Volume Is The Best Magical Strategy

Volume Is The Best Magical Strategy

Cologne. Where I was hanging with senior management for Facebook and Google. Meh... I won't hurry back. You can skip it.

In August I came within a single day of being fired.

If the CEO hadn’t been on holiday in Tuscany at the time I probably would have been out the door. (His first question to my boss when he came back to Hamburg was “why is Gordon still working for the company?”)

And part of it was my doing.

Not because I’m shit at my job. You know me. That is something I would readily admit to. Far from it.

So no. It’s something else:

There’s a really, really, risky black hat career hack I’ve used twice before that basically involves making yourself redundant or otherwise “breaking” your job so that the business need for the position you actually want “suddenly becomes apparent” to the people who make those sorts of decisions.

Obviously you don’t attempt this particular high-wire maneuver without setting up some kind of net. My own net was a long way beneath me… in the sense that it was on the other side of the world.

Basically I’d had it with Europe. Neither the pound nor the euro are worth anything like what they should be, our economies are all limping along rather than growing, no one is investing in business so the few advertised positions that are going are essentially 30% below market, inflation is out of control so cost of living is escalating, income tax is too high, the summer was truly shit. Don’t get me started on our political leadership.

And I simply couldn’t face another few months of the special hell that is UK job hunting. The English are particularly awful at recruitment. Just awful. I have now worked for Irish, Australian, American, Kiwi, German and British companies. Brit companies are great once you’re in them but getting there… well…

British recruitment is like a wacky Russian game show except nobody wins a 1996 Citroen and a year’s supply of beetroot at the end.

You’re supposed to guess the right answers -literally the answers the hiring manager has in his or her head- before you progess to the next round and do it all over again. Also they will never hire you for something you can actually do, they will only ever hire you for something someone else has previously hired you to do. If you haven’t experienced this you just can’t imagine how abruptly this fearful, ass-covering policy puts the brakes on business dynamism.

Think I’m kidding? My partner applied for a job at a competing business last Monday and he got three calls from three separate people in the same HR department in two days. They asked him what he was looking for but refused to tell him why. Obviously they’re sitting at their desk staring at a particular job spec while speaking to him on the phone but rather than discuss it in a mature, businesslike fashion they are waiting for him to say the magic words.

And then on Friday afternoon they called him again while he was in a meeting but didn’t leave a message or email or anything. Rather than say “your skills match these particular roles we are currently recruiting for so we’re wondering if you would be interested in applying for them” they have instead decided it makes better business sense to literally stalk him.

Also, this has been quite a chaotic year from a family perspective. My grandmother died which upset my mother the psychonaut which upset me even more because I couldn’t be there in anything but a Skype sense. I turned thirty and a whole gaggle of Antipodeans showed up to celebrate. There was that fantastic -albeit haunted- trip with my bestie gay who was over from Australia. My brother who almost died in rural Malaysia got engaged and came a visitin’. My other brother had his second child, meaning he now has two kids that I have never met. And, maybe because it’s an age thing, but kids are on my radar these days.

Having lived abroad for a third of my life, saying goodbye to relatives you only see for brief periods each year is something you eventually get used to. But not this year. Perhaps it was the particular perfect storm of good and bad news but I didn’t realise how much I missed everyone and their departure was pretty rough. There may have been tears. (Butch, manly tears obviously.)

So that was it, then. My safety net would be Australia. Why?

It’s one of the few vibrant economies left in the west, I would be paid double what I’m on in Europe with only a 30% bump in living costs, the Australian dollar is stronger than the Greenback, I speak the language, I like sharks. And hey, check it out. My passport says I’m one of them.

Yes, if I got fired I would just pack a bag for Melbourne for a couple of years and my partner would follow a month or so later once I had found a job. (We will never turn off both money taps again. Because I always want to be able to afford maps.)

Besides, it would only be for a couple of years. I will never stop loving London. It’s my Turangawaewae. We’d just spend a couple of years in Australia, wait for the Eurozone to split into two, wait for the UK to join Euro North (which it should), wait for the coalition government to collapse and come back when things had normalised a bit. Isn’t my whole thing about not buying a house/getting into ludicrous debt because being global/mobile is the only strategy that allows you to double your income in one jump?

Also, Melbourne is somewhere I have never lived so it didn’t seem quite so much like going home. In fact, I’ve never really lived in Australia as a “proper” adult. I have no real understanding of the place.

In the plus column, Melbourne is Australia’s most European city so maybe that’s like splitting the difference with my old life? And it is currently the most liveable city in the world. (Contrast with this report about the UK having the worst quality of life in Europe that came out this week, though I’d vehemently argue our corner.) It also has a sufficient amount of hipster dickbags as the following delightful promo video presumably indicates so at least I’d… what… blend in?

Sure, my family lives in an entire other state but at least they’d just be a low cost airline flight away rather than -in a literal geographical sense- the other side of the world away.

So yes. Melbourne it would be. I even spoke to a couple of people in my unofficial steering group (hullo darling! Hullo… umm… darling? Sorry if that was inappropriate, Scribs) and they saw value/comparative-lack-of-insanity in my thinking.

Time for some magic.

Shoaling suits volume

Okay so, first things first with any campaign, you need to check the wires.

  • Astrologically, since just before joining my latest company, I’ve been on a (pun alert) stellar career trajectory. This does not seem to be location-dependent so the other side of the world is in the mix. According to the stars, I’m currently having the career of my career, if that makes sense.
  • Next: the cards. Job change. Travel. Everything is awesome. You’ll get amazing stuff via someone from your past. Always something you want to hear if you’re looking at returning to your birth country.
  • The message in my head? Google google google. Possibly even working for them. (The. Dream.)

Right. Melbourne by way of magic it is. Let’s get shoaling. (Shoaling update: Currently experimenting with shoaling under the auspice of a relevant deity but only if I have a preexisting relationship with. The difference between this and traditional witchcraft is now only a matter of degree.) Here’s what we went with:

  • The support of old business contacts.
  • An ad-trading job in Victoria.
  • Visibility inside Google.
  • Sufficient liquidity to transfer into a new role.

There were a couple of other things too, unrelated to the goal of improving my encounter rate with potential employees for jobs in Victoria. (Melbourne is the capital of Victoria.) Health-related, insomnia-related… things like that. And there was a robofish. (Always use a robofish.)

Magic is passive-aggressive

Let’s get down to the results. Obviously I didn’t get fired which is good because I adore my company. Instead, my probation period was extended and I was given three weeks to demonstrate I can perform a business function that I put my hand up for in April and was abruptly denied.

London it shall be. Actually, this British Wildlife Photography Awards image positively defines my ridiculous "career".

My probation was extended by my boss who is a colleague I knew from my time at the BBC. It involved working on a daily basis with Google’s head of publisher management in Europe. It’s an ad trading role. And the boss said last Monday when I was back in Hamburg: “I don’t care where you work. You can work from anywhere. The Paris office, Somerset, Hamburg. Wherever.”

I passed my probation.

So now I have a global ad-trading role that came to me through a former business colleague which means I also have enough liquidity -my paycheck- to look for jobs in Melbourne if I want them.

However the story doesn’t end there.

There’s still the small matter of the first sigil. The one about the job in Victoria. Because clearly I’m still based in London.

Well, at the time this was all going on, we were/are still adding ten people a month to the business as our call centre needs to double in size. For a call centre to double in size we had to kick out the management team (including me) to a different, temporary office. It was going to be in Clapham and that was the story until two days before the actual move.

Except it wasn’t Clapham. It was Buckingham Palace Road. Victoria.

My office is on top of Victoria station. (It’s the Daily Telegraph building for anyone who knows the area.) There is literally one place in Europe where I could have an ad-trading job in Victoria. My office. And from my desk I can see the top of the Google building. Directly across the road. It’s a place I visit at least once a week.

So is this a resounding success?

Only technically.

Magic has an extremely frustrating ability to give you your desired results in the least convenient way possible. Honestly, it boggles the mind what kind of probabilistic contortions the universe had to go through to manifest a job in Victoria that wasn’t actually what I was after.

Magic is a truly Pythonesque example of an overly-literal, unhelpful-while-being-helpful shop assistant who will politely try and prevent you from getting what you want by doing exactly what you say.

Spray and pray

“Spray and pray” is  media slang for buying a lot of cheap, high-reach traffic and crossing your fingers that somehow you manage to reach the audience your client is looking for.

It works for magic.

Yes, yes. I should have specified my intent more clearly and blah blah blah. Whatever, I’m not new. It’s inelegant to think that magical statements of intent should sound like a five-year-old’s letter to Santa: “One pony please. Deirdre Mamet. Barnes. London. England. UK. Europe. Northern Hemisphere. The Earth. The Solar System. The Milky Way Galaxy. The Universe.”

You know why? Because it will always be something else. Your magic will always work… dickishly.

This is down to the fact that your magic is trying to do two things at once:

  • Move some high probability events a little bit.
  • Move some low probability events a lot.

If we were speculating, I would say this is why I had a bunch of phone interviews in Melbourne, ultimately got a job in Victoria in London but didn’t hear a peep from British Columbia. (Realistically the only other place that could emerge in response to “Victoria”.)

A job in BC would mean moving low probability events a lot. Like, a lot.

So what’s the solution? Spray and pray.

According to Saint Pareto, it’s much better for you to move a lot of high probability events a little bit than move a few low ones by quite a lot. Strategically, this will result in a much greater material change in your life.

How is that put into practice?

1. Multiple enchantments

The risk of them getting in the way of each other is substantially lower than the risk of you not correctly measuring the complexity of the situation… which is impossible anyway.

2. Sustained campaigns

Putting a dollar bill under a green candle and sitting back down in front of the TV isn’t going to cut it. Enchant. Act. Enchant again. Act again.

3. Own the chaos

Just admit that it isn’t actually your ineptitude and that the universe is going to be dickish in it’s results delivery. You can plan for that in your statements of intent.

4. Watch for signs

On my last trip back from Germany last week, I was once again catching the Friday night commuter flight back into London. Captains of Industry take this flight in their two thousand pound suits. I front up, half drunk on airport Riesling, wearing jeans and trainers.

It had been a week where I felt very My Fair Lady. There was me standing around talking strategy with senior management for Google and Facebook (I watched F8 with top Facestalk peeps) and, to a lesser extent, Yahoo (we just drank their free beer).

On this particular flight back I am seated next to the director of the Stuttgart Museum and spend an hour talking about the Viennese Actionists, the unacknowledged grandparents of chaos magic, because Stuttgart -a boring auto factory town- ended up with the best collection of their work in the world.

The whole time my spider sense was telling me this encounter was Significant. As we’re disembarking and I pull my unopened book from the pouch in the seat in front of me he asks what it is. It’s a lurid red hardback and had caught his eye. It’s Supergods. So I explain Grant Morrison in one sentence.

Recognition appears on my new friend’s face. “Huh. He used to send me stuff every month when I was running the Tate. I’m sure it’s all archived somewhere.”

So go for volume. It’s all archived somewhere.



Add yours
  1. 3
    Apel Mjausson

    Riveting read. Thanks for that, Gordon.

    There are a lot of different takes on why magic works the way it does. Over- and under-specificity usually factors into the various explanations I’ve heard. It’s tempting me to look for an over-arching explanation that would make sense of all the other unexpected results but that’s probably my human desire for finding patterns where there aren’t any.

    I hope winter doesn’t suck too badly.

  2. 4
    Simon Tomasi

    Great post! I love hearing about how you make chaos magic work in business. Your analysis of interviews is spot on. It’s only days after an interview that I grasp in what round-about way the interviewer was trying to extract a piece of information.

    Did you factor in to your sigils the “pull” that London exerts? It’s a city that’s hard to leave once she gets a hold over you.

  3. 5

    @Simon Ha. Sure is.


    1. But from a sigil factor I’m not sure how you’d factor something like that in without skewing other probabilities that are unknown. (Who wants a job in Azerbaijan, for instance?)

    2. I don’t ever want to unlink from London in any kind of way. (Or more accurately I can’t picture a scenario where that would be desirable. Tired of London, tired of life, as they say.)

    I think it comes down to this:

    Magical development is about improving performance rather than precision.

    Improving precision requires working with a low probability set (“heads or tails”) because that’s the only way you can be SURE of ALL POSSIBLE outcomes.

    But low probability sets are less likely to offer you the spectacular outcomes we tend to crave.

  4. 6

    I’ve been reading through many of your posts, enjoying them very much. Was originally linked to the sigil how to and will probably reboot a shitload of enchantments tonight. So THANK you for that!
    But regarding Cologne: It’s an incredibly magical place, and very layered. You cannot have experienced anything but the outermost post-war crust.
    If you ever come here again, mail me and I will defend my home town’s magical honor in a tour of the lower levels!

  5. 7

    The section on “Spray and Pray” is especially interesting to me at the moment. I’ve been doing this kind of work on my Tumblr blog which is designed to inspire creativity, as well as to hunt down and find pieces of Self in hiding. I’ve been a little worried that I’m aggravating many followers by flooding their dashes with my posts reblogged from various places, but you know, it works. Just this morning, I discovered a new follower who joined my list; one who has images that resonate so completely … exactly what I have been attempting to locate.

    I found her. The little one that got away, and it is so joyful!

    We work our magic in various ways. It is chaotic, yes, for this is the nature of chaos. But out of chaos, the order we seek is discovered.

    I SO love this work! :)

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