Friday, March 31, 2023


Apparently, businesspeople spend a lot of their time complaining. They waste time finding fault, but do not seem to understand the need to correct problems. So, they complain, thereby suggesting that they are powerless to do anything about the problem, but that they are happy to blame someone else. 

Executive coach Marshall Goldsmith researched the problem and discovered that businesspeople wasted around twenty hours a month complaining. That is, twenty hours not dealing with problems. Twenty hours not building alliances with colleagues. Twenty hours not working to improve the business. 

The best part is that complaining feels therapeutic. Haven’t we all been told to express our feelings, lest they fester and give us cancer and heart disease.

Peter Bregman defined complaining, in a decidedly negative fashion:

Here’s what happens: Someone annoys us. We’re dissatisfied with how they’re behaving. Maybe we’re angry, frustrated, or threatened. Those feelings build up as energy in our bodies, literally creating physical discomfort (that’s why we call them feelings — because we actually, physically, feel them).

When we complain about someone else, the uncomfortable feelings begin to dissipate because complaining releases the pent up energy. That’s why we say things like “I’m venting” or “I’m blowing off steam” (But, as we’ll see in a moment, that dissipation doesn’t just release the energy, it spreads it, which actually makes it grow).

Additionally, when we complain to people who seem to agree with us — and we almost always complain to people who seem to agree with us — we solicit comfort, camaraderie, connection, support, and justification, which counteracts the bad feelings with some fresh, new good ones.

Complaining changes the balance of negative/positive energy and, for a brief moment at least, we feel better. It’s actually a pretty reliable process. Addictive even.

Which is the problem (beyond even the wasted time): Like just about all addictions, we’re feeding the spin of a destructive, never-ending cycle. The release of pressure — the good feeling — is ephemeral. In fact, the more we complain, the more likely the frustration, over time, will increase.

Now, Bregman considers complaining to be addictive behavior. It does not solve problems. It does not address problems. It gives us a momentary stimulus, and accomplishes nothing. Heck, it is not even therapeutic.

Now, Rachel Feintzeig writes in the Wall Street Journal that certain executive coaches are trying to rescue complaining from psychological ignominy. They suggest that there are right and wrong ways to complain.

It’s a distinction without a difference. If you report a problem to your manager and suggest ways to solve it, you are not complaining. You are not whining. You are contributing to the good functioning of the company.

Feintzeig explains the new take on complaining, via executive coach Dina Denham Smith:

Ms. Smith advises clients to approach their bosses armed with potential solutions. Stick to the facts, and the impact the problem is having on the business. If your team is too small, what projects are suffering? What opportunities are you having to forgo because of this roadblock?

Lay out what you have tried so far to show you have taken initiative. Don’t be accusatory or gossipy. Pitch your proposed fix, but leave the door open for their input.

“Do you see other paths?” Ms. Smith recommends asking. If you rally your manager’s help in figuring out a solution, she will be more bought in and fight harder to get the change done with her higher-ups.

If that is your approach, you are not, strictly speaking, complaining. You are contributing. It is not the same thing.

But then, Feintzeig quotes a professor who suggests that we worry about the way we choose our language. The words matter. Given that most people believe, thanks to therapy, that they ought to give full-throated expression to their feelings, the truth must be that the wording counts for far more than the feelings.

If your goal is to vent, then feelings are most important. If you want to contribute, if you want to solve a problem, if you want to present yourself as a member of a team and not as a critic sitting in the bleachers, how you word things matters.

The words you use matter, says Jim Detert, a professor at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business and author of a book about speaking up at work. He advises avoiding overly definitive statements such as, “It’s obvious we should fix this,” or “It’s so clear we have a problem,” so you don’t alienate anybody who might think it’s ambiguous.

Other triggering phrases involve frequency, for instance, “You never do this,” or “You always do that.” The person you’re complaining to will immediately focus on trying to disprove your point, Dr. Detert says.

Sometimes the differences are subtle. But, you are certainly old enough to learn how to formulate sentences that will get the job done, and to avoid sentences that will draw attention to your gripes or sound like they are accusing your manager:

Start statements with “we,” not “I,” showing you’re on the same team. To link ideas, use “and” not “but.” For example, instead of saying “I know this is your baby, but we need to move on,” try, “We’ve had a great start, and I have some ideas to take it to the next level.” The listener will feel less threatened, Dr. Detert says.

It’s not about complaining. It’s about finding solutions. And yet, one cannot help but notice that therapy, in most instances, disparages attempts to do something to solve problems. It encourages patients to vent their spleen, to express their feelings, and not to care about how they express themselves. 

Since your relationship with your manager is a cooperative enterprise, one where you do best not to whine about how difficult the problem is and not to appear to condemn your manager for failing to solve the problem, you need to consider how you word your analysis of the situation.

And you need to do what your therapist tells you not to do, to address the problem and to explain what one might do to solve it.

Thursday, March 30, 2023

The Semiconductor Wars, Part II

I will not offer very much commentary on this Bloomberg column, republished by the Washington Post. The reason is simple. Long time readers of this blog have heard all about the problems America is facing in ramping up its ability to manufacture semiconductors. Link here. Obviously, I have no expertise in this area, but I seem to have chosen good sources. So, I offer myself a deserved pat on the back, for keeping you informed.

I report on such matters because I believe that much of what passes for information in the media is simply lies-- and cheerleading.

I am not going to cross post this on my new Substack. Because it does not have much of anything to do with therapy and its culture. Still, feel free to sign up to the Substack. It is well worth your attention.

In any event, those who are beaming with optimism about America’s ability to translate a new law into more semiconductors are whistling past the graveyard.

Here are some excerpts from the article:

By now it’s clear that the Chips and Science Act — which includes a $52 billion splurge for the semiconductor industry — is unlikely to work as intended. In fact, its looming failure is a microcosm of all that’s wrong with America’s current approach to building things.

Hmmm-- a looming failure?

Why should this be so?

Producing chips in the US still takes 25% longer and costs nearly 50% more than doing so in Asia. 

The founder of Taiwan Semiconductor happened to warn Nancy Pelosi of just this problem.

Why does it cost so much to manufacture in America? The answer is-- politics.

From 1990 to 2020, the time required to construct new chip plants (called fabs) in the US soared by 38%. Clean Air Act permits can take 18 months. National Environmental Policy Act reviews take an average of four and a half years. A half dozen other federal laws may come into play, plus endless state and local variants. At every step, myriad agencies must be consulted and parochial interests must be heard. Yet technology does not stand still for these bureaucratic tea parties; such delays only add expenses, discourage private investment, and prevent US manufacturers from seriously competing with overseas rivals.

And also:

Companies hoping for significant Chips Act funding must comply with an array of new government rules and pointed suggestions, meant to advantage labor unions, favored demographics, “empowered community partners” and the like. They should also be prepared to offer “community investment,” employee “wraparound services,” access to “affordable, accessible, reliable and high-quality child care,” and much else. One can debate the merits of any of these objectives. But larding already-uncompetitive businesses with crippling new costs to advance completely unrelated social goals is simply at odds with the stated purpose of this law.

The other problem is quite simply that the American educational system, what with its obsession with social justice and equity, has failed to produce the talent needed to take jobs in the new factories:

One study found that 300,000 more skilled laborers may be needed just to complete US fab projects underway, let alone new ones. Yet the number of US students pursuing advanced degrees in the field has been stagnant for 30 years. Plenty of international students are enrolled in relevant programs at US schools, but current policy makes it needlessly difficult for them to stay and work. The strains are showing: New plants planned by Intel Corp. and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. are both struggling to find qualified workers.

Now, Bloomberg offers some suggestions for how American companies can get around the problems that the Biden administration has built into the law.

Issue “fast track” exemptions for chipmakers under federal environmental law — or, better yet, amend the law to accelerate all such projects and inhibit frivolous lawsuits. Increase visas for skilled workers, prioritize applicants with needed STEM abilities, and exempt foreign graduates with advanced science degrees from the cap on green-card allotments. Slash the costly and counterproductive strings attached to Chips Act funding and accept that the proper venue for enacting the progressive agenda is Congress, not random companies.

One notices that in the matter of finding workers who are capable of doing the work, even Bloomberg, in an optimistic moment, sees no other way than immigrant visas. 

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Defeating Cancel Culture

One imagines that the free market is going to defeat the diversity mania. And yet, on a sober note, companies and schools across the country have hired a boatload of diversity administrators, and, if we fire them all, what are they going to do?

Unfortunately, when a nation goes about producing armies of social justice warriors it finds itself facing the prospect of finding employment for them.

As far as the entertainment industry goes, from Hollywood to the advertising business, you will have noticed that it has gone all-in for diversity. The message is constant. It counts, as Peggy Noonan once said, as moral harassment. You are not good enough to have a diverse garden party. You are not good enough to have an interracial marriage. All that stands between you and an interracial paradise is-- your bigotry.

Someone should suggest that we meld the words equity and inclusion together and arrive at-- iniquity. 

Of course, Hollywood is perfectly capable of reading the ratings. Of late it has discovered that harassing people over race and gender causes them to switch the channel. Doesn’t Netflix provide us with shows from around the world, most of which do not suffer the same cultural mania, and most of which are far better than the lame products that Hollywood produces. 

The same applies to advertisers. Where did anyone get the idea that insulting one’s prospective customers is a good way to sell detergent. 

One believes, based on some evidence, that Hollywood will soon by transitioning into less woke products. It will certainly be for the better. It will be a rousing testimony to the superior wisdom and consummate virtue of the free market.

So, as you know, the intellectual world has recently been consumed with a debate over the Red Guards who now attend Stanford Law School. As you know, said students mounted something like an insurrection-- but, don’t call it that-- to shut down a speech by federal judge, Kyle Duncan. 

The students received the full throated and whole hearted support of a university diversity officer, by name of Tirien Steinbach. Together they made it impossible for Judge Duncan to speak. 

As you also know, Stanford’s law dean, Jenny Martinez wrote a manifesto about free speech. And Dean Steinbach is now on leave.

Of course, we are beyond disagreement. We are certainly beyond reasoned discussion and debate. We have arrived at the point where certain groups of students believe that they are morally obligated to silence anyone who professes incorrect political opinions. Apparently, Judge Duncan had crossed a line when he refused to call a transgender person by his birth sex.

What is driving these Red Guards? Evidently, they do not believe in the due process of law. They believe in getting their way, in throwing tantrums and in forcing other people to do what they want them to do. This means that they are overgrown children and that they need therapy. 

If one wanted to be less charitable, one would add that they are effectively the products of an overdose of therapy, not just the therapy provided by school counselors and teachers, but the therapy that infects the culture today. 

Our young Red Guards have stopped trying to be courteous and respectful. They are happy to express their inchoate emotions, regardless. They are unwilling to engage in debate or to allow their ideas to be judged by reality. Were they to do so they might discover that they have been brainwashed into holding delusional beliefs. And they will do serious damage to you before they will risk that.

I mention this point to emphasize that these young Red Guards are not merely opposed to what Justice Holmes once called the free trade in ideas. They are staunchly opposed to any effort to test their ideas against reality. If a human organism considers itself a male it does not matter that it has trillions of XX hormones. 

This being the case, the only obstacle to the full flowering of trans identity is bad thoughts. Not the thoughts of the trans individual, but the thoughts of everyone else. Once everyone accepts fully that you can be whatever you want to be, one must insist that everyone accept the belief, as a higher truth. 

If you do not conclude from this madness that we are royally screwed-- not in the good sense of the term-- you have not been paying attention.

Anyway, writing in the Wall Street Journal Gerard Baker proposes that the student Red Guards should be effectively shunned from the legal profession. They should not get clerkships and should not be hired as junior associates or even corporate counsel. 

He explains:

Employers should stop employing these jackals and make it clear that anyone who has been actively involved in blocking people from expressing a legitimate opinion won’t be hired. We are by now used to the way in which employers scour social media for indiscretions that doom job applications. Do the same for these campus extremists.

He continues, proposing that we should rise up against intolerance. Differences of opinion are obviously acceptable. Forcibly silencing differences of opinion are not.

I am not urging intolerance of diverse ideas in the workplace. On the contrary, you are perfectly entitled to be a radical and to express yourself openly. What you can’t do is bar viewpoints you don’t like.

For a long time we tolerated campus behavior much as we used to tolerate the behavior of toddlers. They’ll grow out of it, we thought, when they enter the real world. But the joke was on us. They graduated into the real world and started to impose their views on it. Weak-kneed managers, eager to protect their privileges and preserve a quiet life, couldn’t face the hostility they’d get from their employees and a media of the same ideological mindset always willing to air the grievances.

Yes, indeed. The American business world is infested with Red Guards. One feels compelled to mention, as a sobering sidenote, that most of the Red Guards do not want to grow up to join law firms, major corporations or the federal bench. Most of them want to become college administrators-- the rumor has it that Stanford has thousands-- in order to help implement a diversity and equity agenda.

In truth, we have known for years that diversity programs do not work. They damage universities by dumbing down instruction and by producing self-segregation. The flood of administrators is merely a way to avoid facing the truth of the failure. It also provides less-than-gainful employment for the products of those programs.

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

The Therapist We Deserve

We have the therapist we deserve. Today, that means, Esther Perel. Subject of an extended New York Times profile, apparently written by a fan girl named Sarah Lyall, Esther Perel seems to be fount of wisdom and an intrepid clinician. 

We have the right to doubt gushing profiles, especially when they distort reality.

Strangely, Times reporter Lyall neglects to mention that Perel is all about storytelling and psychodrama. If you want to learn how better to tell stories and to turn your life into psychodrama, Perel is for you. If not, she is not. 

Perel’s approach has much in common with psychoanalysis. She imagines that life is a story, that we are all actors and actresses, playing roles that were allotted us in narratives we ignore. 

When we undergo therapy, we want either to discover the story we have been playing out, or, better yet, to rewrite the narrative in order to produce a happier ending.

Of course, if human beings are not actors, this all becomes rather cheap. Life is about moral dilemmas, situations we face where the outcome is not assured. In a story, in a fiction, even in a drama, the ending is always assured. We do best when we get out of our minds and out of our storytelling, and into the game... of life.

When Maya Binyam profiled Perel in New York Magazine, she emphasized the psychodramatic aspect of her treatment. Binyam wrote this in April, 2021:

Today, Esther Perel identifies as a scriptwriter, the person who propels a plot forward when life’s main characters are otherwise paralyzed by self-doubt. But when she speaks to her audience, a population of millions, it is from her position as America’s preeminent couples therapist.

Anyway, the Times article begins with Perel’s appearance before a conference led by one Bessel van der Kolk. You know the name because he’s a best selling author and a leader of the trauma industrial complex.

Obviously, trauma is all the rage these days. It makes a certain amount of sense. In a culture where we define ourselves by our grievances and our suffering, it feels natural that we have become obsessed by trauma. 

That we have most likely gotten it wrong, seems not to have crossed too many minds.

Nevertheless, one is intrigued to read this at the opening of the Lyall profile of Perel. Apparently, it is supposed to count as a nugget of superior wisdom:

Alluding to the Mexican poet Octavio Paz and the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, she asked: “What if accessing the erotic is the catalyst that helps the recovery from the trauma?”

Obviously, this is reconstituted Freud, though it merely shows why Freudian treatment has consistently failed to treat trauma and depression effectively. No serious clinician today believes that a trauma victim should be subjected to Freudian psychoanalysis. 

If we are dealing with depression-- clinical phenomenon that Perel apparently does not deal with-- one of its defining characteristics is an absence of desire. Absence of sexual desire; absence of appetite. If an individual suffers a depression brought on by a trauma, then one might imagine that accessing the erotic would help him recover. Perel has mangled the thought, though we can see where she is coming from.

Of course, if we assume that trauma victims are suffering from depression, we know that someone who is depressed cannot access the erotic. He might imagine that he can do so so through storytelling or psychodrama, but such is not the case. 

As it happens, and as we have known for decades now, the best treatments for depression, those that are classed as cognitive therapy, do not try to access the erotic. They consider depression to be caused by automatic self-deprecatory thoughts. And they assign homework exercises that work to undermine the hold that these thoughts have. If you think that you have never gotten anything right, the homework exercises will invite you to conjure up those times when you might have gotten something right.

As for Freud, his first theories of hysteria claimed that these patients were suffering for having forgotten, that is, repressed their traumas. Note well, that the origin of psycho analysis lies in theories about overcoming trauma.

Anyway, Freud quickly discovered that remembering a trauma and folding it into a narrative-- his initial effort at treatment-- was largely ineffective. So he went looking elsewhere. And he thought he discovered the solution in desire, of all things. That is, in the erotic.

Sad to have to put it this way, but Freudian theory posited that a trauma victim was having a problem overcoming the trauma because she-- in the cases Freud was treating-- could not accept that she had wanted it to happen.

Hmm. This is so appalling that generations of psycho analysts have forgotten it completely. But, when it comes to accessing the erotic, Freud imagined that his hysterical patients could not accept that they had really wanted to be sexually molested. Ergo, having discovered where their desire was leading them, they chose to shut down their erotic desire. 

One needs to mention here that despite the trauma industrial complex, most trauma and sexual abuse victims overcome their problems without undergoing any therapeutic interventions.

This means, when we are thrilled by the wondrous clinical results that certain therapists obtain, we need to mention that doing nothing works rather well in many of these cases. (See the work of Columbia University professor, George Bonnano on resilience.) To which one must add, in fairness, that sometimes nothing works at all.

As for trauma, consider this. There are two sides to the issue. First, what happened. Second, who knows what happened. The second is far more difficult to manage than the first. It’s one thing to forget the trauma and even to understand that it does not say anything about you. It is more difficult to eliminate the image of your traumatized self from other minds. How do you put the trauma behind you if people are looking at you as a trauma victim, that is, with pity. The more people see you as a victim the more difficult it will become to believe that the trauma says nothing about you.

This tells us that trauma is something that is best discussed with someone who does not belong to your everyday life, or your entourage. If you tell your story, as a Perel would want, you are inviting other people to see you as a victim, and to look at  you accordingly. This tells us why so many trauma victims choose to keep their stories to themselves, or else, only to share them with professionals. 

When the #MeToo movement was starting, more than a few women explained that they had not told the world what had happened to them because they did not want other people to envision them undergoing the trauma. 

Sadly, the new trauma industrial complex suggests that trauma is the meaning of your life and that, pace Freud, you ought to integrate it into your life history. In truth, people who chose to keep it to themselves, or only to share it with one or two others, had a better idea about how to overcome it.

One does not want to comment on the brainwork that some therapists prescribe, but one does want to add one’s suspicion that those who do best in overcoming trauma belong to communities where their entourage, even when people know about what happened, put it out of their minds and do not belabor the point. 

Trauma makes people feel alone, detached, unmoored and bereft. Evidently, the solution to the problem is for one’s community to make one feel attached, connected and valued. It is very difficult to do this by undergoing brain stimulation or even psycho dramatic storytelling.

Turning your life into permanent psychodrama, coupled with a compulsion to tell everyone what happened, is precisely the wrong path.

Also posted on my Substack--

Monday, March 27, 2023


It feels perfectly unobjectionable. We all believe that it’s better to be polite than to be rude. And we all believe in exercising common courtesy when dealing with other people.

So says Dr. Jenny Taitz, who offers the latest in psycho wisdom in the Wall Street Journal.

Hate wondering and waiting? We all do. That’s why it’s important to let people in your personal and professional life know when to expect to hear from you, and also to say what you mean, clearly and kindly, even when it isn’t what they want to hear. As a clinical psychologist, I’ve seen that many people find the prospect of disappointing someone so cringeworthy that they prefer to skip a potentially awkward exchange and just disappear—a practice popularly known as “ghosting.”

This raises an important issue. Ought we to be applying this rule universally, to anyone anywhere, or are there subtle variations that cause us to fit it to different circumstances?

If you have chosen to break off a relationship that has been ongoing for ten years, we all agree that you owe the other person an explanation. You do not just ghost someone you have been involved with for a long time.

And yet, when you have a coffee date with someone who is basically a stranger, and do not want to see him or her again, is it acceptable simply not to contact the person. One imagines that such is the case. You owe him or her nothing. You communicate your lack of interest in having a relationship by not communicating, by ghosting.

One might even suggest that if you call the person to explain that you never want to speak to him or her again, you will be obliged to enter into a conversation about why you feel what you feel. Is there any way you can explain yourself without being rude?

And then, consider the job interview situation. Is it ever acceptable to fail to respond to applicants. Surely, when we are being interviewed for a job, it is nicer to hear directly that we have been rejected. But, is it really? 

Is it acceptable to send a text announcing that another candidate has been chosen? Then again, if you tell the applicant that if you want to proceed further you will contact him or her within a week, your silence counts as a message.

Anyway, things now get more complicated.

If you have interviewed thirty candidates for a job, do you really have the time to call each one personally and to announce that you have chosen someone else?

Moreover, how many of those you call personally will contest your judgment? How many will berate you for ignoring their better qualities? And besides, what if your honest opinion for not choosing the candidate might get you sued. If you do not know what is or is not worthy of litigation, why take the chance that you might say something that seems harmless to you but that provokes a lawsuit?

Let us say that you follow the latest in psycho wisdom and do what Dr. Taitz says. That is, that you exercise your empathy muscle and say something kind to the rejected applicant, to the effect that you appreciate his or her abilities but have found someone who is better.

Aside from the fact that empathy is best exercised with infants, we must notice that such a gesture opens the door to a further relationship. If you have no intention to have a relationship with the other person why are you opening the door to one?

Isn’t it kinder to simply cease all communications, without explaining why you are doing so?

Anyway, psycho professionals believe that you should never ghost anyone. They believe that you should always explain yourself, even at the risk-- which they do not recognize-- that you will be obliged to insult the other person by explaining your reasoning. Be clear. If you do not want to see someone again or do not want to hire someone else, the reason must have been unflattering.

Dr. Taitz explains:

Rather than delegate the task of delivering bad news to someone else, like the human resources department, you can think of doing it yourself as a chance to exercise your empathy muscles.

The psycho world has a vague sense that the no-ghosting rule should not be applied to all situations. Consider this:

Though you don’t need to formally break up with someone after one meeting or reply to every message you receive on LinkedIn, “If someone you’ve engaged with contacts you, you have to respond,” says Dr. Guy Winch, a clinical psychologist and co-host of the podcast “Dear Therapists.” While at times you can’t help having to disappoint someone, reaching out promptly and offering compassion eases the sting.

Of course, this depends on what you mean by engaging with another person. The important point is that the rule is not universal and is not absolute. In some situations it is rude to call and break off in person. Besides, reaching out to someone you barely know does not say that you want to break off. The action contradicts the message. 

The notion that all communications should be open and honest needs some serious qualification. We are all in favor of being polite, but sometimes the effort to be polite makes us more rude than we need to be. And it opens us up to conflict and drama. As long as we do not know who is more or less likely to want to engage in a conversation or even an argument about our judgment, we might do better simply to ghost the person. As I noted, if we tell a candidate that he or she should hear from us within a week if we wish to proceed, not communicating counts as a message.

Cross posted on my Substack. Feel free to sign up.

Sunday, March 26, 2023


Everyone is doing it, so why not me? I am referring to Substack, the site where bloggers can published longer form essays. Many bloggers have been using Substack as a complement to their blogging, so I have decided to open a Substack. For now, I have begun by republishing several posts from this blog. I have decided to be more thematic with the Substack, limiting myself to posts that explicitly involve therapy. In time, my Substack will become a subscriber site, but I have chosen not to do so just yet.

Here is the link:

Saturday, March 25, 2023

What's Wrong with Gen Z?

In case you have not paid too much attention, Gen Z, young people born after 1997, is a living, breathing calamity. Everyone complains about them, perhaps because they do nothing but complain about themselves.

If you think that we have a rosy future ahead of us, a glance at Gen Z will disabuse you of the notion.

So, now we have Suzy Welch offering a few words of wisdom about Gen Z. Welch teaches in business school and consults about business matters. The bio offered by the Wall Street Journal neglects to point out that she was married to the late Jack Welch, justly famous Chairman and CEO of General Electric. One must keep in mind that Jack Welch was a hard-nosed, hard-assed manager. He had no problem laying people off and closing factories. He did not favor stability.

And yet, Suzy Welch did not offer up the ultimate career move-- marry an alpha male.

Anyway, Welch herself belongs to the Boomer generation and she is slightly shocked by the fact that young people today seek stability more than they want to be part of a growing enterprise. They are more afraid of being laid off than they are desirous of advancing in business.

She explains:

I am of the generation that thought work was what you did, even when it was hard. You pushed through. Burnout wasn’t an option. Self-care is what you did when you retired.

And also,

Handshake, an employment site for Generation Z, which asked 1,800 new graduates what they wanted most from their future employers. The overwhelming majority—85%—answered “stability.” High pay and benefits also ranked high, but both of them in my estimation are proxies for the same thing. The desire for “a fast-growing company,” on the other hand, garnered only 29% of the vote.

So, the younger generation lacks ambition. It does not really want to grow and prosper. One might say that its goal is to become bureaucrats, to have a stable job leading to a stable pension. 

Dare one say that Welch does not specify whether she is offering the views of men or women. One suspects that the cohort she is reporting on has more women than men. If it does not, one suspects that the male members have been feminized, to the point where they have little ambition left.

Many of my students say they feel as if they’re at their limits. “You’re always hearing the world is filled with opportunity,” one student told me last semester. “And then you turn around and there are layoffs everywhere, and everyone is saying AI is going to make us all obsolete.” She confessed there were days she wished she could crawl under her covers to escape the static and ambiguity of it all, not to mention—as she also did—the threats of global warming and nuclear war.

In short, they are afraid. As it happens, their fears cause them to be indolent and distracted. They do not work very hard, do not hand in assignments, take more time off… and seem mostly to need therapy. They are risk averse and want to be coddled. They would not have survived under a boss like Jack Welch. Then again, perhaps a tougher management style would have knocked some sense into them.

It is not an accident the therapeutic campuses we have reported on here have produced a cohort of young people that is self-absorbed, self-involved, lazy, sloppy, lacking discipline or ambition. To call this a management challenge is to state the obvious:

“I spend half my time basically doing therapy, cheering people up, getting them going,” a Fortune 50 CEO recently told me of his experience with his staff. He doubtless has a heart for his company—he tenderly referred to his workers as “mentally depleted”—but he said he wasn’t happy about the drain on his time. He also noted that he was often goading on employees whose definition of “full-time” diverged from his own. “Who works 40 hours a week?” he lamented. “No one under 35 suddenly does.”

Welch was married to Jack Welch. One understands that neutron Jack would never have tolerated the whiny young people who constitute Gen Z.

When you are running a business, you want to, well, run it. You don’t want to fill your calendar assuring people that life is going to calm down, that stability is coming, that things will eventually be normal. Especially when you know such things will never come to pass.

Friday, March 24, 2023

The End of Remote Work

Here is a follow-up to our posts about remote work. You recall that the business press was all agog over the possibility of having people work from home and online. And you will also recall that famed business guru Adam Grant, of the Wharton School, wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed proclaiming that remote work is the future of work.

For our part, we have been skeptical about what appears to be the latest business school fad. And apparently more than one company has discovered that remote work is not all that it’s knocked up to be. 

Callum Borchers explains in the Wall Street Journal. He is referring to one Allan Jones, chief executive of Bambee, a consulting firm:

Mr. Jones says he and most executives in his professional network have concluded that the initial success of remote work is unsustainable. Facing a global crisis that threatened to drive companies out of business—and often did—a lot of employees cranked up their effort. They worked well on Zoom and Slack with colleagues they already knew. Sure, there were a few distractions in the house, but no one was sneaking off for a round of golf or a leisurely lunch at a restaurant during the workday because everything was closed.

He continues:

A couple of years on, things are different—and less efficient in the eyes of managers like Mr. Jones. He says he recently told his roughly 175-person staff that he’s tempted to require five in-person days a week but will preserve two remote days and add a third in the summer if the team’s output doesn’t lag behind.

So far, it doesn’t look great. Alone in the office when we spoke by video, he picked up his phone to check how many clients were signing up for Bambee’s HR software and management service. 

“Our new subscribers today are half of what they normally are at this time,” he reported, adding that a 30% drop is typical when everyone is at home. It isn’t principle or personal preference that sours him on remote work, he says. “It’s in the numbers.”

He didn’t say how long he would give his team to close the gap before mandating more office time, but some companies, even in the ostensibly remote-friendly tech sector, are running out of patience in the face of a potential recession.

Uh, oh. Once the novelty wears off and people cast a cold eye on the latest and greatest innovation, things do not look quite as rosy. 

And then, larger companies are seeing the light.

Meta Platforms Inc., a leader in remote work, recently told employees that it is pausing new applications to work from home. Salesforce Inc. executives said on an earnings call this month that remote hires took too long to get up to speed and that increasing sales representatives’ in-person schedules to four days a week was part of the company’s renewed focus on efficiency, along with layoffs.

As we recall, the Silicon Valley Bank, counting now as one of the largest bank failures in American history, had its executives working remotely.

And we know that Meta and Salesforce have been laying people off in very large numbers. One understands that these mammoth corporations have figured out that they had been managing for perfection, managing on the assumption that working from home was as valid as working in the office. Remote work eliminates human interaction. And, as we know, human interaction is fundamental, not incidental.

Now, the bloom is off the rose and things are returning to normal.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Returning to Freud

Is Freud making a comeback? Has the Viennese neurologist risen from the dead, to smite the hordes of cognitive therapists and psychopharmacologists? Is Freudian analysis now the treatment of choice for sophisticated New York intellectuals, or is it yet another fad that refuses to die out.

One might say that cognitive treatments and Prozac were overhyped. They are surely better than psychoanalysis at producing positive clinical outcomes, but they are not exactly panaceas. When Prozac was introduced the press was flooded with stories about patients who had spent years on the couch, to no avail, but who improved significantly after they started taking the pills.

Of course, the flood of articles about these alternative treatments told us that psychoanalysis does not work. It did not work then and does not work now. In effect, the New York Times notwithstanding, few analysts today offer orthodox psychoanalytic treatment and few patients seek it. Insurance companies will not pay $400 an hour four days a week for an untested and ineffective treatment, and that surely means something.

It must have been a slow news day, because the New York Times has announced breathlessly that Freudian treatment is coming back. It is not. The Times is wrong, but you would have expected as much.

Anyway, fair is fair. Here is the Times assessment:

Around the country, on divans and in training institutes, on Instagram meme accounts and in small magazines, young (or at least young-ish) people are rediscovering the talking cure, along with the ideas of the Viennese doctor who developed it at the turn of the 20th century.

There is still some general interest in Freud. I guess that it is limited to woke graduate students, to radical leftists and to neo-socialists who want to overthrow the patriarchy.

But, interest there is:

For instance, the Instagram account freud.intensifies has more than a million followers and posts memes like a portrait of Freud overlaid with the text “Every time you call your boyfriend ‘Daddy,’ Sigmund Freud’s ghost becomes a little stronger.” In an April 2022 TikTok, which has been watched nearly five million times, a young man extols Freud: “Fast forward a hundred years, and he ain’t miss yet!”

The magazine Parapraxis, which was started last year to “inquire into and uncover the psychosocial dimension of our lives,” has attracted a progressive “new psychoanalysis crowd.” The forthcoming film “Freud’s Last Session,” starring Anthony Hopkins, is currently filming in a reconstruction of Freud’s famous Hampstead study, complete with antiquities. The Showtime series “Couples Therapy” documents several patients who see Orna Guralnik, a New York psychoanalyst and psychologist. “Know Your Enemy,” an au courant lefty podcast, has devoted multiple episodes to discussions of Freud, who has become a frequent topic of conversation among the show’s hosts.

In an increasingly woke culture, Freud still has a place. He has taught people to tell stories about their lives. Similarly, a Jungian psychologist like Jordan Peterson has happily sold people the mythmaking and storytelling that was promoted by the Swiss psychoanalyst. 

Of course, however popular this reconstituted Jungianism is, one does well not to forget that Jung at first supported the Third Reich and managed to admire Adolph Hitler. 

Freud himself was a man of the radical left. His followers, in France at least, were all-in for the Chinese Cultural Revolution. And he has exercised an outsized cultural interest.

Like anything formative from long in the past, Freud never totally disappeared. Some of his concepts, like denial and libido, are so deeply embedded in popular culture that we no longer even think of them as Freudian. And no young century that has canonized “The Sopranos,” which featured many sessions of Tony’s psychotherapy with Dr. Melfi, as well as episode-long dream sequences, could be completely devoid of “golden Siggie,” as Freud’s mother reportedly called him.

The reason for the return to Freud seems to lie in the fact that Prozac and other SSRIs have been overhyped. Of course, psychoanalysis is basically ineffective for the treatment of depression, so one does not quite understand the reasoning here:

But some high-profile research has raised doubts about the science behind selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, a class of medications frequently prescribed to treat depression and anxiety. And a younger generation has grown at least a bit skeptical about the way insurance companies and venture-backed mental health startups seem to favor cognitive-behavioral therapy, perhaps paving the way for this renewed interest in less symptom-focused forms of treatment.

True enough, the younger generation has become somewhat skeptical about cognitive treatments, but these latter have largely worked where psychoanalysis never has. Young people who are looking to join cults are drawn to psychoanalysis, but if they seek positive clinical outcomes, they will be disappointed.