Can You Hear Me Now?
J. D. Pendry
Spam, spam, spam, spam, lovely spam, lovely spam.
- Monty Python
You have 213,000 new messages. I like getting email. I must confess however, much of it I delete unopened. It’s like the offers I get in that other mail for new credit cards, mortgages, loans, insurance… one rip down the middle and into the trash can they go. So, if you’ve ever sent me an email, using a handle that’s unfamiliar to me and having a subject like Hi!, your message is likely floating out there somewhere in cyber heaven. You’re another benefactor of the delete button, the only true, 100% effective weapon I’ve found to use in the Spam wars. For example, I put some message rules in my email. I instructed it to send them to the delete box if they contained words like Viagra. It wasn’t long before I started getting messages with Viag*a in the subject.
My email box runneth over, my snail mailbox runneth over, my caller ID has many calls on it from unknown and unavailable, and now, even they’re leaving tape-recorded messages on my answering machine. You’ll be impressed to know that I just deleted one from President Bush inviting me to vote Republican on November 5. All of them are trying to get messages to me, but few are succeeding at getting past the delete button. Because of the amount of garbage coming my way, sometimes unfortunately, the real stuff, the good stuff (your email message) doesn’t get through.
I suppose, that’s the world we have today. One filled with too many ways to push unwanted information into your mailbox, on to your PC, on to your answering machine or right down your throat. Kind of makes you want to form it all into a giant, rough-edged, not lubricated suppository and stamp return to sender on it.
I tried to use the limited mental capacity I have to figure out how we got to this point. The only life references I have for pondering such things are my years in Army. Everyone knows that there is no unnecessary mail or message traffic flying around the Army. (If you’re very quiet, you can hear anyone with an Army inbox or bulletin board giggling.)
I only bet on sure things, so let me put forth a wager. I bet that I can walk into most any Army first sergeant’s office and find a three-ring binder full of, in this sequence or something similar, Division, Brigade, Battalion, and Company Policy letters. All there, indexed, tabbed, referenced to the appropriate regulations containing the same policies, inspection ready, but unread. They’ll also be somewhere nearby hanging on a bulletin board that’s labeled read daily. Sort of like my junk mail. They are about as effective as Spam. If you hit the delete button, no one would know the difference. The problem is, just like my email, there is so much of it that often the important stuff doesn’t make it through. I had a wait and see drawer for my official Spam. I’d toss it in there then I’d wait and see. If there was ever a need for it, someone would let me know. And, if they did, I’d dig it out and make a half hearted attempt to provide Battalion with the list of my soldiers in alphabetical order by height that they requested. Otherwise, in about 90 days, I’d hit the delete button and it’d go away, unread, unheeded –just so much useless, time consuming, communication channel clogging Spam.
I had some inward looking, self-chat sort of thoughts about this topic also. Us introverts often have those. What I wondered, was if I was ever guilty of spamming the troops. It’s easy for me to look over and say; yep old CSM Soinso was guilty of it. He’d put out so many things for soldiers and NCOs in the command to accomplish that it’d take a 42 year tour to accomplish all of them and 41.5 of those years would equal wasted time doing needless things like keeping track of a three-ring binder full of unread policy letters. He Spammed them. He activated the mental delete button causing most of what he was communicating to not get through. I could see that in my neighbor because us humans are much better at finding the faults of others than we are at finding our own. But, was I guilty of it too? I still wonder about that. I think it might be a good subject for any leader to ponder. At what point is your real message lost in the Spam? At what point do those you lead start hitting the delete button? What is it to which they really pay attention?
It’s like the cell phone commercial where the guy is wandering through a cornfield, talking into his phone and asking, “Can you hear me now?” The Spammers keep sending out their messages, policies, rules, regulations…. All for our good too, I’m sure. But, as they send them to the troops each time, aren’t they really just being like the guy in the cornfield asking “Can you hear me now?”
Before you get too excited, let me assure you that I know we must have rules, policies and regulations with which to abide. Without such, we’d just be a wandering mob. I’m sure however, that if you look around you’ll find many examples of overkill or bureaucratic Spam. Ah, but, to use the favorite phrase of one of my old bosses, here’s the dichotomy. With all of our rules out there in the 1SGs notebook or hanging on the bulletin board, why are the led consistently doing things contrary to them? I won’t get off into another long-winded discussion here, but let me say that in any organization the led follow the visible standards, not the written ones, not the Spam.
If those who hang around in your three meter zone are consistently out of step with all of those published rules that you’re required to know and enforce, it may be time for a self-check. Here’s something for you to think about. How do advertisers sell products? Do they do it with words, or images? If they want you to buy a car, they show it to you zipping down the highway, gears changing, RPMs registering on the tachometer, great music coming from the stereo, great scenery blowing by… that’s what sells you and I the product. It isn’t some words written on a paper for us to read. If the led are not following the written rules, it could be because they paying more attention to the images they see each day than they are to the Spam hanging on the bulletin board. Because you see, it’s those images, the leadership examples they see each day that break through all of the Spam and provide them direction.
Can you hear me now?
Copyright © 2002, James D. Pendry, All Rights Reserved