Knee jerk reaction


You can be sure that as soon as there is any sign of a likely early summer dry spell in the South Island, the media will immediately blame a future El Niño.

There may be any number of reasons for such dry weather but the media, like many of us, is always quick to decide on a reason and then just as quickly assign it a simple, recognisable label. Job done, move on.

Where does this term come from? In the late 17th Century, along the coasts of Peru and Ecuador, local residents noticed an annual warming of the ocean surface. They called this El Niño (The Child) because of its proximity to Christmas.

The derivation of the opposite term La Niña (my little girl) is less clear but is usually referenced by unusually cool water occurring in the central Pacific. These terms have now become the “go to” answer to our notoriously unpredictable summer climate.

I tip my hat to any meteorologist brave enough to predict the weather in New Zealand over any time frame. Our long, skinny country, surrounded by the largest body of unoccupied ocean in the world, makes it difficult, if not impossible, for anyone to predict what might or might not happen even a few days ahead.


Which to choose?

Architect David Mitchell recently commented that all too often those selecting a designer for a future project will base their selection on the safest and most predictable path.

Apparently, requests for proposals (RFP) for public commissions usually contain major weightings against “track record” and “company resources”. This inevitably leads to the selection of the safest pair of hands rather than the designer best suited to the job.

That on its own is understandable. What is not is the growing tendency to select different consultants for each phase of a project — concept, preliminary design, developed design, contract documents. Why?

The answer is found in the project phase that is missing from the previous list — contract observation and administration. This is now considered too difficult for architects and engineers to undertake, and has been taken over by so-called project managers.

What chance would a Frank Lloyd Wright or Le Corbusier have in today’s world of the knee jerk selection of the safest and not the best. Fine architecture is, by its very nature, risky, something that is an anathema to any self-respecting project manager. The results of this approach are all around us.


First appearances

It perplexes me how universities and other research institutions get funding for research projects that end up being published in the news rather than in scientific journals.

The University College of London’s School of Management recently proposed that among men, good looks indicated intelligence, but for some unstated reason the opposite was the case with women.

Researchers believed that this extremely dubious research was being used by companies in selecting candidates, but in the opposite manner.

The lead researcher stated that “organisations don’t want to select someone who is better than them”, and “managers make hiring decisions to serve their own self-interests”.

So based on some very thin and unconvincing research the researchers then concluded that managers are prejudiced against handsome men.

Why a company would want to preclude the best candidates from selection is simply too far-fetched to be true, except of course to the University College of London.


Nobody wants to be the boss

Bloomberg recently reported that the professional staffing web site Addison Group had determined that “millennials” (those born between 1946 and 1994) are less interested in management than previous generations.

The research, based on fewer than 1500 responses and only from millennials, indicated that few now wanted to be responsible for others, as it restricted their ability to concentrate on being best at their existing role.

The grandly named Work/Life/Integration project by the Wharton School, has supported this conclusion, believing that “management had developed a bad reputation”. So what’s new in that?

Yet another university researcher, from the University of Michigan School of Business, has noted that some leading tech companies are “ensuring that career paths now run parallel to management paths”. That’s management-speak for equal pay for those not wanting to be a manager.

Again, what’s new? Companies have always been prepared to pay key specialists much more than management level employees because they are good for the business.


Stating the bleedin’ obvious

Closer to home, a Treasury analyst has concluded that there is evidence of a “significant employment rate reduction” among those suffering a stroke, brain injury, coronary heart disease or cancer.

I’m sure that this conclusion will be of real use to an employer who is concerned that an employee is not producing the same sales results while lying in hospital.


The year ahead

Now that the silly season is behind us we can look forward to selecting a new flag, the USA presidential elections, politicians deciding how they can avoid implementing the 2015 Paris climate protocols, and the election of a new mayor for Auckland, our largest city.

I think it was Tim Shadbolt who once said, “I don’t care where, as long as I’m mayor”. But I’m not sure even he would be prepared to take on the impossible task of getting into line a group of disorganised, single-issue councillors.

Rodney Hide should be ashamed of foisting such a dysfunctional political structure onto Auckland.

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