Monday, 18 June 2012

Serious business

I'm a software developer.  I work in one of the world's more technical and futuristic roles, beating data into submission until it bends to my will.  Like many developers, I'm sometimes a curmudgeon when it comes to new technologies.  The Wii-U?  I've no idea why we need that.  Ipod nano?  I'm afraid I'll swallow it.  Wi-fi?  I love my nest of cables, thanks.
I do, however, despise our society's apparent need to adhere to mindless tradition.  This is tough sometimes, being an Englishman, as I live in a country with many, many time honoured traditions.  If they're fun and optional things, that's fine, but it's when they start to impact my life that I get a little miffed.  The olympic torch, for example, which is basically guaranteed to congest the hell out of the cities so that people (suffering through a recession) can see a gaudy golden club that's on fire.  That fire has been flown around the world at great expense.  People are having interviews with it, they're competing to be able to hold it, they're taking hundreds of photos of it.  It baffles me.  The ceremony is impressive in it's way and heaven only knows how much effort goes into keeping that one flame going but I think the symbolism is lost on me.
I've never been of an artistic persuasion.
I'm never bothered more about traditions than in a corporate setting.  I've seen a lot of corporate imagery over the years (especially when I was job hunting) and I've noticed a few themes that tend to crop up time and again that I'd like to discuss.
Discuss while spewing bile and hatred.

The Handshake:  You want to show that you're a company who does business and does it well.  You make good decisions, your contacts trust you and you get the job done.  What seals the deal better than a firm handshake?
Now I've nothing against shaking hands.  I do it a lot.  I object if I'm carrying a pint, because then I'm just going to make your hand all cold and clammy, but I guess that's your problem and not mine 'cause hey, I'm holding the pint.  However, I don't know why businesses like to slap pictures of handshakes taken up close all over their websites and pamphlets.  What's that really saying?  You communicated with this one guy that one time and you shook hands when you met?  I mean, almost everybody does it, it's not exactly a profound thing.  I read somewhere that shaking hands was a way for you to show that you meant no harm to the other person by showing them your hand without a weapon in it.  It's like bowing, by leaving yourself openly vulnerable, you express your friendly intentions.
Never have I feared being stabbed in the office.  Not once.  And I've deserved it a time or two.
Bonus points if you have a picture of a black man shaking hands with a white man, which also conveys "we won't discriminate against your culture, even though that's kind of illegal anyway".

The Race:  You're number one.  You want your clients to feel like they'll be big winners by joining you.  Or perhaps you're all pulling together as a team and you want to convey a sense of spirit and comeraderie.  Why not hire some actors to wear nicely tailored suits and jump over hurdles?
This one really confuses me.  I've tried running in sensible shoes.  Admittedly I'm not graceful, possessing all the poise and freedom of movement of a transit van, but if I run in running shoes, I'll... do passably well.  If I run in my work shoes, I look like an asthmatic penguin with sore feet and I'll need a little sit down.  Running in a suit is a sure way to make your suit smell a little funky.  I don't think being faster than your nearest competitor has lead to the signing of too many contracts, though.
Bonus points if you can see a woman in high heels running too!

The Model Workforce:  You're a serious company employing hard working teams.  You're not afraid to be fun, but you always have your eyes set on the bigger picture.  Why not show a friendly, smiling call centre operative or some people sat in rapt attention, smiling and nodding to a presentation?
I've been in a few offices around the country.  If someone is smiling at you like they want to be your friend, they're A) probably not talking to you on the phone, B) probably not talking business or C) trying to sell you something or to welcome you to the workforce.  I find myself smiling with a surprising lack of regularity at work, because while doing my job can be satisfying, exciting and rewarding, it's not often that I smile when I'm really concentrating.  Thoughtful poker faces, I've seen those in their hundreds but not so many cheerful grins (except during the daily hellos and goodbyes as people leave and arrive).
I've never seen anybody appear to be enthralled by a meeting.  Not even in interesting and important meetings.  People just look... well, serious, really.
Bonus points if one of the members of the workforce in the background of your picture is clearly aware of the camera and is smiling at it.

When I start my own company, BioCorp Global Security Solutions, I'm going to include a lot of pictures of people at their desks with towers of plastic coffee cups, post it notes in weird places, photos on desks of smiling kids and people slouched over eating chocolate bars, staring at screens.  These are the things I associate with productive workforces.

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