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September 93 - VIEW FROM THE LEDGE

VIEW FROM THE LEDGE

TAO JONES

[IMAGE 115-116_View_From_Ledge_r1.GIF]

The brain trust that makes up the heart, soul, and spleen ofdevelop recently got together to have a few beers, pat each other on the back in a team-building-while-not-being-too-aggressive way, and just generally -- as Albert Einstein once said -- "figure it all out."

Two interesting things came out of the meeting. First, it's very difficult to pat each other on the back in a team-building-while-not-being-too-aggressive way after you've had a couple of beers; and second,develop has a serious flaw. A flaw as wide, as gaping, and as socially repugnant as the space between Alfred E. Neuman's teeth.

As by now I'm sure you've discovered,develop is thebest source for "how to" articles on Apple technology. It's the literary equivalent of an overprotective older brother in a strange neighborhood. Yet all those back issues ofdevelop , combined with that big stack of CDs you save but never use, are doing nothing to help you survive in the day-to-day workplace. You may be able to write C++ in your sleep, but it's not going to do you any good if you don't know socially important things like who your company's CEO is or the finer points of water cooler etiquette. The raw philanthropic nature of this journal, combined with the necessity to fill a couple of extra pages, compels us to offer some useful office survival tips along with the gripping technical articlesdevelop has always delivered.

From this point forward for eternity (or until I'm fired, or until the hate mail reaches unbearable levels), I'll be your tour guide through the political jungle of the modern office. Like any good companion, I'll be pointing out the nasty baboons from the safety of our digital van, helping you step around the virtual guano while we roam the electronic terra firma, bellowing at you when you try to feed your little sister to the lions, and pretending to know what I'm talking about when I don't have a clue.

To offer the ultimate in customer service, and to provide snappy repartee, I'll be answering questions sent in by inquisitive readers and hand-picked by our crack staff. Rest assured your questions will be held in the utmost confidence, unless they have good blackmail potential. Everyone "fortunate" enough to have their questions printed will receive an incredibly cheap, yet heartwarmingly collectible, gift. Interestingly enough, questions arrived even before this column was announced. Leaks are everywhere, I guess.

Dear Tao,

As a product manager at a major U.S. software company, I often find myself losing in negotiations with my colleagues for our company's internal resources. I always go into meetings prepared and well rehearsed, and I always come out with less than I'd hoped for.

The situation is growing desperate. I have yet to be promoted, and I'm afraid I'll need to call in the loans I've made to my children so I can pay off my BMW.

Please help,

Distressed in Denver

Dear Distressed,

You say you're a product manager yet you got your point across in fewer than ten pages. My guess is you're being too direct with people in the workplace. A rule of thumb: When dealing with people in the workplace, never be direct.

There are several disadvantages to saying what's on your mind. One is that people will know what you're thinking. If you're dealing with someone who isn't direct, they'll automatically have an edge on you; they'll know what you know, but not vice versa. If you're dealing with someone who is truly malevolent -- the kind of person who bites the heads off marshmallow bunnies before eating the rest, or worse, someone who wears suspenders -- your directness can be very detrimental to what you're trying to accomplish.

As you've already learned, being direct can be especially harmful when dealing with management. Let's say you have some idea that you present honestly and forthrightly to your boss. When your boss responds with, "It basically seems like a good idea; let's see if we can work something out," what this really means is you're heading straight into a nightmare commonly referred to as "negotiation." This is bad news in a big way, because Boss School has taught your manager to (1) verbally whittle your idea into a headless monstrosity doomed for failure, and then (2) either take credit for your superhuman struggles in making the plan succeed or, more likely, crucify you mercilessly for failure.

Just like everything else in the '90s, the answer to your problem lies in a combination of inner awareness, macrobiotic diets, shaky mutual funds, and self-help. Not being direct will seem unnatural at first, so I give you this as your homework: Put a marble on a table. Study it closely until you really begin to understand what that marble is all about. Then, for the next half hour, describe the marble without using the words "round" or "sphere." Once you think you've got it, ask some friends in and describe the marble to them. If they have no idea what you're talking about, you'll know that you're well on your way to honing one of the most important of your office survival skills.

As for calling in those loans from your children: Mom, Itold you that I'd pay you back when I got a chance.

Dear Tao,

I have an employee who is perpetually late and always uses the excuse "my dog got loose." I've always been a bit suspicious, and upon checking I discovered that he doesn't even own a dog! What should I do?

Sign me,

Flea-Bitten

Dear Flea,

As a manager you're probably already aware that chronic lateness is usually only a symptom of some bigger underlying problem. Situations like this are sensitive, extremely volatile, and prone to disaster if not handled by properly trained professionals.

First, you should make a detailed accountin writing of all the incidents as they happen. Then call both the local animal shelter and the police department, stating that you believe one of your employees is running an illegal dog-racing operation. Don't forget to mention that you think it's likely your underling will "do something" (make sure to use that exact phrase) with the dogs if he finds out that the authorities are after him. As you watch events unfold, it may seem like a painful and arduous process. But believe me, once it's all over, your employee will be so choked with emotion that he won't be able to find the words to thank you.

RECOMMENDED READING AND LISTENING

  • Gojiro by Mark Jacobson. The auto biography of everyone's favorite Japanese monster.
  • Cool Tricks by John Javna. It's high time you learned how to tie balloon animals, isn't it?
  • Dead Man's Party by Oingo Boingo. Play it loud, and when your boss comes in, say "It's symbolic."

TAO JONES is the pen name of an Apple employee so afraid of speaking directly that he can't even get up the nerve to introduce himself here.*

Tao Index: In the computing industry, people who refer to themselves as "guru" or "wizard" usually aren't. *

Tao would like to thank Sarcasmo for rewriting most of this column without trying to claim authorship, Cindy Jasper and Caroline Rose for their unnerving faith, and Mr. and Mrs. Jones for his existence. *

Tao needs questions to keep from dropping into a nasty blue funk. Please send them to AppleLink DEVELOP. *

 

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