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The Human Resources military-industrial complex
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The instrument (the “telescreen”, it was called) could be dimmed, but there was no way of shutting it off completely.
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/rɪˈdʌndənsi/ (n.)

1. The quality of being perceived by middle management to burn more energy than one generates.

2. The quality of being perceived by middle management to burn more energy than does an available alternative (especially a chatbot or a school-leaver from Bucharest).

The fear of redundancy

Hands up who has not had these misgivings:

“If I take on this project, and it fails, I won’t have my old job to go back to and I will be out of a job.”

“If we fix this process, these people will be out of a job.”

“I fear they are going to outsource my role and I will be out of a job.”

“The machines are coming, and we will soon be out of a job. But I will hang on as long as I can, and hopefully see out to retirement.”

The pain of work for the sake of it

On the other hand, who has not felt the following (we should note the JC is coming around to the view, after nearly three decades in the city, that most people have not felt the following):

“This process is ludicrous. It adds no value. It wastes everybody’s time, and creates hours of unnecessary paperwork. While we waste our time on this, something genuinely serious could blow up, we will be blamed because we didn’t anticipate it, and we’ll all be out of a job. But there are too many vested interests for it to ever change.”

“These documents are far too long and complicated. Even the lawyers who negotiate them don’t understand them, and the operations teams wouldn’t have a clue. There is a real risk of operational failure because no-one understands what is going on, and if that happens we will all be out of a job, but there is no appetite to spend even a small amount of time or money to fix it: we don’t have the bandwidth are too busy keeping the manual processes going.”

“We can’t manage this risk properly because our systems are archaic, they don’t talk to each other, the process is far too manual and we spend all our time on the defensive and handling operational risk incidents. If something blows up we will be out of a job, but we have no mandate to fix it.”

The Graeber paradox

Therefore we present what we will call the Graeber paradox, in honour of the late contrarian and anti-capitalist agitant, David Graeber, whose short book Bullshit Jobs: A Theory[1] makes this case:

If I fix broken processes, machines will do everything, and I will be out of a job. If I don’t, nothing will work properly, and I could be out of a job.

Behold, the dilemma of modern professional employment. Being but ants on the planet’s face we are all, at some stage, doomed. It is just a matter of when. Our mortal frailty, or a silver bullet, will get us in the end. We are damned if we do, damned if we don’t, and since damnation lies at a point up the road, whichever path it takes, we choose not to move forward at all.

Let damnation at least make the effort to come and find me, rather than seeking it out.

Why change management is so hard

This is a powerful, deep psychological inhibitor to pursuing change. If you are trying to bring about change, you need to deal with it.

In actual fact, it is not a paradox. Pursuing change will not get you fired. Pursuing change inoculates you against redundancy, and for those of you who catch it anyway, it boosts your prospects of the next job.

Why? Because the work is never done.

There is no limit to number of tasks in the world, which, once automated, will no longer reach the threshold of paid employment. It is a reductionist canard of the first order that once routine work is automated there will be nothing left to do. If you sort out routine work, it makes the machine go faster. A machine that goes faster finds new things to do. It also — and this may seem like cold comfort, but it provides warm employment, so don’t knock it — will blow up more spectacularly.

As long as you are resourceful, flexible and smart, the more bureaucratic pain you eliminate, the sooner you can get to interesting, knotty problems that need solving.

Solving interesting knotty problems is fun.

And, see above — if, as we are coming to suspect, most people do not think, “For the love of God, this is absurd! We must fix it!” — then those people who do, and who can thereby alleviate process pain and make the machine run faster — they are like gold-dust.

See also


  1. This book once almost got the JC fired. Long story.