A few days ago the luxury watch journalism universe was ripped asunder by a stunning revelation. One of the wizened old men who run a small but highly regarded Swiss watch company admitted to a journalist, on camera, that his company was struggling.
The journalist promptly posted this video online. For the next 24 hours or so pure panic ensued. Bloggers blogged, Tumblrs tumbled, Pinboarders pinboarded and YouTubers asked themselves: how would Hitler react?
Part of this panic is understandable if you know the mysterious ways in which the Swiss watch industry works. It is a world of make-believe where every single brand is the oldest in the world, every single brand makes the best watches, not a single brand will admit to outsourcing almost everything, and nobody owns up to the fact that if it weren’t for China’s propensity to buy anything with a logo on it most of them would be sitting at home being “part-time social media consultants”.
And perish the very thought that any of them are actually in financial difficulties. So this CEO’s confession was pretty ground-breaking.
But I think there is another reason why his confession led to this thunderstorm of activity among watch journalists. A reason fundamental to the modern cubicle: Panic is the new “business as usual”.
Somehow we’ve managed to reconfigure many of our jobs in such a way that we spend our entire days responding to crisis. We punch in at work in the morning and then lurch from crisis to crisis till we finally pass out in bed, spooned up cozily against our BlackBerry, as it gently vibrates us to sleep.
I realized how much I’d become a victim of this tendency when I recently went home on holiday. I’d be sitting with my relatives for a family pow-wow when suddenly my phone would vibrate and I’d have to excuse myself. “Sorry,” I would say, “but there is a crisis in the office.”
After this happened several times, an uncle asked me if everything was alright. Why is there a crisis always in the office? I told him things were fine. Someone needs an article urgently. Somebody else wants to confirm a meeting. And somebody else has just announced a new mobile phone operating system with a crappy maps feature and the Twitter jokes won’t write themselves will they?
What happens, he asked, if I didn’t respond to something right away? “Would anybody die?” he asked rhetorically.
He had a point. Not only would nobody die, but most of these projects wouldn’t be diminished at all in any way if I didn’t reply right away.
Then why was “everything a crisis”?
I’ve been thinking about this. Why is the average working day, for so many of us, an unending chain of crises? Even for those of us with the most mundane, relaxed jobs?
I was tending towards blaming technology. After all if emails didn’t reach us so instantaneously we would all get a little time to breathe between them. But that isn’t right. Why blame the tools?
One reason could be that we are desperately trying to play catch up with our tools. We feel that emails and phone messages must be responded to immediately. Or people will judge us. In our minds eye, our co-workers are all sitting in front of their computers impatiently waiting to hear from us.
Maybe they are. Or maybe everyone is worried about everyone else, when in fact nobody is in a hurry.
Secondly, I think being slow and thoughtful about things is seen as an old-fashioned, bureaucratic and “public sector” trait. The modern workplace is all about snap decisions and “speed to market”. Think about it. When was the last you were in a meeting, asked somebody for an opinion and they said “Let me think about this. And get back to you.”
Instead most people squirm, say something stupid and then try to control the damage afterwards. Leading to further crisis. Watch CEO admitted to trouble? Don’t think! BLOG BLOG BLOG.
Another reason could be a problem with the compartments in our mind. I have a space in my head meant to keep track of things I need to do now—“write column”. I have a space for things I want to achieve at some indefinite point in the future—“re-enact scenes from Blue Lagoon with Anushka Sharma”. But I really don’t have a space for things due two days from now. Or next week. So I just club everything with a deadline into my mental space meant for “right now”.
Which means I never feel like I’ve got an empty to-do list. Panic!
Whatever the reasons, I don’t see how days and weeks of working in “crisis mode”can be good for you.
Instead, I am going to try a trick I read somewhere online. I am not going to obsess over responding to people. Instead I am going to get sloppy. And assume nothing is a crisis. And wait for frantic phone calls. Then, if I feel like it, I’ll panic.
Cubiclenama takes a weekly look at pleasures and perils of corporate life.
To read Sidin Vadukut’s previous columns, go to www.livemint.com/cubiclenama