Out Of Control

I was writing about Control last night, with Tobacco Control as the prime example of a control freak organisation.

In fact, more or less everything in life seems to entail top-down control. In families, there’s top-down control of children by parents. And when the children go to school, they get top-down control by teachers. And when they leave school and get a job, they get top-down control by managers and managing directors and assorted foremen and supervisors. And if war breaks out, and they join the army or navy or something, there’s top-down control by a whole hierarchy of ranks above them, usually with stripes on their arms indicating their exact rank in the hierarchy. And if they’re a member of a church like the Roman Catholic church, there’s top-down control by the Pope and his cardinals and bishops and priests. Wherever you go, it always seems to be top-down control.

I hate top-down control. I hate control of any kind at all. It’s the main reason why I never join any organisation, however much I admire it.

The last organisation I was a member of was the Richmond and Twickenham Chess Club, about 40 years ago. I joined it because I liked playing chess, and because I was living in Richmond, on the west side of London. I’ve never been very good at chess, but I enjoy playing it now and again. So I used to go to the club and have a few games now and then. And I got noticed and invited to join one of the teams. So I did. And we’d go all over London playing chess against other chess clubs. But I had an exhausting (and top-down controlled) day job at the time, and I soon found that there was very little pleasure in long distance evening commuting all over London after having done the daily commute to work. It was like having two jobs, with one of them unpaid. And so, one evening, when I’d just got back from work, and was supposed to be going halfway across London to play in some team event, I simply couldn’t face the prospect, and so phoned up the team captain and told him I was dropping out. And he screamed abuse. I thought he’d just accept it, and try to rustle up someone else. But, no, he was really, really angry. And I was shocked. And I realised that the Richmond and Twickenham Chess Club was another top-down controlling organisation which thought it could own me. And I never ever went back. And every time I think about joining some seemingly innocuous organisation (and, let’s face it, you can’t get much more innocuous than the Richmond and Twickenham Chess Club), my memory of that angry phone conversation comes back.

It’s why I’m not a member of F2C or Forces or any of the other smokers’ organisations, much as I admire them. I don’t want to be controlled, or let anyone think that they can control me. I don’t want to toe any party line. I don’t want to sing from any particular hymn sheet. I want to be (and I think I am) my own man. And what I write here on my blog is simply what I think, and what, quite often, I heartfeltly think. Today, at least. Tomorrow it may be something different.

But nevertheless, I realise that in conducting a war against Tobacco Control, there does need to be some sort of organisation. And I can well see why Forces and F2C has been formed. But to me they look like top down controlling organisations, even if they have no intention of being any such thing.

But over the past few months, I’ve begun to faintly discern the possibility of another sort of organisation.

And that’s because for the past few months I’ve been running the all-volunteer ISIS survey of smokers, which is now in the process of winding down (get that data entered online soon!:-)). There’s no money involved. There’s no subscription. There’s no membership cards. There are just a bunch of people (about 20 of them) who’ve volunteered to try to get some questionnaires filled in by smokers in America and Canada and several countries in Europe. And I’m the de facto “head honcho” (Nisakiman’s description of me) in it, because it was my idea. Which makes it sound like it’s yet another top-down organisation.

Except it isn’t. Because I can’t make anyone do anything. And I can’t fire them if they don’t do what they’re told. Nor can they be shot at dawn for disobeying orders. All I can do is politely ask people to do things. And maybe even just suggest that they might do something. And if they don’t do it, I have to think of some other way to get it done.

One thing I’m never going to do is to scream abuse at anyone. Because all that does is alienate people. So I’ve learned to be patient, forgiving, encouraging, praising, attentive. I’ve had to become the very opposite of a manager or a brigadier or a teacher. It’s not them who must listen to me: it is I who must listen to them. And be glad of every single thing that they do, and forgiving of every single thing they don’t do, or that they screw up.

I’ve become a sort of anti-manager. I don’t tell anyone to do anything. I just make polite suggestions. And if the suggestions get ignored, and something else gets done instead, I have to accept it and get on with it.

The amazing thing is that, despite my hands-off ‘management’, things have got done. We put together the questions for a questionnaire, and we designed a few different printable versions of it, in several different languages. And we’ve gone out to get them filled in. And some of us have been pretty successful at doing this. And some of us haven’t.

All sorts of things have cropped up. One pollster has had his partner die. And another is now engaged in full time care of an elderly mother. And some people have moved. And these are all things that nothing can be done about.

Nevertheless, it looks like we’ll (hopefully) end up with several hundred completed questionnaires, if people can manage to enter them all online. (I’ve found it takes me just 3 minutes to enter one completed questionnaire, and I’m available for people to email me or mail me their completed questionnaires for me to do it for them).

After the end of this month, I’ll start to analyse the results. And begin to put together a report. And in that process, maybe I’ll get some suggestions/advice/help, and maybe I won’t. But it won’t matter either way, because I can do it all myself if needs be.

But the experience of the last few months, dealing with people I’ve never met, and never even spoken to, from all over the world, has got me thinking that this is how a global army – or legion – of smokers might be raised. There’d be no generals. There’d be no bosses. There’d be no party line, and no hymn sheet either. There’d just be a bunch of people – all volunteers -, very loosely held together, engaged in a conversation in which everyone is equal, and everyone does their own thing, and in which polite suggestions are made as to what might be done. There would be no formal organisation at all. There wouldn’t be any top-down control. There would be no ‘control’ at all. The legion would be ‘out of control’. Advice and suggestions could come from anywhere. And actions of one sort or other would be carried out spontaneously. There’d be no point arresting the ringleaders, because there wouldn’t be any. And there’d be no stopping it.

I’ve never been in any management position of any sort. Because if I don’t like the idea of anyone controlling me, I equally don’t like the idea of me controlling anyone else.

I’d probably be a terrible manager anyway. I wouldn’t bark out orders, or bawl people out, or hire people and fire them. I’d listen attentively to the tea lady’s complaints about the weather and the price of butter when she came round with the tea trolley. I’d just suggest to her that it might be a good idea for me to have a cup of tea while I was listening, simply to help concentrate my attention on her.


About Frank Davis

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25 Responses to Out Of Control

  1. legiron says:

    This is one of the reasons I don’t want to go back to science. That’s all top-down control too and at the very top are the ones with the money. If you get results they don’t like, you don’t get any more money.

    The little janitor job I have is great because although it’s top-down control again, I have no contact with the managers. I’m all on my own at work, it’s my place, my territory and as long as I don’t do anything utterly terrible I’m left alone. Ignored by the customers, even though few of them are anywhere near my level of qualification (this amuses me no end). It’s like being a ghost haunting the shop. And compared to dealing with samples of infected animal and human crap, it’s really, really easy. Doesn’t pay much but I no longer have any ambition to earn much. More pay just means more tax, and more tax just means more funding for ASH. Covers the bills and once that first pay day has passed, I can concentrate on writing again.

    I don’t want to be a manager either. I’m happy at the bottom of the heap.

  2. ::heading down to the basement lab and finding my assistant::

    Igor! You’ve been slacking off! Time to turn up Frank’s Mind Control Ray again! Sheeesh! Without me keepin’ an eye on things here th’ whole PLACE would fall to rack ‘n ruin!

    – MJM

  3. Wiel Maessen says:

    This perfectly describes what I’ve been battling with in my life too.

    During 20 years of my life, I’ve set up a company with an anti-authoritarian view. At the end, when I sold the company, there were 50 people working for me, from which some 80% were university schooled people.

    My principle has always been: if you give people freedom in the workplace (after a good education in our niche area of ICT work), they will feel safe and happy in their work and perform better than when just commanded. I only needed to be there when they got in trouble, which even gave them more safe feelings.

    And when people perform well in their work for clients, your clients will come back every time again and profit will come too.

    So a top-down approach is not really necessary to be successful in business. You only need the guts to trust people..

    • Messalina says:

      I agree. I’ve always thought that people perform best when they have autonomy, when their managers trust them. Having some boss constantly looking over your shoulder and barking orders only makes people nervous and causes them to make more mistakes.

  4. smokervoter says:

    I appreciate your anti-managing management style. It’s how I’ve managed to construct 100s of building projects. No set starting hour. No questioning/second-guessing of allied tradesmen about whose specialty I know zero about. That’s becoming maddeningly common these days as control-freakery becomes a badge of honor rather than a malignant trait.

    In kindergarten (5 years old) there was nap-time and as a typical fidgety kid I refused to ‘go to sleep’. Expelled for a week – from kindergarten!

    Youth Bible Studies – kicked out for goofing off, more or less kicked out of church altogether.

    Cub/Boy Scouts – booted out before the Webelo level – goofing around.

    Little League Baseball – Bingo! How can you mess up playing sports?

    Army – Thanks, but no thanks. Don’t like taking orders, would have ended up constantly in the brig. High draft lottery number took care of that. Lucky for everyone involved.

    College – took an a la carte approach. Began with architecture courses, decided I’d rather actually build them than draw them – bye bye higher education.
    Returned twenty years later to hone entrepreneurial skills until the new business got off the ground – bye bye, no degree (sob)

    It doesn’t take me four/five/eight years to master anything. I either “get it” or I don’t.

    All of which reminds me. I’ve never filled out an ISIS questionnaire yet. When you first presented it, I neglected to bookmark it or something. I’m really sorry.

    If you’ll just supply a link I will fill.it.out.right.now.

    Without fail. No goofing off. I appreciate your style mightily.

  5. smokervoter says:

    And one more thing. What is a tea lady?

    And have you ever listened to Everything Stops for Tea by Long John Baldry?

    There was a gospel rock song on it called “Lord Remember Me” that filled me and my 70s redwood-cabin hippie girl with supernal bliss.

    • Frank Davis says:

      A tea lady is someone who brings round cups of tea in the afternoons for people to drink.

      Sometimes they come round in the mornings too.

      I don’t remember that Long John Baldry number at all.

  6. waltc says:

    Like the coffee wagon in the US.

    Like it or not, Frank, you are a manager, but the difference is you’re a good one and you just spelled out what it takes to be a good one. Setting a principle, giving leeway. But it seems to me that in any project there ultimately has to be a “decider” and it can’t be “everyone.” I once did a lot of work for a magazine which had a very good editor-in-chief.. At one point, they decided to go “democratic” which meant that everyone on staff sat around and made contradictory “suggestions”. The result was chaos. Everyone being too polite and democratic to say “That sucks” when someone’s idea obviously sucked. The old “a camel is a horse designed by a committee.” I stopped working for them.

    For years, when I was in advertising, I’d turn down offers to become a “supervisor” because, as you say, I didn’t want to “control” any more than to be controlled, but eventually it got to a point where I figured, as the reverse with the purple cow, that I’d rather be than see one. So I hired people who impressed me and whose ideas I respected. When a big assignment came in, I’d say, okay, here’s my idea, somebody execute it and consider it as a fallback, and then go do anything that comes into your head. I had a happy group. When I taught at a college, I’d say at the first meeting that it wasn’t anybody’s job to agree with me, but rather to figure out what they themselves thought and be able to articulate why they thought it. I had happy classes. But in both cases, ultimately, I had to decide. Which campaigns to present to the advertising client; who got an A and who got a D.

    Then, too, in some cases, you have to have, and encourage, the kind of atmosphere where anyone can say, That sucks, and there’s enough good humor and tacit respect that nobody gets wounded.

    • Frank Davis says:

      you’re a good one

      It’s very kind of you to say so. I’ll reserve judgement on myself until it’s all over. But I haven’t crashed the plane yet.

      ultimately has to be a “decider”

      I actually have had to take some decisions. When we were putting together proposals for questions to go into the questionnaire, there were lots of suggestions. Too many. And none of them sucked (that I recall). And I realised that we could just go on and on like that. So I decided that we should come to a decision.

      And, in the end, funnily enough, I went with your suggestion that we should ask about actual impacts – actual changes in behaviour – that had followed after smoking bans came into force, and not how people felt about bans. And I kinda pushed that through over a few days. Although, right at the death, a ‘feelie’ question crept back in (about how people felt about care home and hospital smoking bans).

      But even when I was pushing that through, I was still listening. I never actually said: this is what I think we should do, and we’re gonna do it.

  7. smokervoter says:

    Due to the fact that I unashamedly smoke 20 a day at home, in my car and in public, at any hour of the day and in all company and run Windows ME on the computer, I’m actually below the Untouchables in the New Caste System.

    As such, I’m not able to actually preview this but,
    here is ‘Lord Remember Me’ on YouTube
    Lord Remember Me on YouTube by Baldry, Rob Stewart, etc

    And in the interest of keeping the links to one per comment, the subsequent comment will contain a John Baldry MySpace page with the the song as well. The album version.

    Believe me, it is well worth a listen. I want to get that album and fall in love with that song all over again now. And maybe even see what that redwood-cabin hippie girl is doing with her life nowadays – she was a beaut.

  8. smokervoter says:

    Here is the MySpace page. It says the song is there. When I clicked it with my Untouchable mouse pointer nothing happened but I think it’s there if you’ve got the right stuff.

    Lord Remember Me on Baldry Myspace Page

    This incredible album also featured “Can’t Judge a Book by Lookin’ at the Cover” Shazzam!

  9. Frank, have had very limited online access for a variety of reasons for some weeks. Now away in northern greece till after the weekend – i.e. back 23 Oct. I have questionnaires! Will be fully functionng in office next week.

  10. Messalina says:

    I know where you’re coming from Frank. Every place I’ve worked has been like that: top-down control. I’m not afraid of getting my hands dirty, mucking in and doing a good day’s work, as long as I’m left alone to do it. But the politics – Aaaargh!!! In my last job in the UK, (before being made redundant) by the time I left, there were actually more ‘managers’ than regular staff – you know, the ones who actually do all the donkey work, like myself! And all the managers thought their job was more important than everyone else’s and there were of course conflicting demands from different managers. I worked as an administrative assistant in the charity and public sectors, and now having become more aware of all those ‘fake’ charities, I don’t want to go back to working in those sectors. So now I’m doing a little cleaning job, sure there’s top town control as everywhere but I’m basically left alone to get on with things. It pays the bills so that’s fine, and when I finish work, I can switch off and enjoy my ‘idle time’.

    • margo says:

      Your career sounds a bit like mine, Messalina. I’ve done admin jobs, too, and left because of the tedium of the clock-thing (be there because the clock says so, regardless of whether there’s anything to do or not) and time-wasting politics. And lavatory-cleaning jobs and all sorts. Most people start at the bottom of some ladder and work up. Not me. I started quite high and went steadily downwards.

      • Messalina says:

        Me too. I’ve been ‘downwardly mobile’ for the past few years. Which doesn’t bother me in the least. I’m not out to impress anyone. As long as I earn enough to live, and not enough to interest the taxman I’m happy.

    • Barry Homan says:

      Too many chiefs, not enough Indians?

  11. In some of the more enlightened organisations they refer to their managers as Facilitators.

    I like the term because it emphasises their primary role:

    To make things easier for people, to their jobs.

    Truth to tell; whenever I come encounter a “manager” who resorts to shouting or verbal humiliation, my first reaction is to side with the subordinate. Then, depending on the organisation, question whether that individual has been overpromoted – and if so – why.

    This is very common in politics and it came as no surprise to learn that Jack McConnell (ex First Minister Scotland) used to indulge in temper tantrums, throwing things and generally carrying on like a Berserker. The problem there being all too familiar; poiliticians are very good indeed at self image and self promotion, however – in general – they really suck as people managers.

    I’m told the same scenario applies with a Mr. M. Bloomberg.

    Nope, you facilitate Frank. Be proud, it does have a name.

  12. Messalina says:

    A bit off topic, but this is interesting. So I gather the EU commissioner John Dalli has resigned over corruption charges – it seems he was trying to get inside information into a Swedish tobacco company in order to further his anti-smoking agenda.


    • harleyrider1978 says:

      The EU Health Commissioner John Dalli has resigned after the snus company Swedish Match complained that an acquaintance of Dalli’s—”a Maltese entrepreneur”—had been soliciting a bribe from them in return for influencing the forthcoming decision about the EU snus ban.


  13. harleyrider1978 says:

    H/T Dave Atherton

    John Dalli EU Commissioner CV Discrepancies

    This is an analysis of John Dalli’s CV that was published prior to his nomination as EU Commissioner. It highlights the discrepancies of this document. Below in my pictures is a copy of a file published by the European Movement on the web. In my pictures there is also an enhanced CV for comparison purposes.

    The document published by the European Movement must have had John Dalli’s approval prior to publishing. In it there are some very serious inaccuracies. In the professional career section it states that between 1970 – 1995 he was a lawyer at the World Bank in Washington DC.

    John Dalli never qualified as a lawyer as required when holding such a responsible position. If he had, he would place the relevant degree letters after his name as he does with his other qualifications. However, he does not state that some of the qualifications he gained are honorary and have been acquired because of his ACCA certificate. He gained his ACCA qualification through a correspondence course in his youth.

    It is physically impossible to hold such a position in Washington D.C when during the same period (1970 – 1995) according to the same document he was employed at the Malta Dry Docks as Commercial Apprentice, Financial Controller Blue Bell Malta Ltd., Manager of IT Development project Blue Bell Europe and Management Consultant. Thereafter he was Parliamentary Secretary for Industry, Minister for Economy and Finance Minister.

    In this document it is also stated that English is his mother tongue. This is not correct, it is his second language. Furthermore neither of his parents could speak fluent English. A person can make such a statement when a language is spoken from birth. Maltese people of Dalli’s age started to learn English at primary school at six years of age.

    Why would anyone want to give such inaccurate information and mislead the EU Commission and the MEP’s? (Visit link .European Movement CV ). Liars like Commissioner John Dalli do not impress anyone. This plonker is a compulsive liar, so much so, he committed perjury on the day he gave witness when he falsely and maliciously accused Joseph Ellul-Grech of sending 20, 000 anonymous letters claiming to defame him. In the letters that were sent there was a copy of Commissioner Dalli’s off shore bank statement (see picture in my pictures below) together with a covering letter and a copy of a newspaper page with Dalli’s declaration of interests. In his witness Commissioner Dalli confirmed that this undeclared off shore account was his. Dalli knew from the out set that Ellul-Grech was innocent. After a 3 year 11 months 15 days investigation by the police and many court appearances Joseph Ellul-Grech was acquitted of all charges.

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