Awww…. isn’t that precious?

Last week was my first week in two months with no business travel.  i was genuinely looking forward to a week in the office – no airports, no hotel rooms next to the ice machine, no endless meetings, no dorkboys accosting me poolside for advice on widget-du-jour.  And no screaming babies.  Up through Wednesday, life was pretty good.

On Thursday, we began a two day internal program review.  This is where program managers are forced to ‘drop trou’ for management, covering technical goals, progress, performance and ‘issues’, as well as financial execution.  This is just part of doing business – and shouldn’t be a big deal.  The program managers are being paid handsomely in a tough economy, and reporting up the chain is part of their job…

It always amuses* me when the same people who complain loudly that “management doesn’t care about my program” will whine like abandoned puppies when management asks for an update.  Often the same crybabies who bitch because they never know what is going on, yet act as though the world has ended when you call a one-hour monthly staff meeting to run through “what is going on”.

One of our programs is in serious trouble.  Failure to deliver product, but more importantly, a two year failure to identify “what’s next”.  This is after several years of me – and several others – personally investing a lot of time to help them figure that out.  During the program review, this was all quite obvious.  The team leadership is going to be getting an assload of “help” figuring it out from now on. 

ST is the senior scientist in charge of providing tech guidance to the program.  He and i have worked together almost 25 years – at first, i was essentially his lab technician, but over time we worked well as near peers – me on the “outside” hauling down the research funding, him on the “inside” leading research teams.  He’s extremely smart, but a little quirky**.  Over the years, i’ve become somewhat immune to his loud and unpredictable outbursts when he doesn’t get his way understand the big picture.

Things apparently weren’t going the way he’d hoped on Thursday morning, as his stink bomb program was evaluated….  In one of the finer moments for an esteemed, 60 year old scientist, he violently threw his pen across the conference room to make a point.  A pen.  It made a sort of “tinkly” sound as it hit the cinder block wall. Our organization does not buy nice pens, but cheap plastic ones to save money.  Even worse?  He threw it sort of “overhand”.  Dare i say it?  Like a girl…

Semi-rhetorical question:  At what age is throwing a temper tantrum no longer cute?


* “amuse” in this context means “pissed-the-fuck-off”.

** “quirky” in this context means “socially and functionally retarded, having no table manners and an annoying tendency to walk into my office 5 seconds after sending an e-mail and saying ‘I sent you an e-mail’ – then proceeding to tell me what was in it for the next 15 minutes”.

23 thoughts on “Awww…. isn’t that precious?

  1. You don’t understand. These people are artists. Temperamental. Prone to outbursts of brilliance in defense of their visionary hindsight that our employer seeks in search of Yesterday’s Triumphs. Striving in the Light of their shining, epiphanic revelations to pursue the next Evolutionary Technology for the last 20 years using Yesterday’s Tools. Shunning the Crass Irrelevance of the Future to doggedly pursue the Pervasive Glory of Yesterday – the true Consummate Science of Yore.

    You just don’t understand – you are Mere Management. Spit.

  2. And yes, folks… the Ninjaneer was in the room when it all went down. He speaks truth. We’ll be forever ignorant of their fossilized genius… [hangs head in management shame]

  3. The last teacher I teamed with was two years from retirement and pitched fits at the drop of a hat. He was also big on the silent treatment. He retired at the end of the last school year I heard. He was so proud of his investments and such and being able to do so at just 60 years old. I am betting he is substitute teaching now and wishing he’d keep his rather cushy job.

  4. Most of the temper tantrum throwing geezers are pretty much gone from my company now.

    Sniff. I miss them.

    I can relate to send an e-mail, walk in your office 5 seconds later to announce and tell. I’ve told people “I’ve seen your e-mail, but I haven’t read it” days after they sent it.

  5. silverstar – funny you should mention that word. when ST snorted, stomped and growled at the boss “JUST TELL ME WHAT YOU WANT ME TO DO!” that was almost the next word out of his mouth… but age discrimination law prevents us from suggesting it… (sigh)

    annie – (sigh) i guess there’s one in every few bunches… they are tolerated, generally seen as ‘harmless’, but they are a systemic poison to an organization. sounds like this guy got a little Karma action going!

    rob – i use that line. when i’m on travel, he’ll hit me when i get back with “i sent you an e-mail…” as i’m shuffling down the hallway on my way to my office. i always reply “haven’t read it yet…” which probably annoys him because he knows i’m a blackberry blackbelt…

    DP – Yeeeeee-AAAAAAAAARGH! The visual. Dear God, THE VISUAL! Not me. No. Can’t be. Will not be the one putting ST in “time out”….

    nursemyra – perhaps i can get a blow gun, and get some thorazine-tipped darts? hmmm…..

  6. It’s hard to picture scientists whining like abandoned puppies and throwing things across the room but I guess they’re only human after all. I thought they were something more. There goes another stereotype out the window.

  7. i think tantrums are cute as an adult, only when they’re done in jest. like when i repeat the tantrum the postdoc threw a couple of months ago. he goes out of his way to set up a fool-proof assay (really, it’s color-coded and the pieces only fit one way) so that it can be completely botched (removes color-codes, removes pieces). and he screwed up. and we made fun of him. and he threw my lab notebook across the conference room out of anger… he’s also 39.

    it still makes me laugh. (but i also secretly worry about the future of his future graduate students)

    scientists should be unflappable, and be able to laugh at themselves.

    there needs to be a regular “culling of the herd”

  8. I can’t say as I have ever met a very excitable geologist, though I have run into quite a few ‘geotechnical engineers’ who have outbursts like children. Probably because geologists deal with such enormous passages of time in their head that getting worked up over something that happened today is difficult. I have seen them seethe, usually related to publish drama.

    It’s a nice change from the military where senior leadership routinely behaves like an adolescent. Much like Daisymea above says, you would think the military should have people who are unflappable and sort beatific in the face of adversity, much like scientists are supposed to be.

    Now when I throw a tantrum? I do everything I can to avoid the cuteness factor. I would definitely not have thrown a pen. I would have thrown an intern.

  9. I had a Senior Engineer (the one person I managed whose salary was higher than mine at the time) sigh and snort and flop around in his chair like a six year old during a similar meeting, until about 15 minutes in he stood up, proclaimed, “This is a total waste of time! Call me when you’re finished wasting my time!” and stormed out. On the one hand, it was among the top five most immature things I had seen anyone do in a business setting. I would like to say it was the most immature, but … well, you know. On the other hand, the meeting went much more smoothly after that.

  10. ….which is why I relish being self-employed.
    But even then you have to deal with idiots all the time , although the advantage is that you can tell them to go take a flying leap off a short cliff (i.e. stick their bullshit job up their idiot ass), and you get to go home with maybe less money than you might have had but with a sane mind.

    And have a beer. And surf the internet. Or something.

    ‘nuf said.

  11. kyknoord – normally? i do find it entertaining… this time? a junior scientist, filling in for a supervisor, was in the room. it was the professional equivalent of parents fighting – unfairly – in front of the kids. embarassing…

    gnu – i HAVE put him in ‘time out’ in the past. one of my techniques to work with him as a peer was to always have him repeat back to me what i’d said. rather than go with the ‘toddler’ management technique of “Now, what did i just say?”, i’d use “ok, let’s make sure we’re on the same wavelength – what do you think we just agreed to?”. and they don’t pay me enough to change his diaper…

    unbearable banishment – we have a few, a select few, that fall into that ‘godlike’ category. they are quietly cleaning out their desks, and exploring lucrative retirement/consulting positions as the rest of us do battle with F-Troop.

    daisymae – needless to say, there was a little bit of “sissy-pen-throwing” rehash today among a few of us who witnessed the fit. ok. just me and the ninjaneer… who are the two who are most immature childlike and playful in nature… yes. the herd must be culled. we need sidearms…

    casey – publish angst/drama is universal among scientists… it’s NEVER because they failed to do adequate work, demonstrate sufficient results or clearly capture research context. oh, no! it’s always because “THEY” don’t like me… are playing political games… only support their own former grad students… blah, blah, blah… been on enough committees to know that crap-whine. and yes, it would have been more effective if he’d stood up, overturned a few chairs, knocked over the table and kicked a passing stray dog. although why there’d be a dog in the conference room would have left me confused, it might have worked in the moment….

    uncle keith – “expletive laden tirade” is NOT a tantrum. when done in front of an appropriate and limited audience? it is both therapeutic AND entertaining. a workplace bargain. i’m TOTALLY guilty of this. at least 3 times today, not counting the one in my car while driving home… with no one else listening…

    dolce – so long as the whinging Cube Force folks deliver quality product in a timely manner, i really don’t care! Whistle or Whinge while you work. Makes no difference to me so long as the shit goes out the door…

    silverstar – i get aggravated when it’s the purported leadership doing both the whining and the tantrum throwing… sets a bad tone when it’s done in front of the ‘young ‘uns’…

    chris – i’ve seen ST pace, sigh and squirm his way through meetings… same thing, short of the ‘fish flop’. curious – did anyone actually call him when you were done wasting his time? or did that not make the list of ‘action items’ from the meeting? *snort*

    kevinjohn – looking forward to the day where i can say what i’m thinking all day every day. but for now, i stare. i blink. i say “got it! thanks!” to inane e-mails in an attempt to pinch the virtual loaf before things go completely whack…

  12. It all comes down to stupidity, a boundless concept. People like the tantrum-thrower are relatively harmless; annoying, perhaps, but harmless. It’s the people who are conscientiously stupid that are the real ass-clowns. My corner of the world is full of them.

  13. Hehe, paragraphs 2 & 3 are masterpieces.

    “Never blame malice where incompetence will do.” Not sure that would apply here, but it is relevant due to who said it.

  14. Yeah, my boss recently threw me under the bus in front of a whole lotta people, demanding I produce what she had supposedly asked me to produce during some strangely nebulous conversation we didn’t have the prior week — or could it have been the totally nonexistent email she said she sent — and then she scrunched up her face, raised her hands into some kind of strangling demo (thankfully without my neck between them), stomped her foot and ran off in a fabricated huff — all to cover her own ass because she neglected to tell me about a couple things… All righty then. This is how employees go postal.

  15. Pingback: A glimpse… « Trailer Park Refugee

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