What All People Really Want

October 2023

We all yearn to be a part of something bigger than just our individual selves. There’s nothing that mankind cannot accomplish when people work together. However, many essential ingredients for success are taken for granted, and it’s only through the removal of such things do we become painstakingly aware of their true value.

When people think about the Tower of Babel they do so with the shared image that materializes from the fog of memory. It’s a magnificent but unfinished construction that towers over the landscape, signaling the unbridled capacity of human potential. The sweat and toil of a large, organized workforce is seen cutting and maneuvering cubic stones into place. Numerous rows of arches are stacked on top of one another, like a spiraling cone rising up into the clouds. This particular image is actually a popular interpretation and one of two 16th-century oil paintings by Pieter Bruegel who was said to have visited the Roman Colosseum a few months before, and who was, understandably, very aroused by its shape and form.

Nobody knows for sure what the Tower of Babel actually looked like. There was only a brief mention of it in the Book of Genesis. The verses describe something along the lines of: mankind once lived as a united human race, communicating via a single language that was known to all. Through mankind’s innate curiosity and desire to explore, people came together to build a tower that could reach Heaven. But God is a vengeful architect and is torn with bother after seeing the actions of Man. The Creator resolves to confuse people with different languages so they can no longer understand one another. Then, He scatters people across the world so work on the Tower would cease.

Like most Biblical narratives, the Tower of Babel’s details are sparse or completely missing. What was wrong with the Tower? And where was it located? Was the Tower destroyed, or was it made of such poor quality that it disintegrated from existence entirely? And if it was such a bother to begin with, why did an all-knowing, all-powerful God wait until construction was well underway instead of preventing it from the start? Without proper details, we’re left to fill in the information gaps ourselves. And, as always, we’re gonna do it with human emotion.

Employees at Initech face an uncertain future

Every organization brings together people of differing skills and talents for the purpose of creating something bigger than what any one could create themselves.Office Space, 1999

The collected scholarly belief is that Tower of Babel existed as a powerful symbol of myth and reality. What the stone engineers were doing seemed like a good idea at the time, but having a direct and easily accessible route into Heaven was not something God commanded. The Tower, therefore, symbolized the folly of human ambition, for the people were trying to reach Heaven on their own terms, not God’s. When understood this way, the story draws a sharp contrast between humankind’s arrogant opinion of itself and God’s lowly view of human achievement. I mean, this all sounds correct, but is it?

Many internet-based sources are convinced the Tower of Babel was built around 2200 BCE in Babylonia, now modern day Iraq. However, the Book of Genesis doesn’t actually provide those details. In fact, if you study ancient stories from cultures around the world you find many comparable myths regarding towers and the origin of human language, even in North America, which is to suggest the tower, fable, or myth existed thousands of years before Babylonian times. So let’s be more thoughtful in our analyses.

Take a step back and look at how the Universe actually works. Fundamentally, everything is just energy, being transferred or conserved. Energy is what turns electrons, floods the Earth with light, and has been the driving force behind the stellar birth and evolution of countless stars that sparkle and shimmer across billions of galaxies. We cannot exist and we cannot do work without energy.

Now, imagine how much energy it must have taken to scatter people across the world and to instill different vocabularies, dialects, maxims, tones, and inflection points into the thinking and speaking portions of the brain. The sum of energy required for such a task is too outrageous. The rationale connecting the problem and solution becomes imperfect when considering the Judgement. Therefore, an alternate hypothesis must be carved out of the facts, because if you think about it, an all-knowing, all-powerful being, such as God, would know that if you want a large enterprise to fail, or have progress come to a grinding halt, all you have to do is put a clueless idiot in charge.

Cotton Bags Of Make-Believe

You might have a team of very skilled quarry workers, carpenters, stonemasons, engineers, and mathematicians, all highly capable, and all very keen to get shit done. But what if instead of tapping into this limitless potential you instead decide to implode the whole thing, nuke it, or suffocate it to death like a small child gripping a pigeon too hard because he simply didn’t know any better? Why would anyone do such a thing? Why destroy when we can build? No responsible person or organization would intentionally let failure happen. Probably. Everyone wants to win. In business and in sport, in personal and public life, winning is everything. And you do this with the best team possible. That’s just common sense. The idea of vandalizing a productive operation is to provide an example of what not to do.

But we like to think about things. Because we’re curious. Because after spending any amount of time in the workforce you must have realized how those in leadership positions are not always the valiant heroes we assume them to be. In fact, some are so fucking clueless you can’t help but wonder if they, in all seriousness, suffer from a strange learning disability that prevents them from absorbing any managerial or leadership skills that they encounter through personal, professional, and educational life experiences.

If you have education, intelligence and ability, so much the better. But remember that thousands have reached the top without any of these qualities.Shepherd Mead, author of How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying

If we wish to find such an idiot, one who will squander talent and grip that pigeon too tightly, what kind of person do we look for? Someone who flunked out of college? Someone who received a lobotomy? A jerk, an ass, or a self-absorbed narcissist? No. Surprisingly, none of those things really matter.

Bill Lumbergh talks to Peter Gibbons while he plays Tetris on his computer

It takes a special person to demotivate employees to their core and demolish any and all desire to prevail and be successful at their job.Office Space, 1999

If you haven’t already, pick up a copy of Winnie the Pooh and give it a good read. It’s a cute story about a child, his beloved stuffed animals and their backyard adventures together. On the surface, the book is a warm and cuddly children’s novel. But when it’s read more carefully, an epiphany strikes us in the most peculiar way. Each bag of cotton represents its own acute mental illness—maybe that wasn’t intentional, just how it turned out.

Pooh represents a binge-eating disorder. Piglet is shaken with an anxiety disorder. Tigger is wound up tightly with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Eeyore is crippled by depression. Rabbit is rattled with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). And Owl is stricken with narcissistic personality disorder. But what of Christopher Robin? Schizophrenic or just someone who is more comfortable in a pretend world in which he believes he’s the hero of the story? Probably the latter.

Throughout the book, film, and animated television series, we are never shown how the outside world views Christopher Robin. The kid is never seen playing with any real friends. He’s never engaging in any real world problems or mysteries. He’s never being praised by his elders. The kid can barely clean his room. This imaginary forest that exists in his head, the 100-acre Wood, is the only place he feels like he’s a real somebody.

Children have a natural aversion to responsibility and the challenges that come with adulthood. It’s up to a “good enough” parent to instill some level of confidence, ability, and the desire for learning and improvement in their child; things that will make a person be worth a damn later in life. We might assume Christopher is a child of divorce and an overprotective, single mother, is there to coddle the dickens out of her child, leaving him woefully unprepared for life as a grown up. Now what if, as a result of all that coddling, Christopher’s personality, his critical thinking, problem solving, and decision-making skills never really grow alongside his body? What then?

The Christopher Robin Complex

How would a Christopher Robin-type of person impact an organization as its leader? Undoubtedly, it would be a disaster. Books could be written about the impotence of this man when the weight of an organization is placed on his weak shoulders. To stay within the attention span of the internet, let’s be brief and limit ourselves to pointing out the most threatening qualities. Courage, for instance.

This man will be so afraid of making the wrong decision that he makes no decision at all or will let ages pass before working up enough courage to do so. He will then scurry, timidly past any objections to his decisions, giving inept shoulder shrugs and indirect answers to any criticism because he is too incapable of tackling the central issues to any real problem. This mere fact alone would create the worst kind of bottleneck in the organization and produce a total loss of confidence across all departments, for what lasting impression can a leader give who is afraid of making decisions? Inept? Incapable? Unfit?

He was just a coward and that was the worst luck any many could have.Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls

This man would be so unsure of himself that he would never be able to provide any formal direction to his team or provide any direct answers to questions without first having “discussions” with personal confidants about what he should do and how to proceed in any given situation, effectively turning himself into a proxy for someone else’s thoughts and opinions, whose perspective may not only be irrelevant but flat out incorrect.

Milton Waddams whispering to himself that he can burn down the building

Ineffective leadership promotes angst, distrust, and hostility between employee and employer, particularly in those who are unafraid to burn down buildings.Office Space, 1999

Worse still is how he wouldn’t know how to step in and take charge of any given situation while holding himself accountable. Not having received any formal training in, or understanding of, leadership, he will blindly give all his workers a pat on the head, using a shotgun approach to say everyone is “awesome”, thus flattening out the hard work of the most talented and praising the idleness of slackers, which, thoughtlessly, removes the most fundamental incentive to work at all: getting back what you put into the job.

The mental strength of this six-year-old child would fail to meet every bullet point that competent leadership requires. This is someone who doesn’t command authority, doesn’t provide feedback or recognition, doesn’t provide direction, doesn’t praise good workers or discipline bad workers, doesn’t fight for his team, doesn’t make anything except excuses, doesn’t take responsibility, doesn’t take charge, doesn’t listen to the advice of his most skilled workers, doesn’t understand transparency, doesn’t promote professional development, doesn’t maintain employee morale, doesn’t create goals, incentives, or motivation, doesn’t hold himself accountable, doesn’t provide timely decisions, doesn’t follow up, doesn’t know what the hell is going on, and so on, and so on.

And because he lived his entire youth in a world of pure imagination, in which he was forever the acting hero, he would never perceive his own work performance as being anything other than perfectly fine, regardless how many of his workers would describe his leadership style, if you can call it that, as a captain setting sail without a rudder, a compass, or even a destination. For without goals, there is no future.

Such an astounding and improbable champion of buffoonery would grind things to a halt and turn the very notion of progress into an impossible dream. This doesn’t take a godlike understanding of human behavior; it’s just common sense. And it doesn’t matter how “awesome” your team might be. If you put the flaccid proficiency of a six-year-old boy in charge of your operation it’s a guarantee that workers will put down their chisels and hammers, take one last look at what could have been, and then leave, with the regret of not having done it sooner.

Bill Lumbergh drinks coffee and tells Peter Gibbons he will need to work on Saturday and Sunday

Despite being a terrible boss, Bill Lumbergh has at least some idea of what’s going on, and that’s a more attractive option than our clueless idiot.Office Space, 1999

The holistic burden—the mental, emotional, and spiritual toll—placed on workers is too high. Having to follow around incompetence is draining, people get tired of it. Apathy swells as a necessary defense mechanism and morale drops to all-time lows. The ship might not be sinking but it’s certainly dead in the water; rudderless, sails tied down, and the oars unwittingly dropped in the water. Some workers will jump ship at the first opportunity. Others will just make a swim for it. Those who remain do so not out of hope for a brighter future but because they’re anchored by family and friends or have no other job prospects because of their unique vocation and skills.

A bad leader can take a good staff and destroy it, causing the best employees to flee and the remainder to lose all motivation.Unknown

On paper, Christopher Robin is a nice enough kid, maybe even a super nice kid. But what the hell does being nice have to do with decisive and effective leadership? Be logical. You do not want such a little pissant in charge of anything except a bunch of stuffed animals out in the middle of bumfuck nowhere. In organizations that defy reason and place a clueless idiot in charge, the personnel will start to see those celebrity personas of Donald J. Trump and Bill Lumbergh as viable replacements. Despite their less-than-ideal integrities, both Trump and Lumbergh represent leadership that has at least some idea of what’s going on. Because at the end of the day, that’s all people really want; leaders who have at least some idea of what’s going on.