Jeffrey, With One F, Jefrey

Jarndyce has gone into semi-retirement, again, and I know the feeling; but I don’t think I will ever follow suit because I will never stop shouting at the telly, I will always have something I want to get off my chest. I think this blog will just continue in its erratic and irregular nature, occasionally going quiet for weeks and perhaps even months at a time when inspiration and interest desert me. I won’t be going anywhere, but I may not be coming here regularly for all manner of reasons; this past week for example, I haven’t been blogging because I have been busy working, socialising and engaging in discussions with a two year old about why, although “please” is the magic word, it is not so magic that it will produce a biscuit when a) there are no biscuits in the house, and b) you have eaten eight biscuits already today and are subsequently in real danger of actually turning into a biscuit. Such things often crush the possibility that I can comment topically on a subject of interest, while I seem to have loads of time on my hands when nothing is happening in the world to get vexed about. And what is the point of writing a post today about something I heard on the radio nearly a week ago?

I don’t know, but here it is anyway.

I have never listened to Jeff Randall’s Weekend Business on Radio FiveLive before; in part because I have always been doing something else, but also I have never held Mr Randall in very high esteem. When he regularly popped up on the news as the BBC’s business editor he always struck me as a bit of a bumbling and incompetent buffoon; I even remember Andrew Neil ticking him off on The Daily Politics for not having any statistics with him to support his take on some business story or other. However, I recently read this article in The Observer where I learned that he is now the Daily Telegraph’s editor-in chief, and indeed that he has had a pretty successful career. The Observer summarises

Jeff Randall, 51, studied economics at Nottingham University and lectured briefly before switching to journalism. He worked on trade titles before joining the Sunday Telegraph as a business reporter in 1986. From 1989 to 1995 he was City editor of the Sunday Times, then briefly joined PR firm Financial Dynamics as chairman. He returned to the Sunday Times as assistant editor and sports editor in 1996 and was launch editor of the Barclay brothers’ Sunday Business in 1997.

So it seems that being a bumbling and incompetent buffoon needn’t be a barrier to success in the media. Perhaps I should make the switch.

Anyway, last Sunday I listened to his radio programme and it was actually quite interesting, and unintentionally amusing. A cast of business leaders were interviewed on the programme, all perfectly nice people I thought, but what was notable, if perhaps not exactly surprising, was how many of them spoke managerial English in rounded pseudo accents. Much of their talk was liberally peppered with the usual clichés about visions, journeys, environments and experiences, throughout which you could hear the faint echo of the public speaking course. I can only imagine that these people only ever move in circles where such speech is the norm, and that no one ever points out how we talk in the real world.

The most interesting part of the programme, however, was when they discussed this news story about an accountant who sued a management training company when she injured herself on a team building exercise where she had to walk over hot coals. Jeff questioned John Holden of Resource Development International, another training company, about the worth or otherwise of these courses. Jeff did alright I guess, questioning what fire-walking actually has to do with team building, how relevant it all is to the office or shop floor, and about the cost of these exercises, while John Holden trotted out the managerial speak; these courses are about personal developmental processes and journeys, they are about challenging self limiting beliefs and breaking down the barriers in your mind, that wise companies pay a lot of money for these courses because people are a scarce resource.

It is nice that the staff are valued so highly that firms are expected to waste money on this nonsense. The nearest I have been to this sort of thing was on one course where juggling was used at the start as an “ice breaker”. This was a particularly weird set up, as I went on this course with about fifteen people I knew from my office; we were then split up and put on different tables with staff from other offices and had to engage in this farce in order to get to know each other. If my office colleagues and I hadn’t been split up in the first case we could have dispensed with this ice breaker bollocks altogether and just cut to the chase; but then a two hour presentation wouldn’t get stretched out into a whole days training, and that would never do.

Anyway, some plastic balls were placed in the middle of each table and some trainers instructed us all on the basics of juggling; then it was our turn. The “point” of this charade was that we would learn that what had seemed impossible at the start of the lesson was actually far easier than we thought once we applied ourselves. Now in my case all I actually learnt was that I can’t juggle (or perhaps that I don’t apply myself) but even if I had succeeded in this pointless task just how was this seriously meant to affect me? When struggling at work, trying once more to match the quart of workload to the pint pot of resources, is it expected that I will think, “But hey, I can juggle! I can do this”? Probably, but I am never going to; that is never going to happen.

And that’s the real point; through all the talk of valuing teamwork and fostering self awareness there was no attempt on the part of John Holden to explain just how walking on hot coals, or juggling, has ever been of any actual practical assistance to people in their working lives, or if there is evidence of any tangible success for these courses. More interestingly, perhaps, Jeff Randall, a journalist with an impressive CV and an apparent extensive knowledge of business practices, didn’t think to ask.