Planet Workplace

I would love to be able to write about my workplace, but I won’t. Not for the obvious reason, that people get fired for that, but because I don’t think you have that kind of time in your life. 

In order to tell you even the simplest story, I’d have to describe the whole weird planet that revolves around a different star, not the sun. The planet doesn’t have gravity or much oxygen, and there’s not agreement on which way north is.  The planet is populated with people who have become adapted to this particular low-light environment; you wouldn’t find them in nature, or in your workplace.

There's only one religion on the planet, affectionately known as KCC 21A.  Some of the inhabitants are zealous 21A fundamentalists, others take a broader view of what that book means, and others are atheists who don't really think 21A exists, which is kind of weird, like working in a Catholic church and not believing in the trinity.

Politically, it’s a 2-party thing:  labor and management, and there’s corruption and good in both parties, just like here in these United States.  And just like on earth, you pretty much pick your party and stick with it.

I'd have to explain all of that for you to even begin to understand what goes on, because the people don't respond to things the way you'd expect, and what good is a story if you can't possibly grasp the motivations of the characters?  In a good story, as we've discussed, the person doesn't walk by the casino with a wad of cash on their way to pay the rent.  They go in for just one drink, because that's what makes it a story.  If they keep walking, ho hum.  But you can understand, or at least imagine, both of those responses.  On this planet, though, people would pick Option C, titled, "Let's Develop a New Process and Create Forms!  Lot's of Forms!"  And you'd be all, "huh?  The choices are to go into the casino or pay the rent."  And I'd have to explain about streamlining,  which requires forms, many, many forms.

I’d explain that the product of this workplace is words.

“Oh, like stories and books?” you’d ask, appreciatively.

"No," I’d explain, "just packets of words that no one reads."

“So people pay for that?”


“Well, they must really want the words.”

“No, they don’t.  They don’t at all.”

“What kind of words are they?”

“Well, people come to us because they want to do a project, and then we write words about the project.”

“Oh, that’s cool.  Like an instruction manual?  To help people know how to do the project?”

“No, they already know how to do it.  Our words are more about what they shouldn’t do.  Like, they say they want to do something, and we say they have to do a little bit less of it, or can't do it at all.   Much like you'd do with your 13-year-old.  Your daughter would say she wants to go to the mall with her friends, and you'd set limits on it, like 'you have to call me after 2 hours to check in', or 'you can go, but I'm only giving you $10 to spend,' or maybe you'd just say 'absolutely not'.”

“And they pay for this?  I’m confused.”

“Yes, they pay thousands of dollars, in fact."

"How do the customer's respond?"

"Much like the hormonally jagged, irritable 13-year-old would, but the customers have more resources, like lawyers, guns, and money.  But let’s move on.  Let’s pretend our product is soup.  Would that make it easier to follow?”

“Yes!” you’d say, rather enthusiastically, because you love soup.

Anyway, I’d have to really describe the planet in great detail.  You'd ask why I'm on this planet, because it sounds so weird, and I'd say, wistfully, that I actually believe in 21A as a way to make the world a better place.  I truly do.  Then I'd skip to the little story that would begin:

“So, someone was serving soup to a patron who complained that a staff person altered the recipe and didn’t put the carrots in the mushroom soup.”

“Wait, do carrots belong in mushroom soup?”


“So what’s the problem?”

“Well, there are portals where the customers can watch everyone in their little kitchen cubicle all day, and if they don’t like something, they can bring it to the attention of the King of the Bro’s, who always wears a brightly-colored sweater.”

“Um, okay, go on,” you’d say.  But actually, your mind would be on other things by now.  You’d be thinking, “sweater.  That reminds me, what should I get my sister for Christmas?  Is there still time to knit a sweater?”  You’d eventually tune back to the story.

“…so anyway, this person was caught stirring counter-clockwise…”

“Wow, so what did the King of the Bro’s do?  And why did the staff person stir counter-clockwise in the first place?”

“There’s this force, sort of like the Coriolus effect, so you can’t go clockwise, even if you want to.  You’d get reprimanded if you went clockwise."  There would be a lot of backtracking in the story to catch you up on weird planetary stuff that you'd have no way of knowing, and frankly, would seem implausible.

“Wait, but the person is getting reprimanded for stirring counter-clockwise.  But that's the right way, right?”

“Well, it's the right way, but the customer is sort of the boss too, so if they don't like it, then the right way is also the wrong way.”

“What about the King of the Bros?  Isn’t he the boss?”

“Well, no.  He’s more like that plastic guy on the top of the wedding cake.  That guy isn’t the real groom.  Right?”

“Um, yeah," you’d say.

“So anyway, in addition to stirring counter-clockwise, there was the omission of the carrots.”

“Couldn’t someone just put carrots in the soup if the customer wants carrots?”

“Well, yes, if it's one of the rituals described in 21A, someone could add carrots.  But this customer doesn’t want carrots in the soup.  They just don’t think the recipe should be tampered with.”

“So, the real recipe has carrots in mushroom soup?”

“No.  There weren’t supposed to be carrots, because the customer ordered mushroom soup, but someone mistakenly pulled up the recipe for vegetable soup.  One of the cooks crossed out carrots when they noticed the mistake.”

“Um, I’m not exactly following this story,” you’d say, “but couldn’t the King of the Bro’s just explain it to the customer?”

“Well, see, the King of the Bro’s hasn’t ever tried the soup.  Or even come into the kitchen.  So he’s not really certain about how any of it is supposed to work, but he's pretty sure it has to be very different than the way it's always been done.  'The status quo will no longer do.  We must streamline!' is his motto.”

So that's why I won't be writing about work.  That, and all the investigations that are going on.



  2. I used to work for a company where people said things like "have you documented your as-is and your to-be?" Or "have you calendarized your schedule yet?" It seems like every large organization ends up in their own private Idaho, with their own language, and carrots. It was good to leave that place.


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