Just another WordPress.com site

Self discipline

Something my brother said to me a few years ago while commenting on the local booksellers and their relatively slack business practices: “I’ve only now realised how working at [private sector company] drilled me with so many effective work habits”

That caused me to think somewhat about what I consider normal standards of behaviour. In the investment bank I used to work for we had meetings. Many many meetings. I’m not sure if it’s even possible to run a financial firm without Powerpoint, Starbucks takeaways, and highlighter pens. Quite frequently I’d be on an away job in, say, Chile and before wrapping up in the office receive a call from my London-based boss: “[Big Boss] from Boston wants you to set up a conference call for 8am with the team and update him on progress to date.” That would immediately set off a chain of events which would culminate in a meeting the next morning.

At 7am I’d be listening to the dial tone to patch through my boss’s boss. In our boardroom there’d be my full team, all briefed, all ready to share their work if prompted. Five paper copies of the agenda and discussion points would be on the desk and a copy in Big Boss’s inbox. Probably even a fresh pot of coffee brewing in the corner.

I considered it absolutely normal to be prepared.

No last-minute fretting because we hadn’t booked a conference call slot in the network, or forgotten to email participants the access code. No paper jams holding up the discussion points. No confusion over which team member is assigned to go into further detail about which issues. No surprise findings that I’m unware of.

It is only when I stepped out of my corporate bubble that I discovered the harsh truth that my minimum standards of competence exceed most people’s performance on their best day. This is not to paint them as devils – people have different priorities afterall – but many unanswered questions as a teenager (“How can people fuck up their lives so badly that they are homeless in middle age?” “How can someone turn up late to their University finals?”) suddenly seemed clear. Some people go through life with the hustle mentality – the people who would jump off a cliff and then wonder why they are falling.

A simple guide for effective living is:

When considering various courses of action, future project what consequences may ensue, what conditions may inhibit completion, and how you intend to resolve these problems.

It’s blindingly simple yet beyond many people.

I’m now sitting in an airport cafe after a short trip to a Greek island where Dante and I visited a few girls we know for their birthday party. Island life in the Mediterranean is relaxed. Clear blue seas lap the harbour walls and the sun blazes down as you partake in fresh-caught fish and cold beer. The Greeks know how to pass time. But these very same laissez-faire attitudes to life are the reason their nation’s only accomplishment since Aristotle has been a single headed goal against Portugal in the Euro 2000 finals. Clearly, from the evidence I see here, they can’t be trusted to run an advanced industrial economy.

I think it comes down to self discipline. As you venture further from the equatorial regions and it’s bountiful nature life becomes colder, harder, and more organised. Whether the inability of Mediterraneans to invent anything, to run any kind of innovative business, or to simply walk from A to B without flopping down for a siesta is due to genetic differences or simply the lure / oppression of hot midday sunshine is not for Cervantes to determine, but just getting to this airport was a challenge for me.

There are 7 daily buses from the Kos town centre to the airport. Inexplicably, the last bus is 9pm and the second-last bus 4:30pm. This despite flights being evenly spread throughout the day and thus plenty of demand for buses between these two times. Bus times differ wildly depending on which day of the week, so for example on Tuesday the last bus from the airport is 5pm although flights arrive on up till 10pm and it’s 25km to the town.

The bus station is a tiny area with five bus stands. However none of the buses are assigned to any given stand so you must wait for the bus to arrive and then look at the destination on the front – completely removing any possibility of orderly queueing and thus guaranteeing a last-minute scrum. They sometimes change their mind which bus is for the airport after everyone is one it, causing a mass-disembarkation. So despite such a logistically simple task to run buses to the airport, the Greeks have made an absolute mess of it. Their are organisational blunders commited every hour that would, were they to occur once a year in Japan, trigger mass resignations and public apologies.

This is why Greece should leave the Euro. They have no business being in the same room as Germany. No self discipline.

8 responses

  1. Walter Green

    First time I’ve hopped over here from your other blog. Some top stuff, looking forward to more. Euro 2004 by the way.

    May 13, 2012 at 6:41 pm

  2. mirrorb4ll

    100% spot on. I’ve been saying this for years. Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece all have one thing in common – mediterranean style living. A lifestyle that favours short term self-indulgence over long-term prudence and planning. The complete opposite to Germany, Netherlands, Scandinavia, etc. Ireland (where i am from) is the same but worse – we don’t even have the weather to use as an excuse.

    Love this new blog K, you’re on the right path with all this renaissance man stuff.

    May 14, 2012 at 4:38 pm

  3. AssNeck

    Very true, though 500 years ago, Spain, Portugal and what is now Italy would have been considered superior to the Nordic countries.

    May 17, 2012 at 1:26 am

  4. Blackmetalcommando

    Germanic nations in the north seem to produce a different culture than the Celtic peoples. It’s interesting that recent genetic research has shown that the English are a closer genetic match to the Dutch than to the Welsh, and presumably the Irish too.

    May 17, 2012 at 10:23 am

  5. masculineffort

    It’s not just geography that’s important. Singapore is right near the equator. Yet the organisation here is superb. Without this level of organization, the whole place would collapse. Ancient India was another exception. Fertile land, plentiful monsoon, lots of water resources but they did not sit back and settle for a hunter gatherer lifestyle. They had a brilliant civilization. Advances in medicine with surgery (Charvaka), mathematics (aryabhatta), meditation, philosophy and what not. Also you are discounting Ancient Rome. They had the same mediterranean weather that they have today. Was not the Roman empire and republic a brilliant organization? What about the ancient Greeks? So it’t not just geography. There is something else going on here.

    May 18, 2012 at 8:43 am

  6. don julian

    I don’t think it comes down to self-discipline but to being disciplined by something outside yourself. I’ve never been to Japan but reading the critique of modern Japan in Mishima – or also anecdotally a Japanese girl once complaining about Japanese guys lack of masculinity to me – I get the impression that modern Japan while efficient is a place where most people are very docile and subordinate to the order-giving system that runs their lives. Greece is quite the opposite I think in that a disproportionate number of people are very resistant to being disciplined; this is I think an alpha trait, it’s a refusal to give up the frame. Many Greeks strike, demonstrate, riot, and not so much from the starting point of begging for help from the mommy state to save them but from a point of standing up for themselves, a sense of injustice and being exploited. Greece was only recently industrialised compared to north europe; the reasons for the crisis are a lot more complicated than the simple arguments you are giving. Have never been to Kos but its very peripheral.

    May 20, 2012 at 1:52 pm

  7. expat

    It was Euro 2004 when Greece won.

    May 25, 2012 at 6:20 am

  8. John

    don julian – you are spot on.

    November 1, 2012 at 4:22 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s