54 - Short-term targets

This follows on from the ideas discussed in Looking both Ways and what I began in Issues of Face. My apologies if I have subsequently changed titles and not succeeded in following the changes through (anyone know how to make that automatic?). 

I have a related topic—planning.

How, you say, has that anything remotely to do with the other issues?  Well, if ‘face’ is an issue distinctly foreign to westerners not familiar with eastern culture, then the most distinctive idea I have found in working the other way is anything to do with planning. Looking both Ways explains why looking to the future is a hard concept. It doesn’t go very far with the consequence, which is that one can only confront the problem right in front of you, literally in your face. The hand sign for this, which may be restricted to those who recognise it as an issue, is to hold a hand to your face, palm inwards and pointing up so that a ring would be level with your eyes, and wave it in front of you.

In an environment where no one will (openly) criticise a fellow member of staff at any level similar or higher to their own, one of the less immediately obvious consequences is that no one looks for work. Not in the “What shall I do this week?” sort of way.

The thinking goes something like this:

I have a boss. I do not question my boss because the boss (he or she is equally likely) is the boss. Therefore I do not think about my work – partly because if I were to do that I would in all likelihood be criticising the boss – I do what I am told to do. I will work slowly, sometimes, so as to fill a day adequately. I will not be seen to have nothing to do. So I do not think beyond this task for there is no point in thinking, only in doing.

It is a rare employee who will come to discuss a problem, but it is conversely common to hear a ‘boss’ talk of “solving the problem”—meaning the one problem that the boss-type can see waving in front of their face. It is easy to find managers at any level who think their job is to solve problems rather than prevent them from appearing—not the same as ignoring them, hiding them, or making sure they are named as something else, but looking ahead enough to act in time to avoid action being seen as problem-fixing. This, looking to prevent problems, is not going to happen—or if it does occur it will be to prevent problems by ignoring their existence. I suppose what you call a problem depends on the environment. There are certainly some where the recognition of the existence of a problem is itself a problem.


So, let’s look at looking ahead. Since generally no one does it, making appointments is a bit of a problem. Enter the (bloody) phone. So you call to ask if you can have a meeting. This may elicit the answer ‘yes’, which would mean ‘now’—in which case, you might as well have gone straight to the office and stuck your head around the door. Of course, if you’re not entirely welcome, or if the person you’ve gone to see is somehow higher than you on some imaginary totem pole, you’ll be made to wait. Possibly days. I kid you not. You can already imagine the response from such as I.

Given that planning is already an issue here just as an idea, a meeting for several (think co-workers) will possibly be planned (on the same day, but a little in advance of now). The blasted phone thing is banned from the meeting, of course. Oh, no it isn’t: any and every meeting in China is to be interrupted at any and every moment by the pesky thing. There is a slowly growing politeness (though it might be just around me) that turns the thing down, or to vibrate, or even off. Even here, a meeting is punctuated by people diving for their pockets, cases or bags for a renewed ‘fix’ of microwaves, as if the thing will run away if it is not stared at sufficiently often. Not only is it a common sight here to find people walking down the street shouting into their phones, you will also see the repeated reflex of pulling it out to look at it. Parallel to the sight of guys checking their sex organs are still in place. [See, I have been listening!] As if the mobiles, like the sock monster, have a life of their own.¹  
How does planning happen? Basically, it doesn’t. What you see is reaction and very short-term planning (today, this week). It goes further, because if there is a target, problem or issue in front of you (someone), then seeing beyond this to any ‘next’ such is indescribably difficult.

Example: school students with exams can see the next one, say Business Studies, but not the History paper on the same day. They can comprehend this at one level but not at another. Point this out and a few see that there is a problem they can tackle - generally by recognising ‘revision for the next exam day’ as the problem, but I’ve seen many get stuck by seeing Business Studies as the problem; or not being able to revise for History because the BS is in the way.

The problem occurs similarly in other parts of the school system in China. Timetables are worked in early September—in a country where there is virtually no holiday and little to do through August (so staff go to work most days), this is still the case. I have seen exceptions where staff changes occur but one had the odd feeling that it was because someone left that the staffing was looked at. Remember that here very few teachers teach more than one year group (and even then they probably teach the same lessons to the classes that week); so a change is an opportunity for someone already on the staff to move ‘up’ to an older class, so there’s a ladder effect, and the changes cumulate to a new ‘problem’ to be solved. Look, Ma, I solved the problem. Or was that Mao? (Horse, cat, whatever.)

So you can easily see how this will translate to the rest of the country:  reaction to issues only from the person responsible for action—who then usually tries quite hard to make this someone else’s problem, because that makes the(ir) problem go away. Everywhere there is only perception of what I call short-term targets. Looking at this at school still, this means that an AS level student sees no further than the AS, not at the A2 (at all, at all). So if in an AS lesson you refer to an A2 topic, you lost the small part of the class that was still trying to follow what you were saying. This is much worse than the “Is this in the exam?” horror. Alluding to future use of content is even more of a no-no here than in Britain. Talking about practical learning, learning for life, will only be effective if there is an immediate benefit (including an exam).

So, for example, from discussion this with a Y11 class:
Learning to iron will take place only when there is an event to go to (in ten minutes time, because I’ve just had the phone call). 

You are invited to a wedding on Saturday – this is Thursday.     Has happened more than once
We have a meeting (now, this afternoon).                                    A frequent occurrence.
Can we talk (right now)?                                                              On a par with “I’ve put something in your pigeon-hole”

Some westerners have perfected a set of responses just to teach those around them about this (it is largely wasted effort). You want me when? Here’s my diary… No, not now, never now: that is why I am so much more effective (more highly paid) than you. Downright insulting—who is in whose country? One could argue, though, that only by changing the local office culture will the whole (firm, office, department) ever be more productive. But it is, as I say, largely wasted effort. Believe me, I have tried.

For those who say laissez faire, I agree. Until you want something to happen, until you live here, until you have a deadline that you want to meet (no one else cares), until you have other work to do. When in Rome…

Retirement, especially semi-retirement, is made to look attractive, as it accepts any delay as welcome. Retirement also doesn’t happen here. I see people who look ninety not working, but no one who looks sixty.

DJS 2100607

See also  Looking both Ways and Issues of Face.

Well that’s why they’re called mobiles; they do have lives of their own.
Cats are famous for hiding what might be called an embarrassment by the descriptor “if in doubt, wash”. I’d add, “If more embarrassed, wash nearer the tail”.
What I see as a growing tendency is what amounts to a ‘phone twitch’, where the phone is pulled out briefly and stared at, as if to demand that it find something for the holder to do. A sort of “I’m ready, why aren’t you?”


Ma = horse, mother, curse, question mark
Mao = cat: also fur, hat, appearance, risk and revered leader - but don’t think of him as a fat cat, please, when you say Da (big) Mao.

Short-Term Targets was lost. It was found and fixed, 20121012. Please accept my apologies at there being repetition - but note also that no-one sent me a message indicating a problem. There are enough readers browsing the site......

DJS 20121012


© David Scoins 2017