Monotonous Management, Mindfulness and Negative Solidarity

I’m finding looking for a new job monotonous and frustrating and I am having to work hard to be mindful to get through that monotony. As human beings sometimes we seem to punish each other for not being able to do monotony well and nowhere is this quite seen the most as at work.  It’s often referred to as negative solidarity.

“I had to go to meetings every day and be miserable, so should they”.
“I had to write 50 long selection criteria job applications to get a job, it’s just part of it”.

What a load of crock. When I have taught critical literacy or ways to optimise learning or practices (which is part of my expertise as an educator), I have not punished people for not wanting to do boring tasks; that’s counter intuitive.  Instead find a way to make a boring task more interesting and engaging.

Let’s take the traditional meeting for example.  Someone talks and we all listen.  Sometimes we brainstorm – but if we are just mainly talking, people will only take about 10% away from it.  Add visual content or genuine workshopping activities and that figure goes up to 65%.  Don’t believe me?

Check out what brain expert John Medina has to say about traditional meetings and how they don’t work for everyone (towards the end of this video).

The gab-fest meeting needs to die a rapid death and visual active meetings are more effective.

Every one of us is wired to process information differently and most of us know what works for us but the fact is the more visual a presentation the better everyone processes it. That old school educator idea about sitting still and listening in a meeting or a classroom is a defunct and potentially damaging concept.

Fuck negative solidarity. It is time we grew up, left a competitive high-school mindset behind and aimed to get the best out of each other and not diminish creativity or innovation by insisting on monotonous management processes.

I’m not saying that people don’t do the “boring” task. Not at all. I am just saying how we do it makes a difference. I’ve begun to look for more interesting ways I can do job applications – and I have started voice recording ideas for selection criteria and then writing them as I try to make the process a little more interesting.

I just wish modern corporate HR practice would catch up with what we know about human beings so that the selection criteria process might not end up excluding creative people. Just like boring meetings don’t do creativity or innovation any favours. Maybe that is okay if you are regulatory body and maintaining the status quo is what you want – but even then, you need some problem-solving ability and that doesn’t come from monotony.

Monotony vs. Mindfulness.

Let’s talk mindfulness. Mindfulness is about routine in a way, but it is about taking in the beauty of little tasks and finding joy in them. There is an aspect of monotony in the carrying out of a mindfully created task, but it is not the driving force. Mindfulness takes an everyday task and injects some joy into it.

One might pour the coffee slower and take delight in the shine of the coffee and the fall of the fluid, knowing full well that it will never be the same in any moment in time ever again. Mindfulness sees the beauty in the fact that no single task is ever identical, that life is filled with unexpected delights.

Slower? Ack! You might say that you don’t have time for slower. But haste invariably means waste. The mindful coffee pourer spills less, smiles more and spends less time cleaning up. Sometimes slower is better and more useful than you might think.

Mindfulness can be used to focus on monotonous tasks. A friend of mine knits during meetings.

In a world filled with meetings that we are often required to take part in regardless of their usefulness to our work, you might find yourself doodling on a note pad. Oddly the little side task can help you get through monotony and focus on what is important in a long meeting. Others secretly look at mobile phones on their laps. But my friend uses the mindfulness of knitting to listen better.

Yep, you read that right, she knits to listen better.

Not all of us have the same learning or communication style and all our brains are wired to process information differently.

The idea of a meeting where everyone talks does not meet everyone’s communication style and a lot of us find them difficult to concentrate in. In fact, I would argue that some meetings are indeed, completely pointless.

Some of us need to “do or see” as we listen to be able to synthesise the information. That might mean doodling, writing notes (that are often incoherent at the end of the meeting but might have served a different purpose to help us focus, so this matters not). For some people this is viewed as disrespectful to the speaker during the meeting.  I would argue that the monotonous manager insisting everyone sit still and listen is disrespectful to…well…just about everyone.

No-one has only one learning or information processing style (like hearing) and meetings that focus on talk are counter-productive wastes of time.  We may like to listen as a primary way of receiving information, but that is just one way of processing, not the be all and end all.

I have a visual learning style first and foremost and for me, just listening is not enough.

My knitting friend has a kinaesthetic or tactile learning style. That means she learns and adapts information through moving or touching.

I’m a doodler. I discovered my doodling pissed off teachers and colleagues, so I wrote  notes and diagrams instead. When things get interesting in a meeting I will often draw a diagram about what is being spoken about. At no point did I not take in what was said in the meeting, in fact I take in it better if I’m drawing or writing the words I hear while listening. It’s how my mind maps the information in a way that’s meaningful for me.

Often I am now asked to reproduce the diagrams I draw in a meeting as visual demonstrations of model or idea or concept.

For my friend who processes things tactilely, as she knits she is pausing through the rhythmic movement and focusing on information that is important and not losing interest in the meeting.  She is mindfully processing what she hears and making it tangible to her learning style through knitting while listening.  She’s knitting the words into her mind.

Monotony is often confused for mindfulness or good management, which it is neither. Monotony is people doing mindless routine tasks, over and over the same way (whether they work for us or not) because they think it will bring peace to their lives. Or order. Or control. Or wealth.

The monotonous manager is the manager who thinks there is only one way to do a task and inflicts that on everyone else – because they relate it to efficiency.

But monotony often has the reverse effect. It can create a grumbling discontent and a need to for the malcontent manager to pick at the scabs of their life and the lives of others and create hostile work environments. They become the people who are so bored with their lives they pick on everyone else’s methods for living to make themselves feel better. I am always surprised when someone can go to a special and unnecessary efforts to instruct me that the way I do a task should be done another way – although I achieve the task with the same efficiency as they do. These are the people that are annoyed by someone doing something differently because of rigid views of right and wrong based only on their own world view. I’m writing about this not to pick on them, but because it’s obvious they are stuck in the rut of monotony.

Let me be clear. Routine can be very important. But a life filled with mindless routine in the pursuit of things like feelings of power over a team can equate to a long slow death to any modicum of workplace happiness. There are buckets of books on this subject. Yet we still find people, largely in the workplace insisting “we’ve always done it this way” and accusing others of unprofessionalism if they do things differently.

It’s time to honour diversity and see it as useful, not punish people for having different wiring.

Why are we still practicing meeting structures that we know don’t work? Organisations that use co-design and workshop things (with physical and visual activities) are far more innovative.

I look at the selection criteria process and think it’s just another monotonous process that doesn’t guarantee anything except that someone can write to the criteria.

I have seen some good examples of alternative recruitment processes and I am part of one this coming week. I will be part of a pre-screening process that means the organisation gets to know me through a recruiting professional first. They will get to know my motivations and ways of operating and I hope I will be matched to a role and organisation that honours that diversity.

I’ve been asked to answer two broad questions and then go for coffee with a recruitment specialist.  Then an interview process that will include tasks.

It will be interesting. I still can’t believe that, considering all the information we have about people and diversity, we still think selection criteria answers are a good enough reflection of a human being. Cause they are simply not.

It’s like the boring meeting of recruiting.

Now, I am going back to writing selection criteria. Maybe I will try a video version and put the hyperlinks to video selection criteria?


  1. I like your idea of linking job recruitment and creativity! We have way too much of an emphasis in our society on “competition”. It’s what is destroying schools, it is destroying workplaces, and the only way to stop it is to get people to embrace “creativity” What a wonderful society we would have when people start believing we can all contribute in different ways, at different times, with different outcomes?! Long live diversity!


    1. Yes indeed. I’ve met too many people who never get promoted because they are not competitive enough and like to stay creative. It’s a terrible shame because a lot of leadership then becomes about dog eat dog. 🙂 I’m glad you liked the idea 🙂


      1. As a teacher I hated the competitive aspect of education. It’s just getting worse from what I understand. I’ve been out of it for 14 years now, but I hope more people come to understand the destructive nature of that aggressive leadership you so eloquently describe.

        Liked by 1 person

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