tougher.

This is a symptom of the larger problem of arrested adolescence. Much of the confusion we are experiencing in this country right now is a result of the total absence of grown-ups. The rest is the result of the hostile and bitter reaction many have to the sudden introduction of grown-ups into what was previously adolescent chaos, much like the early return of parents to a teenage house party.

These problems are most pronounced in our workplaces, where the absence of grown-ups isn’t just an entertaining diversion, but a direct threat to your family’s survival. I’m fairly certain I don’t have to go into the dangers that await the average family with no income in America. Forty years ago, a man or woman could rely on their career as the anchor in their life. Today, a job is more often a liability, since its sudden withdrawal can create far more intense problems than just poverty.

If it is the case your boss is one of these arrested adolescents pretending to be a grown-up in our society, is it possible that he or she is motivated more by avoiding mistakes than failure? Most people realize you can do everything right and still fail. This is proven in every athletic championship. Sometimes you just get outplayed. It is for this reason we can conclude failure isn’t necessarily a mistake. Failure doesn’t demand blame.

Mistakes, on the other hand, always invite blame, and in the workplace, blame can be fatal, especially if it is wielded by an over-emotional adolescent obsessed with protecting themselves. We’ve all witnessed the favorite defense of every child in the court of parental law: “He made me do it!” Well, if those kids never grow up, this can become a theme in the workplace. Where these kinds of people gather, all productive enterprise is replaced by frenzied attempts to gain political advantage, and the best way to gain political advantage is to mold blame into a weapon and use it to corruptly dispatch rivals. Sound familiar?

It reaches a point where people will do anything or say anything to avoid taking responsibility. They become paranoid and pledge their very souls to choosing failure over mistakes whenever possible. The reason they do this is because they were never taught that the proper response to a mistake is not to overturn the table, but to evaluate it and learn to avoid it in the future.

The alternative relegates everyone to a life of idle waste or missed opportunity, because none dare act unless forced. When these people are put in a position where they have to hire people, they face the ultimate risk of having to trust others, which intensifies their paranoia to unbearable levels. How can you trust anyone in a world where all is lost if anyone makes even the slightest mistake?

We have all experienced being perfectly qualified for a job and not being hired, only to find the same job re-advertised days later. Why does this happen? Because the hiring manager is paranoid about being blamed. The hiring manager is very likely an arrested adolescent who is terrified they will be exposed as someone who really doesn’t know how to do their job. They don’t know how to lead others, because they were never trained to be a leader. They can’t take responsibility for a mistake. They can’t look their boss in the eye and say “I made the call because I thought it was the right thing to do and I was wrong.” It’s completely beyond them, because they never grew up. They were never taught to be responsible. There are 19-year-old privates first class in the U.S. Marines more capable of taking responsibility for a mistake. Why? Because that PFC outranks other marines. He or she was trained to be a leader and to be responsible.

So these hiring managers make the backwards decision to pass on a perfectly qualified employee on the off chance they might be mistaken. Either that or they ask that candidate for evidence of such unattainable perfection that it can’t possibly be delivered truthfully.

As a result we all end up living in a world where, at least as far as a corps of adolescent hiring managers are concerned, we are more valuable unemployed.

The Plight of the Gifted Child

We’ve all encountered gifted people in our lives. We’ve also all encountered athletic people. Some are faster runners than others. Some are better at certain sports like swimming or baseball. We’re used to physically gifted athletes. We enjoy watching when they play games on television.

The mentally gifted, on the other hand, we don’t understand as well. In fact, some people are downright suspicious of them. Their minds operate on a different level than others. They often speak rapidly, as if the volume of ideas they are trying to communicate is too great and their words are too few. They come up with ideas in much the same way the rest of us breathe. Some of those ideas are hard for us to understand. Sometimes they don’t make any sense at all.

For people of average intellect, encountering someone who is much smarter can be most unsettling. Sometimes it can lead to outright hostility. This is because people of average intellect have no idea what it is like to have a mind that is constantly in motion. They also have no idea what it does to a person when they discover nobody can understand their ideas. The gifted learn to avoid sharing their thoughts. They avoid conversation. They become isolated and sullen. They don’t understand why everyone seems to hate them. It becomes terribly painful. They are ostracized and eventually they destroy themselves.

The hostility I speak of comes from fear. It is really not all that different than encountering someone in a wheelchair. There is an atavistic reaction everyone has to someone who is different. But with gifted people there is another dimension. There is a defensive emotional reaction. “Oh, you’re so much smarter than everyone else, huh? Well, I’m not dumb!”

Reacting this way is exactly like walking up to a pro football player and saying “oh, you’re so much stronger and faster than everyone else, huh? Well, I’m not crippled!” Does that sound silly? It should. Just because someone has gifts you don’t doesn’t have anything to do with your worth as a person. Everyone has gifts of one kind or another.

I can speak with some experience in these matters because I was a gifted child in elementary school. I completely skipped first grade. While this might sound like a great achievement, the practical result was I spent my entire academic career a calendar year behind all my classmates. I could do the work, naturally, but I often struggled to keep up socially. This was in addition to the problems I faced because of the way I think and the imagination I have. I started reading very early in life. My parents were motivated to encourage my academic achievements. I was also an only child, so I learned to rely on my mind more than most.

I can exhaust people in a conversation. I often find I have to exert considerable effort to throttle my “bandwidth” so to speak. I can riff off other people’s ideas instantly. I often leapfrog a sequence of six or seven steps to reach what might seem to be a totally unconnected conclusion in seconds. I freely synthesize ideas into new ideas in mid-sentence, as if my current thought and the other thoughts are all being processed simultaneously. For me this is all perfectly natural, like walking or typing. Over the years I’ve come to the conclusion it engenders intense discomfort in others. I can’t go full throttle. Ever.

Many people might think these gifts would be a glorious advantage in life. Being able to think so rapidly and come up with such amazing ideas so quickly must be such a wonderful experience! The truth is for most people like myself, it is a social and professional disaster.

One of the recognized forms of being “gifted” is something called “synesthesia.” The best way to describe it is to imagine what color a certain sound is. Synesthetes hear colors and feel scents. When asked to describe their sensations to others, it is extraordinarily difficult. Gifted children and adults face exactly the same kind of problem.

As a society we go out of our way to accommodate special needs students in school. We do this so they can keep up with the mainstream of the class. A laudable goal. But what do we do if we have a student that is far ahead of their classmates? What if that student is far ahead of their teacher? Let me describe what that experience is like so you can understand the problem better.

Imagine for a moment a fifth grader who has no friends at school. She has an IQ of 175. Her teacher doesn’t understand what she is saying half the time. Her parents love her, but they can’t engage with her mentally because it is exhausting for them. They do everything they can to find ways to let her advance academically, but there is only so much they can do. The other kids make fun of her because she sounds like the teacher when she is called on in class. They can’t understand her either. She always says such weird things. What a strange girl.

Inside that girl’s mind, ideas are forming and expressing themselves as images, sounds and colors on a constant basis. When I say constant I mean constant. It never turns off. If she gets absorbed into some train of thought, she can go for hours without rest or food. The volume of material she can produce, whether it be written, or drawn or spoken, can be astonishing. We all know nobody is ever going to read the 18 pages she wrote. Well, what if someone did? What might they discover in her words?

When that fifth grade girl looks at a park, for instance, she doesn’t just see the pond and the ducks and the trees and grass. She also sees butterflies and flowers and a purple sky and glorious white horses prancing. A moment later she sees a magnificent bird the size of an airliner. A moment after that she sees an outdoor ball with gowns and princes and pleasant music and garlands all around. All that happens in the space of 30 seconds. The other kids just saw ducks and a pond, grass and trees and they ran off to play. The girl just stands there enraptured by her own imagination. Suddenly there is a castle that soars into a sky full of stars and planets.

She desperately wants to share what she experiences with others, but she will never be able to, because they don’t understand why she is talking about princes and ponies and a purple sky. They just want to play dodgeball. What a strange girl she is.

She can see colors in her mind that don’t exist in our world. Think about that for a minute. If you saw a color in your imagination that doesn’t exist in the real world, how would you describe it to someone else? You couldn’t. Now what if you really wanted someone else to experience what you’ve experienced? How frustrating would it be for the other person to be impatient or suspicious of you? What if they didn’t want to be your friend any more? What if all the other kids in school behaved the same way?

That’s what it is like to be a gifted child. The loneliness is unbearable.

What happens when gifted children grow up? Well, I’ll tell you. They either become visionary one-of-a-kind entrepreneurs or they become supervillains. There’s no middle ground. Why? Because society won’t let them be anything else.

In our current paranoid workplace culture, anyone who stands out for any reason is immediately targeted for punitive action. The “corporate culture” will not tolerate troublemakers, and there is nobody on Earth more likely to make trouble than someone who has a lot of new ideas and talks in meetings too much. They are the people who improve things and get the attention of the boss, who *gasp* might reward them.

Resentment spreads. Envy follows. “No good know-it-all making us look bad–” We’ve all experienced it. We’ve all lived it. What happens to the smart guy at work? I’ll tell you: He’s not going to last long. Eventually the average members of the team will join forces and get them fired so things can go back to the way they were before that loudmouth started giving the boss ideas.

Effervescent imagination and visionary ambition are not high on the list of corporate priorities. They want scriveners who will show up on time, do their thing, pick up their lunchbuckets and go home, and if they can manage to keep their mouth shut for the majority of the time they are at work, so much the better. Remember that girl from the fifth grade? Her magnificent birds and prancing horses aren’t going to be received by her co-workers they way she thinks. The more she tries to spread her own wings and reach for her own potential, the more hate she is going to inspire in her colleagues. That hate will eventually find its way to the boss, where it will be corruptly formed into a weapon and used to destroy her.

By now you might recognize what I’m describing here. It’s called bullying. It’s exactly the same thing that happens to the little kid with the glasses at school. He can read at a 12th grade level, but that doesn’t stop his average fourth grade classmates from throwing his books over the fence into the mud, or taking a hammer to his bike, or stomping on the glasses his parents could barely afford. He’ll also find no refuge by complaining to the teacher, because he or she is tired of his know-it-all attitude too.

Simply put, it is incredibly easy for a gifted child to reach a point where literally everyone but their parents is their enemy. Now it’s not just unbearable loneliness. It’s open hostility. The gifted person’s interlocutors won’t say it, but they are thinking it because the film Office Space was not just a comedy. It was a documentary.

The metaphor I like to use when describing this characteristic of the human race has found its way into a number of science fiction stories. In the story there’s a plague or some kind of complex problem that the really smart doctor or scientist is racing against the clock to solve. Outside their tiny lab is the fearful rabble, who have been driven into a frenzy thinking the smart guy is working against them. Smart people are bad and dangerous, you see. Moments before the scientist has their breakthrough, the smudged filth-covered idiots break into the lab and smash everything. The scientist is beaten bloody and is forced to watch as all is lost. Pretty standard stuff. Very dramatic, but also instructional.

85% of people have an IQ below 115. Put bluntly, 115 is not genius-level. 100 is average. While 115 is above-average and probably occasionally capable of unique insight, it isn’t genius-level.

What this also means is that five out of every 30 people or so have an IQ above 115. One out of every 30 people has an IQ above 130. One in 1000 has an IQ above 145, which is considered genius-level. Einstein is estimated to have had an IQ of about 160.

This means a medium-sized elementary school class has five superior intellects on average, and a large high school has two certified geniuses at any given time. Most people have never thought about this issue this way.

What is most distressing about all this is the following hypothetical question: How many great advancements have been forever lost to humanity because these gifted people have had their metaphorical labs overrun by idiots? How many of them found that their gifts were better invested in maintaining a low profile and avoiding problem solving because it saved them from losing their jobs? How many were tormented and provoked into violence or vendettas by bullies or bureaucrats?

How many of them couldn’t hold a job because their co-workers or boss (or both) wouldn’t tolerate them? I’m pretty sure I don’t have to go into what becomes of someone when they can’t hold a job in America. One of society’s most consistent big businesses these days is guiding unemployed people and debtors into jail.

What happens when a genius decides they want to get back at the people that hurt them? Considering the weakness and inadequacy found in most of our civic institutions, one imagines the worst. Ultimately our government’s only tools are incompetence, clubs, guns and explosives. They move from one to the next until the problem is “solved.” Very much like the cro-magnons that smash the lifesaving lab. Oh, some smart guy is pissed off because he can’t find work? We’ll send some armed gorillas ’round to shut him up.

For my part, I found an outlet for my intellect through writing and works of fiction. I have been politely (and in some cases impolitely) dis-invited from the modern workplace because I don’t fit in. I’m academically qualified to teach, but if you think the average workplace is paranoid, you really don’t want to experience the average public school.

You see, I go to work to accomplish something and get paid for it. That really isn’t a high priority for most employers nowadays. They are far more interested in nerf guns and wearing Hawaiian shirts to demonstrate how much of a “team player” you are. If you don’t participate in the reindeer games, the boss will laugh and call you names. And then fire you and upend your life.

At this point it’s easy to imagine this article serves no purpose other than to complain about a problem human beings have always faced. But I have a solution. I have a path to success and happiness for those children who find themselves cut off from the mainstream because they were born too smart. My solution might even serve as an option for those adults who have struggled with their gifts all their lives. It really is very simple and it wouldn’t cost much at all.

Gifted children should be advanced to their own classroom on occasion and assigned a teacher who is trained to deal with their rapid-fire attention span and high-speed/low-drag imagination. The gifted class should be equipped with whatever they ask for: Toys, games, computers, tools, raw materials, books, videos, whatever. It should be the ultimate elective class. Completely self-directed. They ask, teacher gets. Let them spread their wings and see how far and how high they can really soar.

If you are finding yourself experiencing resentment, stop for a minute. Let me explain why this is important. When gifted children play, they are likely to come up with things that we can’t imagine. A properly equipped “gifted students lab” might be the site of an invention no amount of corporate capital will ever be able to buy. These kids will try to build things none of us would dream of because they don’t know any better. They don’t know how hard it is. The best part is they just might pull it off. And then what?

Symphonies. Patented electronics. Aircraft. New kinds of fabric. Soft drinks. Pet feeding machines. Cakes and cookies. Woodworking. New kinds of engine fuel. Works of fiction. Art. Skits. Weather stations. Radios. Human footsteps on Mars.

All of that might happen in a matter of months, and in the process those children, freed from their society-imposed shackles, will finally be able to create as they wish. Why should we put up with it? Because we will all share in their achievements. I’ve always said “give me three motivated geniuses and a million dollars and I will solve any problem.” Every elementary classroom in America has five superior intellects and every high school has two geniuses. What could we have if we would just let them be who they already are?

Where might that little girl fly on her magnificent colorful bird and what if we all could follow?

Four Dangerous Mistakes Employers Make in Job Ads

If you hire people, contract with freelancers, or are looking for help, you might have occasion to advertise a job on any of a number of web sites or even in newspapers or trade magazines. Why? Because you want a variety of candidates from which to choose the best new employee or contractor.

All too often, you will miss the best candidate because you made a fundamental mistake with your job ad. Hiring has changed, to be sure. Most employers think they have an insurmountable advantage and all the power, and they are utterly wrong. Everything you think gives you an advantage in the marketplace as an employer can be flipped around and used against you by faster moving candidates just like a Judo move. The truth is you have no advantage. The harder you squeeze, the fewer good candidates you’ll attract.

Let’s get something straight right off. Your candidates can survive without a paycheck a lot longer than you can stay solvent. What’s your daily burn rate, boss? Exactly.

If you are one of the many employers who whine constantly that you can’t find qualified people, take a good long look in the mirror. You’re liable to find the person responsible. In the meantime, if you are willing to admit you aren’t perfect, and you can avoid these four mistakes, you may find you have much greater success.

Passion

Do not ever use the word “passion” or “passionate” in a job ad. If you are using either of those words in your current ads, stop it. Right now. Human beings are passionate about two things. One of them is payday, and the other isn’t the job you are offering them. This might hurt your feelings, but your employees don’t care about your company or whatever it is you do all day. For the most part, they never will. Your business is important to you. The paycheck is important to your employees.

When you hire someone, you are paying them in exchange for work. That’s it. They don’t want to be your friend. They don’t want to join your righteous crusade to change the world. They don’t care about anything but paying their bills and going home on time. Let them live their life and you run your business. Stop making them pretend to be obsessed with whatever it is you think is important. In the long run, you’ll get better employees who will probably do a better job.

By the way, since payday is one of the things that makes people passionate, if you really want your employees to get excited about something, give them a raise. It’s probably been too long since the last one.

Precious

If you put little “gotchas” in your job ads, like waiting until the second-to-last line to include important instructions like “put your favorite color in the subject line or we won’t review your application,” you are being what freelancers call “precious.”

I have news for you. On any given day, there are several dozen new ads for work for whomever it is you want to hire. You might think that your offer of money for work is rare enough that it gives you the power to dangle people and play games with their job applications, but it isn’t and it doesn’t. Most good candidates will just hard next and go elsewhere without even bothering to apply.

Your job ad is a preview of what it’s going to be like to work for you. If you’re already playing games before you’ve even met your candidate, and you’re tossing their application for childish and frivious reasons, why should they take working with you seriously? How many great applications and great candidates have you thrown out? Is that how you run your whole business? For your customers’ sake I certainly hope not.

The truth is good, highly qualified grown-ups are not going to tolerate gotchas and game-playing. This is their income and career we’re talking about. This is something they likely take rather seriously. If it is clear you don’t take it seriously, they’re going elsewhere, and they should. That leaves you with the not-so-qualified candidates, which is probably not what you wanted.

Birthday Cakes

If an application to your company requires documents in a particular proprietary format, pictures, video, tests, filling out elaborate online forms, recordings of your co-workers singing the company song, choreography, charts and graphs, cover letters on expensive stationery and costumes, you are the kind of employer who wants your candidates to bake you what freelancers call a “birthday cake.”

In the current hiring climate, candidates are required in some cases to send out dozens of applications a day. This can go on for weeks and sometimes months at a time. Why is this necessary? Well, it turns out the people doing the hiring have all kinds of reasons to throw out applications that have little, if anything, to do with a candidate’s qualifications, experience or education. Job applicants didn’t make it this way. They are just trying to adapt to the world as it is: An adversarial world created by employers.

Since dozens of applications a day is essentially the only way they’re going to find work, job seekers are required to standardize. They don’t have time to bake each employer a custom birthday cake, nor do they have time to entertain hiring managers. When they see a long list of little goodies they must include in the care package they are expected to send HR (while knowing full well it will probably be heaved into the trash the moment it arrives), they have to weigh the advantages of sending one application over the next 30 minutes with sending six. See if you can guess which option wins every time?

At best, birthday cakes should be step five in the hiring process. Be happy with a resume and an e-mail address. Or learn to be happy with candidates who are a fair distance south of the top-tier. Choose one.

Blivets

You know what you get when you stuff six pounds of s*** in a five pound bag? You get a blivet. You know what you get when you mash six job descriptions together and post that as the skill requirements for the entry-level temp position you are advertising? The same thing.

Good job candidates can tell when you are overreaching with your job descriptions. They’ve been there and done that, and in a lot of cases they know more about the job than you do. When they see long unrealistic lists of requirements, overinflated educational requirements and inaccurate and sometimes fictional experience levels, they just move on. Their job is not to train you to manage people properly, and if you post a ridiculously overdone job ad, they know working for you isn’t going to be much better. In the meantime, you’ll be left with the people who don’t know any better, and that’s not going to look good on those expensive business cards.

Lose the Ego

Hiring managers have a bad habit of letting their ego override their sense of reality. They also have a lot of trouble admitting when they are wrong. People do not have to put up with you, even if you are waving money in the air. They can also tell nobody wants to work for you if you post the same ad in 12 different cities six times a week.

The Internet may give you an endless fountain of resumes, but it also gives your candidates an endless fountain of job ads. The best candidates will look for hiring managers that give them confidence. They will look for ads written by competent professionals. They will bypass ads that lord over applicants with burdensome nonsense. If you write such ads, you’ll get the runner-up, not the champ.

Be the competent professional. Your next round of hiring will be far more successful. Black out.

Goodbye Gravatar

Memorandum to the WordPress developers:

I have a 60 second time limit on retarded in my company. I do this because I do not have time to debug someone else’s broken, buggy software. When I want to change my profile picture, and it takes four attempts (after three successful uploads and the WordPress.com site telling me the profile picture was successfully updated) only to discover my “gravatar” wasn’t changed, I take corrective measures.

Since I have 40 years of experience programming computers, those corrective measures consist of me reaching deep into the source code for WordPress and aggressively ripping all the gravatar code out down to the last byte.

Consider this notice the gravatar “feature” has been permanently disabled on this web site with extreme prejudice.

The new editor was yanked out too. When I write, I really don’t need a “user experience.” I don’t want a 20-something to ride up on a scooter, straighten his horn-rimmed hipster glasses and start gesturing at Powerpoint. I just want to write the post. Perhaps soon I’ll write an article about why hammers have handles and why there aren’t a thousand buzzword-hooting idiots chasing VC dollars promising to upgrade handles for a better user experience.

Black out.

The Astonishing Failure of the Windows Operating System

I am frequently asked to explain why I am so virulently opposed to Windows. Full disclosure: I’ve been using Windows personally and professionally for more than 30 years, so I have a few unpleasant experiences upon which to base my opinions.

Windows is without doubt the most incompetent commercial product ever invented by man. One of the key reasons many people take up Linux and/or switch to Mac OS is because they are so fed up with Windows and its comprehensive failure to function properly that they are willing to abandon all their familiar applications, risk losing all their data, forsake all their games and spend weeks, months and possibly years of their lives learning a different operating system. Millions of them are also willing to spend thousands of dollars on new hardware. At no other time in human history has a commercial product ever caused people to act this way, mainly because at no other time in history has a commercial product ever actively worked against its customers the way Windows does.

I have a three-decade career in IT. I’ve worked as a software engineer for companies larger than Microsoft. Nevertheless, whenever I boot Windows I am still beset with incidents like the one I experienced this morning, where it took me no less than forty minutes to attempt to change the default application for opening text files to Emacs on Windows 10. After nearly an hour of fighting, I gave up and resigned myself to the fact that I cannot open my files with the application of my choice.

This, of course, leaves aside the fact it takes up to nine minutes for Windows to boot to a usable state. I define “usable state” as one where I can open an application and use it. Windows also perpetually displays the wrong time, even after it is corrected again and again.

I have a fairly recent version of Linux Mint that boots in 20 seconds on the same hardware. Linux also manages to display the correct time of day somehow.

These are my text files, on my computer, in my home directory no less, yet Microsoft decides. This isn’t accidental, boys and girls. Microsoft making decisions for you is how they force you to use your property as they see fit.

It goes without saying that I can open text files in Linux with whatever application I choose. The reason this is true is because there is no financial incentive for Linux developers to interfere in my day to day work.

For those of you gearing up to send me comments like “works fine for me,” note that my problem is not unique. Also note the multiple suggested workarounds in that Stack Exchange thread and the fact each one failed to solve the problem. For my part, I manually edited the registry entries and Windows ignored them. If you do have a solution and everything works fine for you, please post your instructions in that thread so everyone can benefit.

Apparently there is some crucial corporate objective for Microsoft in making absolutely certain Notepad is the default application for opening text files. Oh, and by the way, it should be pointed out Ronald Reagan had just been sworn in for his second term when Notepad was new. Microsoft finally got around to updating it a few months ago after forcing the world to endure cheap failed software for more than 30 years. What if we had all those wasted man-hours back? What dollar value could we put on that?

What if Kenmore or Whirlpool had shipped a refrigerator that randomly reached temperatures of 150 degrees for an hour or so a couple times a month?

So for those of you wondering, that’s why serious people use something other than Windows when it comes time to do serious work. Those who do not are just better at tolerating failure, wasted money and wasted time.

Goodbye Google

After another 45 minutes fighting with my analytics dashboard, I have extricated Google Analytics from all my web properties forever. I’m this far from blocking Google entirely at the router. Yes, that means my sites won’t show up in search, but I’m not convinced showing up in Google searches matters any more.

Yeah, I know. There’s some genius on YouTube who uses analytics and search consoles and webmaster tools and super-technical-gee-whiz-wowEEEEEEEEEEEEMONEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE except I know better. Google has constructed a giant taffy wad of unintelligible nonsense designed to consume time and return nothing. Analytics used to be a good product, but now we’re back to the social media thing: Solve a puzzle, win a prize. The only problem is, there is nothing Google offers that will help you in the slightest when it comes to selling products. That is unless you think spending $2.40 a click for traffic makes sense on any planet populated by humans.

You see, when I look at Google analytics I notice almost all of the traffic Google says I’m getting is from fake referrals. Remember kids, Google is a $760 billion company with buildings full of PhDs. They only hire the smartest people in the world, yet somehow they are getting outmaneuvered by teenagers who can fake referral traffic with a couple dozen lines of Python code.

Why isn’t this fake traffic being automatically deleted from my reports? This has been going on for months. Why is it when I set up a segment or a filter and say “block everything from this host name” it doesn’t block anything? Google does a phenomenal job lording itself over our e-mail, but I suppose controlling your e-mail is more important than controlling your web site.

You know, with my new server I have access to my own web logs now. How long would it take me to write a Perl script to get accurate traffic data? An afternoon? And then I’ll be able to customize my reports any way I like.

If you’re in business for yourself, this is one of the most important things you can do to make your enterprise more efficient. Don’t invest time or treasure in anything that doesn’t give you a bankable return on that investment. When you find yourself standing in the surf filling buckets with seawater and emptying them back into the ocean, it’s time to take a step back and ask yourself if you’re getting any benefit.

One thing you can be certain of: The technology industry excels at handing you a box of blinkenlights that doesn’t do anything useful. They also really enjoy charging you a lot of money for it too. Google analytics is just the most recent example. It is an utterly useless service now, which perfectly explains its affordable price. Free and worth every penny.

Doesn’t Google have artificial intelligence and self-driving cars? Aren’t they the self-appointed Internet Police? and aren’t they SO MUCH SMARTER THAN YOU ARE?

Or maybe they aren’t. Perhaps that’s the lesson here. Either way, they’re out in the parking lot with a cardboard box as far as this little gray duck’s web sites are concerned. Black out.

Am I Part of a Trend?

Seems I’m not the only one who has had enough of social media. Can’t say I’m surprised. Even Forbes looked like it was in on the trend until the writer decided to add 1000 words of “you’re doing it wrong.”

Folks, there is nothing you can do to make social media better. Twitter and Facebook (and all the other noise-hoses) have a vested interest in keeping your stuff invisible. They don’t want people to click away to some other site. They want to keep them on Twitter and Facebook so they can show them ads. That way they get paid when someone clicks or taps away.

Social media is central control on a platform that was specifically designed to prevent central control. Here’s the basics: Big tech knows what the individuals on the web want. Everyone wants their stuff to get attention. Attention is the currency of the Internet. Big Tech hoards attention and uses it to reward their sharecroppers in exactly the same way medieval kings hoarded gold, land and wealth. Their rules are just like your boss’ rules: never pay ’em enough to sue you.

You know what the first thing is central control does when they get control? They make you invisible, and then they force you to work for them in order to get your visibility back. Except you never actually get your visibility back. You sure do waste a lot of unpaid time making their sites better and sending them free traffic, though.

If you are trying to get traffic to your site, social media is competing with you. They are not cooperating with you. Stop. Unplug it. Stop spending your treasure on “post boosts” and dollar-a-click ads. Stop trying to pick better hashtags. Twitter has an automated system designed to make everything you post there invisible, no matter what hashtag you pick. So does Facebook and every other social noise site.

Here’s the good news: If all the social media sites disappeared tomorrow (from my pen to God’s ears), the Internet itself would shrug and reach for another chicken salad sandwich. AOL came and went. Myspace came and went (and incinerated $500 million in the process). Google+ came and went. The “portal” thing came and went. Internet’s still here, and the basic technology hasn’t changed much. The web, links and e-mail all work pretty much the same way they ever did.

If you want to get your message out, you have everything you need. You don’t need social media.

Hey Twitter, it’s Time Someone Said It

I think I speak for more than a few reasonable people when I say I’ve about had it with Twitter. Three times this week I’ve been presented with the lockout screen because I followed a few dozen people.

Now we all know there are limits on the number of people we can follow. That’s enforced at the account level and is usually calculated by adding some margin to the number of followers you have. The more followers you have, the more people you can follow. Fair enough.

Then why is there a second and a third limit on the numbers of people I can follow (or unfollow) in some arbitrary time interval? Why not just leave it at the original limit? Well, the answer is pretty obvious. Twitter doesn’t want you doing too much communicating. The croppers might get uppity and out of control, dontcha know.

Here’s what needs to be said: Twitter is a worthless, pointless waste of bandwidth and air conditioning. It is a noise machine. It is a firehose of nonsense that nobody pays any attention to. It produces nothing of value. At all. It is about as useful as a rocket-powered unicycle.

Twitter’s LIFETIME stock value is -30%. The company basically lit fire to six billion dollars. If you had invested $10 in Twitter in 2013, it would be worth $7 now. Why? Because Twitter doesn’t produce anything except noise. For $21 billion I could rent a 747 and park it someplace with its engines running to produce all the noise I want and still have enough left over to do something useful, like create jobs or build a product people actually want to pay for.

Here’s the value proposition for you, dear user of Twitter. You know what this site does? It takes your hard work, in the form of tweets, videos, pictures, animation, links and so on, and it publishes them at Twitter.com. That gets Twitter more traffic.

What do you get in return? Well, if you follow this many people, nothing. If you follow this many people plus one, your account gets locked and you get a reading from the book of no-nos.

Let me tell you about my experience on Twitter so far. I have 8000 followers and change. Our account features Jessica Halloran and has been traditionally presented in her voice as a fictional character. We’ve posted 5200 tweets, many of which had full color art from our comics, games, books, book covers, videos, etc. Want to know how many referral clicks we’ve gotten from Twitter in the last nine years and seven months? (We joined in March of 2009)

835

That’s one click for every six tweets on average. Now that might sound pretty good, until you look a little closer. In 2009, Twitter had a tiny fraction of the number of users it has now. So you’d expect that since our tweets are getting better and our potential audience is growing, we’d be getting more clicks, right?

Since January, 2017 we’ve gotten 42. We got a total of 3 clicks in all of 2017.

Three clicks.

In the five-and-a-half year period between October of 2006 and July of 2012, when we were publishing our comics, ladystar.net generated over 218,000 uniques.  That’s roughly 100 visits a day.  LadyStar produced more traffic in nine days than our lifetime total on Twitter produced in nine years.

Now I’m not going to say this reminds me of the 179 clicks I got from Facebook that I thought were “targeted” for English-speakers in the U.S. but turned out to be from anywhere-but-America, but what I am going to say is this reminds me of the 179 clicks I got from Facebook that I thought were “targeted” for English-speakers in the U.S. but turned out to be from anywhere-but-America.

I’d really like to participate on Twitter, but the reality is Twitter isn’t going to allow us to communicate with our followers or find new ones without constantly interfering and threatening to close down our account. So we’re leaving.

Those of you investing time and energy in Twitter, I recommend you consider what I’ve written here. Twitter is not the least bit interested in you, and they have no obligation to protect your account or do anything valuable for your life or business. All they are doing, ultimately, is trying to profit from your relationships with others and sell your hard work to advertisers while giving exactly nothing back. The same is true of Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and all the other noise factories out there.

Social media is a waste of time.  I say this as someone who was doing business on the Internet when Mark Zuckerberg was in sixth grade. The people who tell you they are getting zillions of sales and visits from social media are either lying or they are leaving something out, like the bill for their paid ads, which is a taffy wad of stupid I’ll reserve for another post.

Set up your own site. Make real connections with other people. Don’t give Twitter the power to interfere in your life and business. Black out.