I have been mulling over the nature of work. Or maybe work in the corporate world. It's hard for me to know for sure as I've worked in the corporate world now for 13 years. In those 13 years much has changed, and most of it for the better. But on the flip side, it does feel like things are getting tighter and tighter and smaller and smaller.
While I have, supposedly, climbed the ladder to some degree, the freedom and scope in my work have in many ways contracted. And I don't think it's just my company, or just the corporate/financial world - I think it's a general trend.
Everywhere these days, in politics, education, and corporations, there is a tighter focus on keeping the firm on message, and in funnelling more and more decision making into specialised approval channels. Workers are safer and more supported than ever - and no, we don't want to give that up of course - but on the other hand they are also more constrained and less able to follow their own head and make judgement calls. This has an impact I'm sure. Without exercising decision-making muscles, they don't develop, or they soften. The outcome is a firm full of workers who are compliant, resentful and unable to make decisions or drive outcomes.
I don't want to romanticise non-corporate work either. I did my share in other jobs, and while I enjoyed them all for awhile, my main memory from those days is of the sheer grind, low pay and feeling of being left behind while others surged ahead.
So, clearly, there's no pleasing me. I don't know whether this is because I have never found work that truly suits me, or because this is just the way all work is. But I think it's a combination of both.
A story in The Age today left me gobsmacked. It sure was a different world back in 1954.
The British National Archives have released papers relating to the defection of Vladimir and Evdokia Petrov, which included the infamous episode of Evdokia Petrova being dragged aboard a plane from Sydney by KGB agents, and then defecting from Darwin when the aircraft refuelled. The refuelling and defection were facilitated by the pilot and stewards of BOAC, it would seem.
So this is an extraordinary tale, and it would have been extraordinary in 1954 as well. And the cold war (from distant memory of living in its final stages a couple of decades ago) made things very different to how they are today. This was a world in which a British flight crew was very much working for the British government and for the fight against the Soviet threat - not just on flying a plane from Sydney to Moscow.
In that world it was not odd for flight staff to assist a woman on the plane to defect.
But what struck me was the way the staff worked together, if you piece together the fragments of information:
The pilot, Captain John Davys, instructed the crew to "help" Mrs Petrova but doesn't appear to have given detailed instructions, warnings, caveats, threats or even guidelines in how to get this done.
The stewardess Joyce Bull and steward Stephen Muir "struck up a conversation" and "asked if she wanted to say anything".
Steward Muir conducted his conversation with Mrs Petrova including offers of help, encouragement and reassurance, seemingly off his own bat and without reference to any other party. This might not be the case of course - he could have been relaying each development to a superior with a "Leave it with me" or an "I'll get right back to you" to Mrs Petrova at every step - but it doesn't read that way.
Everyone did what they thought they should do, and everyone knew what to do.
Captain Davys opined in the secret report: ''I considered that Steward R. D. Muir is to be commended as it was largely due to his tact in handling the situation that induced Mrs Petrov to make her stand.''
These days, I just can't imagine things working this way. What steward would be entrusted with such a momentous task? And what captain would give him his head to such a degree to achieve it?