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“Drudgery for the sake of it…”

I recently had the opportunity to view the film “Scrooge” – a 1970 musical film adaptation of the Charles Dickens story, “A Christmas Carol“. My first reaction to Scrooge’s business behavior was “Plus c’est la même chose, plus ça change“. The film stars Albert Finney in the title role, with such notables as Kenneth More,  Sir Alec Guinness and  Dame Edith Evans in supporting roles.

Scrooge is, of course, a merchant banker and Moneylender in the film, but his behavior in many ways mirrors those of folks I met in Silicon Valley, California. No doubt, many of you will recognize similar behavior in your own workplaces. Some of the similarities include:

  • – A simple agreement by Bob Cratchit to a comment by Scrooge’s nephew was met with an expressed threat of dismissal by Scrooge.
  • – Scrooge used strong-arm tactics (even when they were unnecessary, to invoke fear) to collect money from his customers, with threats of confiscation of a store owned by two women and puppets owned by the proprieter of a Punch and Judy show.
  • – Scrooge extorted “gifts” (a bottle of whiskey, a pair of socks, a meal of soup) from his customers as part of his “generous” extension of deadlines and desire to maintain control.
  • – At almost 7 PM on Christmas Eve, Scrooge wished his nephew a “good afternoon” in a denial of reality. His nephew accused Scrooge of “drudgery for the sake of it”, and we watch Scrooge toiling away, counting and stacking coins on a wooden grid of the physical representation of a spreadsheet, as Bob Cratchit musters the courage, after 7 PM, to ask Scrooge’s permission to leave the office.

It is wonderful to know that things have not changed. :-) How could they?

The personality of individuals like Scrooge, with an “insecurity blanket:-) wrapped around a core of fear, can be found easily today. Molecular genetic studies of the inheritance of personality and even studies of “Risk Aversion and Personality Type” (Did you know that there is a Journal of Behavioral Finance? I did not.) suggest that such people will always be with us.

The fear and consequent need for control that drive characters like Scrooge often cause them to make gross mistakes, such as assuming incorrectly that fear motivates the rest of us. Some of us are not motivated to compliance through fear (e.g., the soldier who falls on a grenade to save his comrades), at least not fear of the level of consequences that can be implemented by corporations (though futile efforts continue :-) ).

As we watch the modern-day Scrooges toiling away at their spreadsheets at 7 PM on “insert-your-year-end-holiday-here“, taking their work home (because they are frightened of involvement with the real world and its people, and constantly need the security of the highly structured and “safe” environment that their obsession with “work” provides), let us wish them a “Happy Holidays!”, with the understanding that we will receive some modern-day equivalent of “humbug” in return.

Happy Holidays!

-Bill at Cheshire Cat Photo

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