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The era of the Vanishing Context

The era of the Vanishing Context

by Lee Hopkins on July 30, 2007 · 6 comments

in miscellaneous

Can you guess WHY the man is saying what you think he's saying?

“Johnson!” barked the bulldog-like senior manager, “Get in here NOW!”

But Johnson failed to appear.

“JOHNSON!” screamed the bulldog.

Still no appearance of the missing subordinate.


Who immediately feels some sort of pity for Johnson? Who feels some form of anger towards the bulldog-like manager?

Why? You don’t know the context.

For all you know Johnson could have been away photocopying confidential information to pass to a competitor; the bulldog’s shouts might have been a cry for help because they’re having a heart attack — the screams no louder than a whisper to an outsider’s ears.

But this is the Age of the Instant Judgement, when we make snap decisions that can affect lives without taking the time to understand the context.

Example 1: a colleague and friend has sent me a proof copy of his forthcoming book, which I have promised not to blog about until release.

Sidenote: But I will trumpet it loud and long when it IS finally released, as I believe it to be the most important tactical book to be released in years, of value to everyone in business — from sales person to manager, from office junior to CEO, from switchboard operator to consultant.

The book mentions a Harvard study on First Impressions, the research finding that first impressions are phenomenally hard to shift. Whatever someone first thinks of you is what they will label you as from then on, no matter how much exposure they might be given to you.

It takes an extreme amount of purposeful action on your part to help change their view (unless, of course, they suddenly fall in or out of love with you, in which case they are temporarily insane).

But first impressions DO count, as your mother always used to tell you (so NOW will you shine your shoes!).

Example 2: I was in Perth last week and was privileged to witness presentations on Western Australia’s resource/mining boom and also on its water problems.

Fifty years ago the average annual rainfall in WA was around 330 giga litres; a few short years ago a ‘drought’ was officially announced when only 40 giga litres fell. That is a tremendous difference in water!

Last year only 27 giga litres fell, and this year it looks doubtful that the state will receive even that.

“So what?” you ask.They can ship water in, you think, or they can desalinate; they can work harder on water conservation — get those nasty businesses who waste so much water to do without like domestic users have to.

Possibly. But businesses only account for around 30% of water usage; domestic use is far higher, despite your intuitive first thoughts. And have you any idea how ginormously BIG Western Australia is? You might have thought it was a long way to the chemist, but that’s peanuts compared to…

But even deeper in context is that WA is experiencing a massive mineral export boom that, within five years, is expected to underpin and drive the Australian economy as Australia’s eastern states focus more and more of their energies on financial services. Where will the water come from to meet the basic human needs in the massive townships already springing up around the new mining sites and currently driving property hyper-inflation in those regions?

There’s a phenomenal (for Australia) AU$95Billion of investment capital planned or already being spent on new mining developments; 20-year supply contracts with China and India are being signed. Someone needs to figure out where the water to support all of this development will come from.

Example 3: There’s a very successful chocolate manufacturer in Adelaide, who’s products regularly win prizes and whose goods are exported around the world. In Adelaide they are an ‘institution’, a multi-generational family-run business that was first set up waaaay back when.

Hidden from view and unknown to all but a very select few, the wife of the current manager works part-time to keep enough money coming into their family’s personal bank account.


In all three of the above examples the intuitive first thoughts may well turn out to be the wrong ones for the situation.

But we will blog about the first impression anyway, to make sure we are not ‘slow coaches’, and if necessary post apologia and more in-depth analysis later.

I don’t have time to read long blog posts any more — I skim-read the headlines that scroll past me in Particls to see what takes my fancy. I copy and paste and post with almost no addition of Poirot‘s “leetle grey cells”.

I am ephemera, dancing on reflections of others’ glory and hard work.

We scurry around like mice who’ve lost their cheese, forever chasing the next shiny object in the hope that it will prove to be a never-ending supply.

In the process we neglect our families, we neglect our friends, we neglect our own mental health (which needs nothing more than ‘balance’ to feel well).

I’m as guilty of this as the next person.

I have frantically scurried for security (of which, logically, there is no such thing; indeed ‘security’ was a myth created to help us ‘buy into’ the promises of worker freedom in the industrial revolution).

I have put my marriage at risk, neglected friends, over-invested in making my millions and under-invested in those things that have longer-lasting value but that slip away like mercury if ignored. I have failed to stop and smell the roses.

Life is not going to slow down, next month’s shiny new Web2.0 toy is already out of date, the pressure to be on top of one’s game will be ever-present as we race, race, race to be the latest guru de jour.

There is no global answer, there will be no Age of Aquarius wherein we can all sit cross-legged with flowers in our hair (which would be difficult for both Crescenzo and me, after all).

We are on a running forced-march that is getting faster and faster, we are running up a down escalator that is increasing in speed, we are trying to outrun the lift by taking the stairs 2, 3, 4 at a time.

There is no solution other than an intensely personal one. Good luck finding yours.

“We are all afraid — for our confidence, for the future, for the world. That is the nature of the human imagination. Yet every man, every civilisation, has gone forward because of its engagement with what it has set itself to do. The personal commitment and the emotional commitment of working together as one, has made the Ascent of Man.”
Jacob Bronowski, 1908-1974, British mathematician, writer and TV presenter

  • Tim Hicks

    “I don’t have time to read long blog posts any more” — yet you have time to write one that has more than 1100 words in it … there’s an article in that, I’ll bet. [grin]

  • Tim Hicks

    “I don’t have time to read long blog posts any more” — yet you have time to write one that has more than 1100 words in it … there’s an article in that, I’ll bet. [grin]

  • http://www.leehopkins.net/ Lee Hopkins

    LOL — as we’d say here in Australia, Tim: “Got me a bewdy!” Or as our ancestors would say, “Hoist by my own petard.”

    Shows you what being stuck in an airport for two+ hours can do to even the most sane of men, hey? {grin}

  • http://www.leehopkins.net Lee Hopkins

    LOL — as we’d say here in Australia, Tim: “Got me a bewdy!” Or as our ancestors would say, “Hoist by my own petard.”

    Shows you what being stuck in an airport for two+ hours can do to even the most sane of men, hey? {grin}

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