Oct 162015

"I'm gonna offer him a presentation he can't refuse..."

“I’m gonna offer him a presentation he can’t refuse…”

Why is “the boss” so important?

For the last few days at the office I’ve been working on a presentation for someone high up in the corporate tree.

And when I say “I”, what I mean is that with every new version of the presentation I produced, I’ve had three people going over it a pair of very small tweezers, pulling apart every word to make it all just slightly better.

I fully understand the need to communicate what we’ve been doing, to show that the final outcome isn’t total nonsense.

Before this however people have been perfectly happy with haphazard excel sheets, half-formatted graphs and word documents that need a bit of creative interpretation to make sense of. And they would take whatever it was that I put on those sheets, graphs and documents as gospel truth.

But now things are getting bumped up and suddenly it has to be perfect! Or better to say, it has to look perfect…

The results really aren’t going to change with formatting. The outcome is still the same, even with that picture 2 points further to the right…

The thing is, I have constant interaction with the project manager (my “boss”). So if something looks a bit sloppy, we can talk it through. If not today, then tomorrow or the day after.

It’s strange when you think about it: As soon as we step into the workplace, any thoughts of democracy are left behind and it’s hierarchy all the way…
The big kahuna however only has time to look at something once (I can make an estimate of what her time is worth by adding up the amount of time spent, multiplied by the hourly rates of all those who have been working on this presentation – the hour she’s going to spend looking at this thing is worth a small car…)

So where I can build up a decent image of myself through a myriad of interactions with the project manager, she only has a very limited number of opportunities to shine in front of the top brass. And it is in the end there where the decisions are made on who gets a pat on the shoulder, who gets promoted and who is destined to remain a project manager for the rest of eternity.

From that perspective it makes perfect sense to spend a small fortune on polishing; it might not help, but it certainly won’t hurt.

Unless of course you’re the poor sod who gets to make just a few more changes to version 26-c…

Maybe I should consider getting out of this while I still have some of my sanity left? Somewhere where I’m the biggest fish in the pond myself…?

Bastiaan ReininkI’m Bastiaan. This blog is meant to give you some insight into the things I run into and perhaps to inspire you to go in search of your own life extraordinaire.

If you enjoyed this (or another) post, if you have something to add or to ask, I would really appreciate it if you would leave a comment!

Jul 012015

Maybe I shouldn't complain too quickly, at least I'll never get -this- hot.

Maybe I shouldn’t complain too quickly, at least I’ll never get -this- hot.

On the tube home I happened to catch part of the newspaper of the lady sitting next to me: “Temperature in London underground higher than would be allowed for cattle transport.”

I’m not a cow, so I generally get to make my own choices. Including to get on a tube with an ambient temperature hotter than my own blood.

As sweat trickled in a small river off of my forehead I was seriously doubting the wisdom of that particular free choice. Of course, not getting home isn’t fun either (or walking for three hours through the heat outside. At least underground there was no sun)… So how much choice do you have in the end?

Maybe being a cow isn’t so bad after all…

Bastiaan ReininkI’m Bastiaan. This blog is meant to give you some insight into the things I run into and perhaps to inspire you to go in search of your own life extraordinaire.

If you enjoyed this (or another) post, if you have something to add or to ask, I would really appreciate it if you would leave a comment!

May 312015

It would happen with some regularity: I’d have a flight from London to the Netherlands, on a Friday, after work. I’d arrive on Dutch soil, tired and hungry. And there was one thing going through my mind: Hamburger!

The reason they always wrap up your burger is so that you can't immediately see that what you're buying is not what you're getting...

The reason they always wrap up your burger is so that you can’t immediately see that what you’re buying is not what you’re getting…

Rushing through customs, off to Burger King, mouth watering at the thought of a big piece of meat.

With my burger and fries in a bag, I’d head down to the train, having half an hour to concentrate on devouring the greasy goodness.

The first two bites would be awesome! Meat, fat (and probably sugar) hitting my tongue and stomach, sending waves of well-being through my brain. Life is good!

Then I get to bit three to five and the awesomeness is already diminishing. Bite six tastes like cardboard and at bite seven I’m feeling positively disgusted. I vow never to fall for this trap again.

But then next time comes round, I’m tired and hungry and again I find myself standing in line…

It’s silly! I see myself as a smart, educated individual. I actively work to optimize my own happiness. And then something as simple as a hamburger defeats me, time and again! It’s a puzzle really! Or better, it was.

Recently I read an article where they explained that the human brain has different centers for pleasure and craving. And that the craving center, the part that makes you want to get things, is many times larger than the pleasure center, the part that makes you enjoy things.

Historically I’m sure that this was a good idea. It can’t hurt to constantly crave sugar, fat, salt (and sex and alcohol) when their supply is very limited. Something you craved led to something you liked. Easy! It’s only been recently that supermarkets and burger joints provide infinite amounts of whatever foodstuff we want (and the internet and bars provide porn and beer respectively). And too much of something is not a problem for the craving center, but it is for the liking one.

Outlawing advertisement would probably make the worlds such a better place!
Burger King (and many other companies) make good use of this. If they only gave us what we liked, we wouldn’t buy as much. But give us something that we crave and the sky’s the limit (especially with a bit of help from advertisement; it’s not hard to get the craving machine running…)

Knowing this I’m hoping it’ll be a bit easier to stay away from hamburgers and the likes. But I’m sure there are many more things where there is a strong disconnect between the wanting and the having (“shopping” as an institution anyone?). If I come across any more I’ll be sure to let you know…

Bastiaan ReininkI’m Bastiaan. This blog is meant to give you some insight into the things I run into and perhaps to inspire you to go in search of your own life extraordinaire.

If you enjoyed this (or another) post, if you have something to add or to ask, I would really appreciate it if you would leave a comment!

Apr 282015

Before the invention of the supermarket, food had to be hunted down or found. The equivalent of a comfortable 3 bedroom flat was the drafty (yet sturdy!) cave (to be shared with the entire clan; body heat does wonders to warm up a few cubic meters of bare stone…). And while buses and obesity claim lives in modern society, they aren’t half as bad as those pesky sabre tooth tigers used to be.

Now, if this doesn't say: "I have too many pieces of metal", then I don't know what does!

Now, if this doesn’t say: “I have too many pieces of metal”, then I don’t know what does!

Life was tough. Though for some it was tougher than for others.

Because it’s a rotten job, but someone’s gotta be the chief, the big kahuna, the man (m/f of course). And because it’s hard work being responsible for the well-being of the entire group, there were some perks: The juiciest bit of mammoth, first pick among the eligible young virgins (m/f), the least stony bit of cave to sleep on. You get the picture.

Of course a good chief needs a trusted right hand. And perhaps a left hand too. Both of whom need their own lieutenants (or captains. I’m not that well-versed in stone-age military jargon). And though the juiciest bit of mammoth might be spoken for, there certainly is a second-most succulent piece that will go to the second in command.

In short, your 10.000 BC bunch of humans has a hierarchy. And being at the top of it makes a difference. Because mammoths might be plenty, killing one isn’t easy and hunger is a patient hunter. Having had the best piece of meat might just be enough to keep it at bay while someone a bit further down dies an empty-bellied death.

Sometimes I think life was so much easier when a gentleman’s club had nothing to do with scarcely clad women and everything with a sturdy piece of wood. But then I remember sabre tooth tigers…
So, having a higher status means a higher chance of survival. Let that simmer for a few generations and evolution will create a very strong drive for people to strive for as much status as they can possibly get their (grimy) hands on.

Now fast forward a few millennia, to a time when supermarkets have been invented and people generally don’t die prematurely (as long as they look left and right before crossing the street).

Status is no longer a life-and-death matter. Unfortunately, a few thousand years of evolution isn’t undone just because circumstances change (doubly so since people don’t actually die that much before having children). It might no longer be useful, but we’re stuck with this status thing.

And back in the day when we thought that fire was the epitome of civilization, status was easy. You knew everybody in the tribe, so you knew who the boss was and who the doormat (metaphorically of course. Caves don’t have doors, let alone doormats.).

In modern times it’s a whole lot harder. We live in a city surrounded by a thousandfold more strangers than acquaintances. And even with our friends we only have a passing familiarity. We might spend an evening together drinking, but we certainly won’t live, work and sleep together 24/7. So, how do you figure out who is on top and who is on the bottom?

Luckily we found a way around that.

Because the invention of the supermarket was a great thing, but it quickly became clear that it took really a lot of bartering, which wasn’t particularly efficient. Instead of direct trade, some smart soul convinced everybody else that you could instead trade everything for pieces of shiny metal, which could then be traded on when the time was ripe for it.

As an aside, those pieces of metal could be used quite well to keep score in the status game. The person with the most wins! Walking around with lots of pieces of shiny metal however is heavy and it invites thieves to take away some of your hard-earned status.

The next best thing is to imply that you have lots of these pieces. This is done by giving away lots of them in trade for things that you don’t really need: “Look! I have so many pieces of metal that I can waste really a lot of them to get this completely impractical gas-guzzling sports-car! I wouldn’t do that unless I had even more, now would I?”

So, next time you find yourself eyeing that latest smart-phone or your 47th-pair-of-shoes-to-be, realize it’s not particularly the piece of metal-and-plastic or dead cow that you’re longing for. It is evolutionary-assumed bit of security the implied status of your purchase brings.

Happy shopping!

Bastiaan ReininkI’m Bastiaan. This blog is meant to give you some insight into the things I run into and perhaps to inspire you to go in search of your own life extraordinaire.

If you enjoyed this (or another) post, if you have something to add or to ask, I would really appreciate it if you would leave a comment!

Feb 072015

I’m generally not overly interested in politics, but I do tend to keep up on economic news. Sometimes those two are deeply entwined, such as currently in the dealings between Greece and the EU (and the IMF).

Pretty vistas alone don't pay the bills...

Pretty vistas alone don’t pay the bills…

The story is quite fascinating. Greece’s debt to the EU is now many hundreds of billions of Euro, many times Greek GDP (Gross Domestic Product, the amount Greece “produces”); according to the EU pact, this isn’t supposed to go over 60% of GDP…

Had these been market-conform loans, Greece would have gone bankrupt very quickly indeed. They are however not market-conform; they are extremely low interest, extremely long maturity (long time before they need to be repaid) loans.

The result is that looking at the total amount of debt becomes almost meaningless; Greece can not repay the entire amount, unless a real miracle happens (pennies from heaven, burying the entire country 10 meters deep…). This debt will be written off. Just… Not yet…

Greece weaseled its way into the EU (a tiny bit of fraud with official statistics), enjoying quite a few years of direct support. Then things went bad (a sub-prime crisis turning into a liquidity crisis, turning into a banking crisis, turning into a sovereign debt crisis) and the EU (Germany) realized that letting Greece slip would have been much more expensive than propping them up. Self interest prevailed and Greece was given bail-out after bail-out.

Bail-outs are expensive and don’t go down well with the voters back at home, so what the EU wanted to make sure of, was that it wouldn’t have to do it again. So together with the bail-outs came a series “suggestions” on how to make sure it wouldn’t (“stop being so damned corrupt” being one of my favorites).

And that seems to be working; before interest re-payments Greece is showing a healthy surplus. Too bad that even with extremely low interest, those billions of debt do still add up to a fair amount…

Greece is in debt and its debtors are keeping at a very short leash. This of course doesn’t sit well with the populace; the short leash is meant to make things better in the medium term, but it hurts in the short term. And where persons in general have poor impulse control, a whole people will have stuffed their cake down their throat quicker than you can say: “Shouldn’t you save a piece of that…?”

So is it a wonder that the new Greek government is railing against what it has been forced into?

The EU kept Greece in for selfish reasons (which is not to say that Greece would have been better off had they been kicked out at the first sign of trouble, only that this was not the EU’s main consideration). The EU is forcing changes on Greece, which are “for their own good”. But only in the medium term; right now people are suffering. And not just in the “I can’t afford the latest gaming console”, but in the “I can’t get medical attention, because there are no medical supplies” kind of way.

All of this brings to my mind a number of very difficult questions:

  • Greece fudged their numbers. Should they be made to suffer for that (a thousand fold) now?Is it acceptable to take away the autonomy of a people, even if it’s “for their own good”?
  • How much suffering in the short term is it worth to make things better in the medium term?

I don’t have the answers to this. But I do hope that this will help people to see that the Greek issue (and basically any complex issue) is very far from black-and-white.

Bastiaan ReininkI’m Bastiaan. This blog is meant to give you some insight into the things I run into and perhaps to inspire you to go in search of your own life extraordinaire.

I love to connect, so if you have thoughts, ideas or questions based on this (or another) post, please leave me a comment!