Monthly Archives: February 2012

What Is Your Boss Buying?

Here’s a post about the sellability of various college skills:

In order to do well in courses on 19th Century British Literature or Social Anthropology or Philosophy or American History in a properly running American college, what you need to do is get pretty good at reading and writing documents in the English language. These are very much real skills with wide-ranging practical applications.

Clearly relatively few people are professional writers, but a huge amount of what goes on at the higher levels of a typical business is a steady stream of production and consumption of reports and memos. If you can compose an email that’s 10 percent clearer in 90 percent of the time as the other guy, you’re going to get ahead in a wide range of fields.

Outside of office work, a big part of the difference between a hard-working individual who’s pretty good at his job and a person who’s able to leverage his skills and hardwork into an entrepreneurial or managerial role is precisely the ability to research things and write up plans. Everyone knows that a kid growing up in rural India is obtaining valuable skills if he gets better at English, but this is equally true for a kid growing up in Indiana.

Now of course perhaps not every liberal arts program is in fact imparting reading and writing skills to its graduates. But that’s a problem of execution not of concept. It’s a fallacy to think that in an increasingly technology-performed society that technical skills will be the only sources of value. Computers are going to put accountants out of business long before they start hurting the earnings of talented interior decorators. The important point is that mastering a specific body of facts is not nearly as useful in 2012 as it was in 1962.

I realized the other day that most of the things my employer pays me for aren’t technical skills or expertise on particular topic areas. Most of my day is spent building relationships within and outside of my organization toward goals (fundraising, partnerships, awareness-raising, etc.) defined for me by someone else.

It sometimes feels like my employer isn’t buying a set of skills from me, but rather renting my actual personality and applying it toward its own development.

I spend most of my day listening to colleagues describe their projects, telling other colleagues about them and describing them to people outside of my organization. I write lots of e-mails notifying internal and external people of things they need to know about. I try–flailingly–to convince other people to be interested in what my organization is doing.

If I had to sum up the skills that I use at work, it would be things like listening, reading between the lines, telling a good story and being empathetic. These aren’t job skills, they’re personality traits.

Sometimes I think jobs like mine represent some kind of post-Marxian dystopia where we don’t sell our skills to the highest bidder, but our selves. If there’s no difference between your personal skills and your professional ones, what is your employer actually buying?

I still fundamentally have the power to draw a line between my work-self and my weekend-self, of course. The convergence of the two simply reflects the fact that my work addresses an issue I’m personally passionate about, as well as my own failure to develop technical skills beyond liberal-arts faffery.

But I wonder what it means, at a structural level, for employers to requisition employees to this extent. As employee marketability shifts away from skills and toward selves, what will our employers start to expect from us?

A lot’s been written in recent years about the implications of employers checking the Facebook pages and Twitter feeds of their workers. Maybe our bosses aren’t monitoring us, they’re just assessing their purchase.

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Tree of Life is like ‘Wait, you did all that in four minutes?!’


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German Hospitals are Different

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Berlin Street Art Walking Tour

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Living in Berlin Lesson #471

Germans react poorly to the salutation ‘hey punk’.

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Why Did Deep Throat Leak to Woodward?

I feel like the older I get, the more I realize that the answer to the question ‘Why did [historical figure] do [historic thing]?’ always turns out to be ‘bald self-interest‘.

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I Live in a Socialist Dystopia

From a NYTimes article on Germany’s palsied domestic economy:

Now, German states can set their own shop hours, and most have lifted restrictions during the workweek — though Sunday is still taboo in most places. Florists and bakers are typically allowed to open a few hours on Sunday.

I cannot express how frustrating it is to live in a country where everything is closed on Sundays. I mean everything. Books, clothing, furniture, electronics, groceries: These are the things you will do without for fully 50% of your weekly non-working days.

When I first moved to Europe, I thought this would be something I would get used to eventually, like paying for plastic bags or  headlice outbreaks. But at least once per week I have the same inner monologue:

‘I need [household item]. I’d better stop at the store on the way home. Oh wait, it’s Sunday. … I’ll just do without that until next fucking Saturday.

The fact that florists and bakers are the only shops allowed to be open on Sundays somehow makes this even more insulting. It’s like the government is saying, We accept that human beings need items to live, including on Sundays. But we will only allow you to purchase supplies for government-approved weekend activities.

So if you want to read the newspaper, eat a croissant and fluff some tulips on a Sunday, the government will support you. If you want to fix your bike, get a prescription filled, buy furniture or make an actual meal, the government will  thwart you.

So enjoy it, America. Next time you wake up on a Sunday, buy a loaf of bread and make toast, you’re tasting freedom.


Filed under America, Berlin, Germany, Personal

The ‘Crying At My Laptop’ Literary Playlist

I read so many good articles this week! Here’s what I concluded about the world on their basis:

All of these deal with super-sad subject matter, but they’re so inspiringly well-written, you almost forget how depressing they are.

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Aw Snap

Like I said, my pictures from Buenos Aires are a themeless jambalaya of shit I biked past.

The only official touristy thing I did was visit the big cemetery in the city center, and I only lasted about 15 minutes

Whenever I got off my bike to investigate anything, I found an excuse to keep going after 5 or 10 minutes. Even my meals were mostly standing.

I know you shouldn't judge a hotel by its signage, but I'm glad I didn't stay at this one.


I made it to the museum of modern art and checked out the exhibitions for almost 20 minutes, a personal best.

This is clearly Argentina's attempt to attract the filming of the next Men in Black movie.

Dismount, snap, mount.

This park smelled like chorizo and spray paint.

While this one smelled like expat and optimism. Diversity!

This is what most of the barrios look like. Little buildings with so much character they're in danger of falling over.

Try not to notice how small the leaf is. Go ahead, try.

For some reason Argentina's Poseidon is more bored and sickly than others I've seen.

No matter where you are, banks are architected to do the opposite of invite you in.

So are cemeteries, but by the time you're invited, you don't care I guess.

This pond flooded after the thunderstorm. The joggers looked bemused and terrified, trying to stay in the little stripe between the water and the mud.

An art museum in Tigre. It's probably amazing inside, but I glided past without stopping.

Everything looks like the 1970s if you shoot it through pink clingfilm. If I had figured this out before Instagram, I'd be a millionaire.

I thought this was the ocean when I first got there. 'Worst ocean ever, Argentina!' I thought.

But by the time I realized where I was, I had already left.


Filed under Personal, Pictures, Travel

Somebody Cold Me

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Filed under Berlin, Germany, Personal, Pictures