Regendering corporations

Paul Raven @ 30-03-2011

Here’s a blog-post transcription of a recent “tweet-lecture” by Jess Nevins about a paper titled “An Organizational Approach to Undoing Gender: The Unlikely Case of Offshore Oil Platforms”, which looks at the dangers of performative maleness (and ways of countering such) in “High Risk Organisations”such as oil drilling rigs. In short, the oil companies wanted to reduce the number of worker injuries, and did so by switching the cultural attitudes that ruled the workplace from rugged individualist machismo to a more cautious collectivism… which didn’t just change the company culture and safety record, but the emotional attitudes of the workers themselves:

Employees became comfortable sharing their problems at home with supervisors, as a way to help maintain group safety. One worker, first thing one morning, told his coworkers about his sick child and said: “This is what I’m dealing with at home. If you all would please keep me focused and understand if I’m a little distracted, I’d appreciate it.”

The authors: “Workers displayed raw fears in our presence, with no indication of shame.”

One inexperienced worker precipitated a shut-down because he followed the advice of his physically intimidating coworker. After error analysis “this exchange led to a larger team discussion about the need to guard against one’s potential to intimidate, however unwittingly, or to be intimidated.” Production goals on the rigs “were stated in relative terms rather than absolute numbers,” which workers saw as concrete evidence of the company’s concern with safety over profit and the bottom line.

One of the oil rigs made light of the mistakes by establishing the “Millionaires Club,” made up of workers whose mistake cost the company millions of dollars. “To become a member was not a source of shame, but rather a mark of being human.”

One worker described “how he had become less blaming and more attentive to others’ feelings” from the emphasis on learning from mistakes. “You realize you need to change when you see a look on someone’s face after they made a mistake like that–and you see the hurt. Because that’s something you don’t want to cause.”

[…]

The money quote:

“A man is a man when he can think like a woman,” which means “being sensitive, compassionate, in touch with my feelings; knowing when to laugh and when to cry.” The authors add that “several interviewees corroborated this view, offering definitions of manhood that similarly emphasized humility, feelings, approachability and compassion.”

Imagine, just for a moment what a country run by a government that had been “regendered”- not by swapping out all the men for women, but by redefining its goals – might look like.

In the final section the authors provide a theoretical how-to for undoing corporate gender. “By consistently putting collectivistic goals front and center, cultural practices anchor men to work goals that connect them to others. Men’s sense that others’ well-being is at stake in how they perform their jobs gives them a compelling reason to deviate from conventional masculinity when the work requires it.”

(Emphasis mine.)

I dare say there’ll be more than a few guys reading this and thinking it’s some liberal feminist plot to emasculate men. If you’re one of them, I invite you to read it again; the point isn’t that men need to act like women, it’s that there are clear benefits to everyone – at both the personal and organisational levels – when men act less like macho dicks.

And if that’s still sticking in your craw and making you want to shout at someone, then I think you’ve just provided your own confirmatory data-point.


Second Life Enterprise: virtual worlds behind the corporate firewall

Paul Raven @ 05-11-2009

Second Life business link terminalHere’s an interesting development in the metaverse – Linden Lab, creators of Second Life, have announced the formal launch of their “Second Life Enterprise” platform, which is essentially a fragmented piece of the virtual world that runs on corporate servers behind the firewall. Private, hermetically-sealed virtual worlds, in other words. [image by Daneel Ariantho]

This is important for two reasons. First of all, it’s a major step in Linden Lab’s attempts to turn a decent profit from Second Life, which it has struggled to achieve with the free-to-use business model of the public version. If they can convince some big players of Second Life’s utility as a collaborative business tool, the subsequent inflow of money might enable them to step up the bug-hunt and fix some of the virtual world’s bigger flaws. IBM have been a presence in SL for some time, as have other big corporations (to whom we can now add the US Army’s Medical Research and Materiel Command branch, who are financing a “therapeutic space” for amputee veterans using SL Enterprise); the potential for the same tools in a more secure environment (e.g. devoid of flying penis barrages, for a start) may entice more money into Linden Lab’s coffers, and open up the field for competition from other virtual worlds. So now’s the time to set up a business making sharp business suits for executive avatars, I guess…

Secondly, the veil of privacy will doubtless encourage experimentation, and should lead to some new and weird ways of interacting with (and creating within) synthetic spaces. After all, you wouldn’t want to go developing your top-secret big-money idea in public where anyone could see (and copy) it, would you? Imagine for a moment that DARPA decided to set themselves up with an SL Enterprise installation… I’d pay a good big bribe to check out the crazy crap they’d have filled it with after a year or so of getting to grips with the interface, that’s for certain.

And, of course, one can’t help but be reminded of the abandoned corporate virtualities featured in William Gibson’s Bridge Trilogy, most particularly Idoru. Like the adandonware websites that already festoon the web, sat on some server somewhere, waiting for a rental agreement between two companies that no longer exist to expire, the metaverse could soon become a multimetaverse, with a few vast virtualities with public access and countless little bubbles of digital existence locked away behind firewalls and restrictive protocols. Urban exploration is a growing trend at the moment, but in a decade or so, the adventurous people will be cracking their way into abandoned corporate and gubernatorial realities to see what they can find lying around… and hell knows some of it will be more interesting than rusty old swivel chairs.


Owning eyeballs – Jan Chipchase on augmented reality and advertising

Paul Raven @ 08-09-2009

sale billboardI linked to Jan Chipchase in passing when we were talking about in-game advertising the other day, but since then he’s posted more detailed thoughts on the corporate future of contextual advertising and augmented reality. If you don’t believe that the colonisation of augmented reality spaces by relentless barrages of commercial messages and content is inevitable, think again:

Spend enough time around corporate sales folk, whatever the industry, and sooner or later someone will talk about ‘owning’ the customer – where they are so into your brand that the next sales are inevitable. When it comes to visual media its all about owning eyeballs – diverting your gaze to their advertising and content […]

Ah – nobody’s going to stick an advertising driven augmented reality lens in their eye, right? How about for ‘free’ healthcare monitoring? Or because speed-dating is so much more fun when you have real time sexual preference look-ups on the people you’re looking at? Or simply because the alternative ways of viewing at the world put you milliseconds behind your social network in the connectivity stakes.

Yeah, this reasoning is all so base, ugly, techno-utopian. Sure, it *may* be about delivering the optimal augmented reality experience, but optimal for whom? There ain’t no such thing as (looking at a) free lunch.

Do no evil? To the shareholders!

To quote a band I’m rather fond of, this is the first draft of a worst case scenario – perhaps it won’t work out quite so badly. If we’re lucky. [image by Arturo de Albornoz]


The bankruptcy auction that wasn’t

Paul Raven @ 02-07-2009

Here’s an interesting art installation that involves some science fictional thinking. Toys by Tomasso Lanza features digital renderings of assets to be sold at auction following the bankruptcy filing of a fictional Enron-like corporation. we make money not art explains:

The quick collapse of the company led to a fire-sale of most of ENT’s assets. In the months following the Chapter 11 filing, the liquidation team split the enormous sale across a number of auction dealers. Lanza created a photographic essay of some of the items surfaced by the bankruptcy auction, some of them perfectly mundane (executive chairs, workstations, gold balls and clubs, luxury cars, a range of sat nav, etc.), others fictitious. They are listed in the catalogue of an auction that dealt with low to mid-valued items and leftovers from previous auctions; despite the low-key of the sale, the dealers got their hands on a few items which were sold at much higher prices than originally expected thanks to their unique nature.

The fictitious items are straight out of a near-future/present day satire of corporate secrecy and hubris.

stock value viewfinder

This lot consists of an off-the-shelf viewfinder, plugged into some sort of digital tuning device with the words FTSE, DAX, HSI, DSM200, PHLX/KBW, MIBTEL, NIKKEI, NYSE, NASDAQ etched on. There is no documentation provided, although it is believed that these devices were secretly owned by a small number of executives and used for monitoring stocks and other financial products too sensitive to be displayed on-screen or retrieved on the company’s computers.


Socialized banking: Modest proposals for the new economy

Tom Marcinko @ 31-10-2008

Each U.S. taxpayer now owns a $1,785.71 ownership share in the banks of America, calculates New York Times columnist Clyde Haberman (check his math). So would it be too much to ask for an end to ATM (automatic teller machine) fees?  How about a moratorium on executive bonuses? A-and another thing:

Why not forbid any bank receiving taxpayer money to purchase naming rights to sports stadiums and arenas? Citigroup is handing the Mets something like $20 million a year to call their new stadium Citi Field. Surely, the Mets do not need Citigroup’s money — not to mention yours — to keep failing to make the playoffs.

(Corporations bought naming rights to days, months, and years in one of David Foster Wallace’s novels, if memory of the reviews serves.)

(My favorite proposal, from I forget which obviously unhinged left-wing blogger: Treat bank executives like customers who declare bankruptcy, and make them prove they’ve taken a basic course in finance.)

[Bank recruitment folder, Finsec]


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