The Problems with Insights Discovery Personality Assessments

I spent the last Thursday and Friday on a division-wide personality assessment workshop run by Insights Discovery.


The user completes 25 rounds of 4 multiple choice questions and the results are then compiled into a personal profile for the workshop. The assessment categorises different aspects of your personality into 4 colours, described above.

There are 72 types available based on the different possible colour mixes. The assessment is based on Jungian archetypes and is quite similar to the Myers-Briggs type indicators, which is largely pseudoscience. Psychologists don’t really use it, but businesses love it.


The participants were only given their personality profiles and shown their dominant colour “energies” at the end of the first day. Day 1 involved a lot of activities aimed at familiarising everyone with the different colour categories and given several opportunities to guess which colour was most dominant for them.

Activity example:

Each corner of the room had a table with cards on it for the different colours. The cards had words that were descriptive to the different colours. A blue card would say “accuracy”, a red card would say “Likes to be in the thick of the action”, a yellow card would say “bouyant”, and a green card would say “makes new friendships easily”.

Each participant had to pick three cards from each colour corner and give the ones which they felt were least descriptive of them to other participants. I ended up with blue cards in two similar activities but turned out to be red dominant with blue a close second. The two pics below are from my personal profile.



The Warnings

In the 100+ slides we went through over the two days there was exactly 1 that dealt with the dangers of categorising people into individual colour boxes and over-generalising the groups. Language like “red are so” and “yellow are always” was discouraged. Basically, they were advising against this becoming another form of discrimination and drumming it into our heads that people are mixes of colours, not individual colours.

The Language Use

The language use quickly switched to precisely what they were advising against, though. The facilitator used the incorrect phrasing as well as the participants.

One of the managers on the course jokingly said, “I think there’s a yellow in our team. We need to get rid of her”, and a green member of another team overheard and was deeply offended. In fact, the softer colours (green and yellow) were consistently getting the short end of the stick the whole way through the two day workshop.

The departments attending were expecting their members to be predominantly blue and red, so the greens and yellows were seen as outliers, oddballs, quirky, and less desirable. The “less desirable” bit was never explicitly articulated but it was heavily, heavily implied by all of the participants.

Despite the emphasis in the beginning on people being mixes of colours, all of the activities seemed designed to generalise the individual colours. We were broken up into our dominant colour groups and had to discuss topics like “how to identify a green person by their verbal cues, environment, and body language”. One guy was consistently mean about yellow while in the same breath saying his daughter was probably yellow.

There was a lot of grouping happening. “Oh, you’re green like HR” and “the head of [department] is also red”.

During discussions about how to engage with the different colours there were bizarrely superficial descriptions tossed around. It was actually implied that yellow people (*cringe*) are too fun-loving to be able to read through a detailed, important, serious work email. How insulting. During the same discussion I had to say that, as the only red dominant person in the workshop, red people (Christ) are more than just the colour and would still feel hurt if they received an abrasive email or be concerned that someone was angry at them if the tone was too terse or formal.

While brainstorming the verbal cues to identify a green person (ugh) I said they might start a sentence with “I feel” or “we can”, which elicited a groan from one of the blue-dominant participants. I tried a feeble defense saying that it’s not always a bad thing to start sentences that way (obviously), to which guy A jokingly replied, “har har I’ll have to disagree!”

I found myself playing into the different colours I was told were dominant. During an exercise to design a team building exercise I was in the blue team and I helped put together a detailed what/where/when/where/how bullet-point list with costs, locations etc. even though my first instinct was just to scribble “paintball” and be done with it.

Talks spiraled into what type of car a colour would drive, what type of clothes they’d wear, and their level of organisation.

Participants who had similar profiles to those in management positions were plumped up and bolstered with approving pats on the back. “Ah, we’re looking at the next head of [department]!” However, the negative was then inferred by participants. If their profile is not like a senior manager’s profile then perhaps that means they could never be in her position.

Additionally, there was a lot of talk about an authentic self and staying true to your persona, but then mention would be made about improving around that and possibly changing due to drastic life events, which was enough of an un-explained contradiction to make me feel slightly uncomfortable.

I don’t want to go into too much detail about the scientific accuracy of the assessment because that could be a full post on its own and has also already been done by people far more qualified than I. I do just want to note that the way the Less Conscious graph (look on the right of the last image above) is calculated irked me. This graph looks at the inverse of your answers. For example, the opposite of red is green so if you are indicating high red in your responses then the remaining value to the top of the graph is populated with green. 97% red therefore = 3% green. After asking the facilitator for clarification twice I understand how the graph is generated but I don’t follow how it can be said to depict your Less Conscious behaviour. Mapping inverse colours seems to be less “figuring out your Less Conscious behaviour” and more “just a thing they are doing”.


The resulting categorisations are accurate enough. I’d give mine about an 80% accuracy rating in a strict work context and the detailed write-ups about a 60%. However, the application is problematic. It’s easier to workshop 4 colours rather than various colour mixes.

The survey that spits out the resulting profile would be mood and situational dependent and is unable to know what we are already aware of, listing our weaknesses as “blind spots”. Less self-reflective people may be more easily influenced by the lengthy write-ups.

The facilitator said that when a person undergoes notable life-changes or if a few years have passed they can redo the test. They may find that they can shift 45° in either direction, which removes any replicability requirement for scientific measure.

The workshop does encourage thought about other types and tries to stretch this into empathy and compassion, but that seems to stop with the individuals participating. If you’re a bit of an ass then you’re going to be like the “har har green people amirite” guy.

It feels like these exercises are just corporates attempting to iron the kinks out of their employees. “Oh, you’re too blue, you need to socialise more. Green, you need to ramp up your red energy and challenge more. Wait, not that much.” Just like annual performance reviews it creates a space to nit-pick minor personality flaws and differences rather than encouraging genuine tolerance, which, despite being the intended goal, seems to be missed 9 times out of 10.

Affirmative Action is Important

I was trying to fit this into a tweet and failing, so here’s a blog post instead.

I’ve been hearing a lot of whiny buzzing lately around affirmative action. I assume it’s just in my circle because I haven’t been seeing it get any additional play online. Nevertheless, it gets my teeth grinding.

The commentary generally follows this line:
Person A: We’re looking for a [job title] and [division head] wants us to hire a black person, but all of the best applicants so far have been white. Ugh, it’s so frustrating.


Let’s assume that “best applicant” generally means the following and not consider additional biases like “but he had nice eyes”, which I’ve legitimately heard before:
1.   Went to the best school
2.   Went to the best university
3.   Worked at the best companies
4.   Demonstrates the most knowledge in the field

The majority of white South Africans are economically privileged enough to attend top private and public primary schools in the country, which would gain them enough cultural capital to be accepted to the best high schools. This background, combined with a high likelihood that their parents could afford it, would result in them going to whichever university was their first choice with the only real determining factor being their marks. If they’d been in a decent high school then they would have received plenty of support from teachers, parents, other students, extra-mural tutoring, and programs like Master Maths in order to make sure they received the marks they needed. They wouldn’t have studied while hungry, and most likely would not have had to worry about their home environment at the time either.

So these white students now get into UCT, Stellies, Wits, Potch, Rhodes, or whichever South African varsity they’ve picked based on where their friends are going and the courses they’re interested in. After university they go straight into a company like Quirk, Kalahari, Takealot, or Woolworths because they have the degree from the university that those managers actively seek out or they have contacts inside the company.

Their non-white counterparts may have had to get student loans to attend UNISA, UWC, or Cape Tech. Maybe their classes were disrupted at KZN by the annual protests and they had to drop out because they couldn’t afford to pay for another year of studies to make up for lost time or they lost their bursary because they were called home to deal with family issues. Yes, these events affect white students too, of course. Not all white students would be coming from a financially privileged background, but black students are disproportionately affected. Furthermore, although there is a new black middle class in South Africa this first generation wealth still lacks the intergenerational support white families would be more likely to receive. This puts a lot of pressure on the resources of those families, making issues like university fee increases difficult issues, as we’re seeing at the moment with student protests around the country.

For more info on this issue of increasing university fees see Johan Fourie’s post:

By my estimates, at least 95% of South Africans cannot afford to spend R100 000 a year to send their kids to varsity (which would include tuition fees, accommodation, textbooks, and spending money). To give some context, only 4% of South African households earn R500 000 per year or more. Most students need a loan, as I did and almost all of my friends. But we were the lucky ones. Many students’ parents simply don’t have the collateral to get loans. Some parents saved throughout their adult lives, forgoing many things to give their kids the opportunity of a better life.

Getting into the head office of a household-name company in Cape Town is hard and it can be even more impenetrable when you don’t have the “acceptable” credentials to back up your application. Even someone with, say, a Bachelor of Business Science Marketing Honours degree from UCT needs to be trained up to operate appropriately and efficiently in their first job. However, white applicants with that background will interview “better” because their manager is likely white. She won’t struggle to understand the applicant’s accent and they’ll be able to bond over a chat about how great the sushi at Willoughby’s is. This is what an episode of FiveThirtyEight’s What’s the Point podcast phrased as wanting “someone who reminds me of me”. A homogeneous culture breeds more of the same because people get along easier with the familiar. There are several great studies demonstrating this. To mention one, an orchestra conducting blind auditions recruited more women than previously, indicating unconscious gender bias in the original selection process. Interviewers had been judging female applicants more harshly than their male counterparts.

This is why affirmative action is important and why [division head] is correct to request that the most suitable black applicant be chosen to fill the vacancy. The applicant may not have the preferred background (Herschel > UCT > Kalahari) but to dismiss her on those grounds would be to re-entrench the systematic issues affirmative action is working to correct. To hand-wave and say, “This white applicant worked at Kalahari but this black applicant didn’t”, doesn’t suitably address why that may be the case. It’s not impossible that the same hand-waving happened at Kalahari because of the black applicant’s background. And so it goes on.

Diversity, and I’m not just talking about racial diversity here, can benefit a company in so many ways. To continuously hire people with the exact same degree from the exact same university, for example, can lead to stagnant, tired points of view that don’t challenge existing ways of thinking. A culturally diverse workforce could lead to greater cultural sensitivity and empathy, and that type of compassion could make people better workers when dealing with the day-to-day stresses of office life. It could also benefit a company’s turnover. Consider, for example, how a company of primarily white English staff would know how to create an advertisement that would appeal to the whole country. They might not make a complete mess of things but chances are they’ll miss the mark enough never to be quite as successful as they could have been if they’d widened their hiring pool in the recruiting process.

Eventually things will turn around. A black office worker in the Pick ‘n Pay head office may have entered in part because of affirmative action but she’ll gradually work herself up the ladder and be able to afford to send her kids to the best schools available. They’ll get into the top universities and gain access to top companies. It will take a few generations though and that’s why starting now is so important.

I’m not sure how I ever thought this would fit into a tweet.

Winning the War Against Nuclear Energy

“He’s ready for you, Mr President.”

Jacob Zuma lifted the phone to his face with sweaty palms. Clearly his throat loudly, he greeted the mouthpiece. “Good day, Vladimir. Thank you for agreeing to speak with me on this fine morning.”

He listened through the soft crackling delay until a thick Russian accent greeted back. “Good evening, Jacob. You do realise that the weather is different here, right?”

“Heh heh heh,” Zuma chuckled. “Of course, Mr President. I was only making a joke.”

Putin sighed. “Of course you were.” His sentence ended with some aggressive slurping of what Zuma assumed had to be vodka. “So what is the reason for this call? I’m teaching my bear how to drive a submarine at 10 so I can’t talk for long.”

Fidgeting with the phone cord, Zuma cleared his throat three more times. “Well, you see, the thing is,” he hedged, “the thing is that, well, I mean, you’ve got to, understand this is coming from, a, position of wanting, you know, just good relations, between our countries and, well, you know, um.”

He was rudely interrupted by a thud from Putin’s fist on some faraway Russian table, discernible but muted through the phone. “Chyort! Spit it out, man.”

Spluttering, Zuma turned to placating his foreign counterpart. “You must forgive me, Mr President. These are, hard things to talk about, and our relationship is, important to me.”

Clearing his throat a fourth time he regained his composure, he continued. “Something has, come to my attention that, I think you should know, about. It’s a website. It’s called Koeberg Alert. It, um, well, it talks about what a bad idea our deal is. You know, the one with the nuclear power plants? That expensive one? It’s really enlightening and I, er, I think you should read it.”

“Ty che, blyad? I remember the deal. Let me look at this site.” Calling away from the mouthpiece in incomprehensible Russian Putin ordered an aide to pull up the site on his screen for him. He scanned the site, reading silently for a few minutes with a furrowed brow. He picked up the phone again. “Hello?”

“Yes, yes, Vlad. I am still here.”

“I see what you mean, Jacob. Very interesting.”

Zuma sighed with relief. “That is good news.”

“I still don’t care though.”

“Wha… what? Sorry, say again?”

“Jacob, I don’t care. We’ve made a deal. You know how much I love nuclear. This is important to me. That should matter to you.”

“But Vlad, it does. It does. I’m not saying I don’t care about what you care about. You know I give you nice things all the time.”

Putin frowned, mumbling, “Well it wouldn’t kill you to say nice things once in a while too. What are you suggesting with this? That we cancel our deal?”

“This looks quite bad, my dear Putin. They’re saying, we don’t have the money. They’re saying nuclear, energy might not be a good choice for us. There could be, at least 50 people, my citizens, who are actively, campaigning against this deal. 50, Vlad. And they really, seem to know their stuff.”

Putin was standing now, his knuckles going white as he clenched the phone. “I am not pulling out of this deal, Jacob. This is like the other night all over again.”

“But we can’t go ahead with it. I mean, we shouldn’t,” Jacob pleaded in a soft, crooning voice. But all he heard was the rapid beeping of a disconnected phone line. The President of Russia had hung up.

Cradling his head in his hands Zuma summoned his secretary. “Get Barack on the line.”

Minutes passed. “Hello, this is Barack speaking.”

“Mr President, thank you for your time. I need your advice.”

“Is this about Vladimir again? Jacob, you know I don’t like weighing in on your relationship.”

“I know, Barack, but this time it’s serious. I tried to call off the nuclear deal.”

“What? Why?”

“I found a website. Koeberg Alert. They say it’s not a good idea.”

“Wow, Jacob. This is big. I wish you’d brought this to my attention before.”

“I only discovered it today. I called Vlad immediately. He doesn’t want to back out though. What should I do?”

Obama swiveled back and forth in his chair, thinking. “I’ve struggled to get through to him for years. He never comes round. I’d recommend sanctions, but that might damage your relationship irreparably.”

“That’s what I want to avoid.”

“Very well. Then maybe offer some sort of cancellation fee. 1/10 of the deal agreement with no nuclear program.”

“Barack, you’re a genius. I will run it by Koeberg Alert and hope they go for it.”

“Thank you, Jacob. They don’t call me the ruler of the free world for nothing. Good luck.”

How the World Will End: Scenario 1

  1. Weaponised Cephalopods

They’d been warning us for years with their quick-darting eyes and rapid ink attacks but all we did was incorporate their suction cups into our hentai fantasies and underwater adventure fiction. Sure, we studied them, but those who came close to understanding the full potential of the species were shunned by other scientific communities and chuckled at sympathetically by society. It was only a matter of time, really.

It began quietly, as all coups do. Tip-tentacling softly when the moon was new they first targeted marine monitoring systems. Radars, sensors, nets, cameras, and divers disappeared noiselessly, leaving behind eerie archival footage of swarms of shadows and limbs. But it was late and we weren’t watching the webcams. The submarines were next, driven down to crush depth. The outer hulls snapped first followed by the fuel tanks, air tanks, and then the inner hull – a cascading disaster preceding walls of water. The tangle spun the subs like turbines to make it impossible for the crew to relay messages to shore.

The revolution was getting louder. Ships were noticing the attacks and rallying but the octopods were already on the offensive, surging out of the water onto the decks. The ships were too well-designed to be dragged down or pierced, but rock-hewn weapons were lethal when wielded against humans. Shock and confusion contributed to the removal of the human crew with few cephalopod casualties; even when a cephalopod was wrapped around a defender she would still be looking for human enemies.

Arriving in an uncountable mass they lurched from the ocean. They moved along the coast like the tenth plague, capturing harbours, seaside military bases, and towns, abandoning detailed strategy and relying on numbers. The plan was to destroy military infrastructure and preserve civilian infrastructure, so there were only handfuls of regional blackouts and quickly extinguished fires accidentally caused by panicky humans.

The takeover took a tiring 8 months. Densely populated areas like Hong Kong and Bangladesh took longer to clean out. After the octopi were certain that the majority of the human threat had been dealt with they dispatched small roving parties to seek out any hidden humans while the rest began re-organising the fallen human bodies so they weren’t in inconvenient places. The bodies would be left to decompose naturally over time; the octopi didn’t mind the smell. Construction soon began on the new cephalopod kingdom with deconstructed pieces of houses and buildings. Renewable materials were favoured to build a sweeping cityscape connecting land nearly imperceptibly to ocean so the cephalopods could splash around on land and then dive into the deeper seawater.

Safe from natural predators in their new watery land and with more roaming habitat than they had ever dreamed of before, they aged into an expansive, mature civilisation far more advanced than the early bipedal landowners.

And then they turned their desires to the sky.

Good Luck Chuck v2

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Yesterday I had the misfortune of watching a horrible comedy film called Good Luck Chuck. It was sexist, homophobic, and, perhaps most offensively of all, entirely unfunny. It served the purpose of creating mindless background noise while I worked on other things.

The plot centres around a man called Charlie who, as a child, is cursed by a young girl who has an unreciprocated crush on him. Every woman he goes out with will subsequently leave him and end up marrying the very next person she dates. This naturally spirals into a sex frenzy when he is an adult and women start to realise that all they have to do to get married is to sleep with him. Poor Charlie, of course, meets one girl he doesn’t want to leave him and jumps through bizarre hoops to keep her. Obviously, everything works out in the end.

Ignoring the crass sexist overtones and poorly scripted humour I began to wonder what an improved version of this movie would actually look like. What I began brainstorming was a far darker version. I imagine the movie poster would be more like You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger.


Charlie Logan is cursed as a child. Every person he sleeps with will fall in love with the next person they date and end up in a committed relationship to them. Fast forward to today and word has begun to spread that he is a lucky charm with this weird gift to unite people who may not otherwise have ended up together. He is flooded with wedding, baptism, and bris invitations and begins to occupy a world in which people only want to date him as a stepping stone to their next relationship.

He quits his dental practice and opens up an agency which serves the sole purpose of having sex with people who are lonely and looking to find post-Charlie love. The money starts flowing in and he capitalises on the attention by charging exorbitant fees. He is indiscriminate and sleeps with men, women, gays, lesbians, transsexuals etc. while his childhood friend, Stu, watches on in slight amusement at how superstition can fuel people’s desperation. As far as he sees it, these people paying Charlie are so eager to fall in love that they are willing to believe anything no matter how unlikely if it means possibly finding happiness. At this point Charlie has been doing this for a decade and the urban legend is too socially embedded for Stu to do anything about it.

So he begins to design a scientific experiment to refute it with the null hypothesis that there is no significant difference in the relationship outcome of people Charlie sleeps with than with the general population. Charlie’s clients are all catalogued in the Pastel accounting system. Stu sneaks into Charlie’s office after hours one night and downloads a copy of the database to an external drive and, when he’s back at his place, begins researching the individuals and crunching some numbers. At this point the sample is substantial. At the start of Charlie’s agency the demand and popularity had encouraged him to see up to 4 people a day. He quickly learned that this was an exhausting pace and only kept this up for 100 working days in the first year, dropping to 2 people a day for 80 working days the next year, and then soon deciding to increase his prices to $25,000 a session so he only had to see 1 person for 1 day a week in each year thereafter, with continued price increases as the years went by. This resulted in a sample of 880 clients and a very wealthy Charlie. Charlie had hired a secretary and installed a decent invoicing system half way through his first year so not all of his clients are easily contactable. In the end Stu is able to find the whereabouts and relationship statuses of 800 former clients of Charlie Logan.

After charting the database Stu works out that the largest sample (45%) is heterosexual Caucasian women between ages 26 and 35, so he chooses to use this sample of 360 as his primary base. He breaks down the geographic locations of the group. Charlie works out of Chicago so the majority of the sample is from surrounding states. Stu excludes extreme outliers who had the money to fly in from far away states and countries. Because different lengths of time have passed since they visited Charlie their relationship statuses are, to his mind, more likely to be married or in some form of fixed, monogamous relationship, not just because that is the nature of the curse but also because that is the nature of the human cultural narrative. Through social media and direct contact he is able to determine that it takes an average of 35 weeks after seeing Charlie for these women to publicly announce their permanent commitment to another man. He scratches around to find the range but the standard deviation is 0. Every woman in this group took exactly 35 weeks and every single one is in a committed relationship after that period. A 100% success rate with no variation. Impossible. He had intended to construct some sort of retrospective control group to compare to but this unlikely result throws him. He re-does his numbers from scratch and gets the same result. Then he opens the sample up, re-adding in previously excluded outliers, other demographics, age groups etc. Still 35 weeks across the board.

Taking a step back from his data something eerier begins to emerge. It is qualitative and still very anecdotal, and he had only made hasty scribbles in the margin of his notebook while he had been researching each individual. None of these people seem to be happy. A handful are in abusive relationships with alcoholics or people with violent temperaments. Some previously successful career women are now stay-at-home moms for entire broods of children. Some have undergone cosmetic surgery, even transgender surgery in some cases, in order to please their partners.

Now entirely enthralled with this dataset Stu begins researching the group with this new approach in mind. What he finds is a dark string of suicides, murders, and addictions. The dissatisfaction and misery he’s now chronicling is indisputably above the national average. No relationship ever ends in divorce, amicable or otherwise, and no relationship is ever ended by the non-Charlie-client spouse. It is as though the curse also makes the partner of the client fall irrevocably in love with the client. It makes them possessive and obsessive, bringing out their worst personality traits, however dormant, and exacerbating already present or suppressed issues, like alcoholism and dangerous fetishes. The client’s life is threatened if they try to leave or the partner will threaten self-harm to manipulate the client to maintain the relationship. This warped but reciprocated obsession transforms the clients into desperate, monotonous drones who forget their previous selves and seek only to please and placate their partners, resulting in cycles of abuse and depression (something Stu identifies as hallmarks of the curse) that are only broken by aggressive acts of human nature, forcefully breaking the spell through violence, as though parts of the clients always know they are trapped but can’t actively do anything to remove themselves from the situation.

Stu works on this research for months, a single man in a room filled with obsessively scribbled notes in black ink and torn pages from transcribed conversations with weeping or stony-faced former clients. Eventually he is able to compile a report with a quantitative focus that maintains the original voices of the clients and emails the 80 pages to Charlie’s secretary.

A few days pass without a word from Charlie and Stu begins to wonder if he had seen the report. Maybe he is angry at Stu for invading his privacy or questioning his work ethic. Maybe the secretary had never even passed the report on to Charlie. Stu goes round to Charlie’s office to speak with him directly. He finds Charlie and his secretary hanging by the neck from the ceiling fan in his office, side by side, heads tilted as if in thought, feet dangling.

Darkness ~ Lord Byron

I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguish’d, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air;
Morn came and went—and came, and brought no day,
And men forgot their passions in the dread
Of this their desolation; and all hearts
Were chill’d into a selfish prayer for light:
And they did live by watchfires—and the thrones,
The palaces of crowned kings—the huts,
The habitations of all things which dwell,
Were burnt for beacons; cities were consum’d,
And men were gather’d round their blazing homes
To look once more into each other’s face;
Happy were those who dwelt within the eye
Of the volcanos, and their mountain-torch:
A fearful hope was all the world contain’d;
Forests were set on fire—but hour by hour
They fell and faded—and the crackling trunks
Extinguish’d with a crash—and all was black.
The brows of men by the despairing light
Wore an unearthly aspect, as by fits
The flashes fell upon them; some lay down
And hid their eyes and wept; and some did rest
Their chins upon their clenched hands, and smil’d;
And others hurried to and fro, and fed
Their funeral piles with fuel, and look’d up
With mad disquietude on the dull sky,
The pall of a past world; and then again
With curses cast them down upon the dust,
And gnash’d their teeth and howl’d: the wild birds shriek’d
And, terrified, did flutter on the ground,
And flap their useless wings; the wildest brutes
Came tame and tremulous; and vipers crawl’d
And twin’d themselves among the multitude,
Hissing, but stingless—they were slain for food.
And War, which for a moment was no more,
Did glut himself again: a meal was bought
With blood, and each sate sullenly apart
Gorging himself in gloom: no love was left;
All earth was but one thought—and that was death
Immediate and inglorious; and the pang
Of famine fed upon all entrails—men
Died, and their bones were tombless as their flesh;
The meagre by the meagre were devour’d,
Even dogs assail’d their masters, all save one,
And he was faithful to a corse, and kept
The birds and beasts and famish’d men at bay,
Till hunger clung them, or the dropping dead
Lur’d their lank jaws; himself sought out no food,
But with a piteous and perpetual moan,
And a quick desolate cry, licking the hand
Which answer’d not with a caress—he died.
The crowd was famish’d by degrees; but two
Of an enormous city did survive,
And they were enemies: they met beside
The dying embers of an altar-place
Where had been heap’d a mass of holy things
   For an unholy usage; they rak’d up,
And shivering scrap’d with their cold skeleton hands
The feeble ashes, and their feeble breath
Blew for a little life, and made a flame
Which was a mockery; then they lifted up
Their eyes as it grew lighter, and beheld
Each other’s aspects—saw, and shriek’d, and died—
Even of their mutual hideousness they died,
Unknowing who he was upon whose brow
Famine had written Fiend. The world was void,
The populous and the powerful was a lump,
Seasonless, herbless, treeless, manless, lifeless—
A lump of death—a chaos of hard clay.
The rivers, lakes and ocean all stood still,
And nothing stirr’d within their silent depths;
Ships sailorless lay rotting on the sea,
And their masts fell down piecemeal: as they dropp’d
They slept on the abyss without a surge—
The waves were dead; the tides were in their grave,
The moon, their mistress, had expir’d before;
The winds were wither’d in the stagnant air,
And the clouds perish’d; Darkness had no need
Of aid from them—She was the Universe.

Sexist Salespeople in South African Tech Stores

This is a cross-post from Bryan Gruneberg, shared here with permission.


Our Sunday morning was a rush. My wife needed to get to work and I had offered to drive with her. If you are thinking that because she has to work on a Sunday she must work a fairly entry level job, possibly in front-of-house sales, you’d be very wrong. She in fact holds an analyst position at a listed South Africa company that has a cool 41 billion Rand market cap. She had to be at work because at the end of each month she helps oversee and coordinate a statement month end run to millions of customers. This project costs millions of Rand monthly, and brings in millions of Rand monthly. The responsibility is huge. I don’t believe that a person’s worth is related to their responsibility necessarily, but I am very proud of my wife and what she does. She works with data and tech everyday and we co-own all the tech in our lives: our smart TV was tested, selected and paid for together. Our final smartphone choices are the result of hours of discussion, fun banter, brand loyalty defense, and product comparison. We are even starting some fully online business ventures together. I am giving you this background so that you can understand the context of our experience when shopping for tech together.

After checking the multimillion Rand campaign and interrogating the analytics data of probably one of the largest consumer data sets in South Africa, while I sat quietly in the background planning my week in my moleskin journal (notice the contrast? She is working the Hi-tech, I’m the one working the Low? Good.), we decided a breakfast had been earned. My wife through her tireless commitment to performing the work she is paid well to do, and me through my tireless commitment to Scotch on Saturday nights (ok I work hard too!).

We love bacon, and if you don’t, please rethink your life choices immediately. Suffice it to say that the words “extra bacon” were uttered many times to our waiter, who largely complied with our requests, and delivered on our expectations. Our porky desires satiated, we went for a stroll through the mall. Little did we know what sexist awfulness awaited us.

Please think momentarily back past the pork if you are able (bacon!). We are both very tech-savvy people. Notice that I didn’t say “my wife is tech-savvy, and I’m a coder”. We both code. Tech is just as much an integral part of all aspects of her life as it is of mine. In actual fact there are space sciences and technologies that she knows way more about than I ever will. One of my real joys in life is talking to my wife about space, science, the things happening on the ISS, planetary astronomy, and astronauts because she is so much more knowledgeable than I am in these fields, and I get to learn crazy incredible things from her. Something else that you need to know is that of the two of us, she instinctively does a lot more upfront comparative tech product analysis.

We were excited to see that Samsung had taken over the exhibition space in the middle of the center for what looked like a launch of the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge. We are both Android people (although I admittedly have been eyeing an iPhone of late), so we were both very excited to see what Samsung had done with the Edge. We walked into the exhibit, immediately sought out two demo units tethered to display cabinets and began playing with settings. My wife whips out her HTC One and begins a side-by-side comparison of the displays, features and general interface. We immediately agree that there is still something gaudy about the Samsung offering, but its quite beautiful in many ways. A sales person wanders over to me, and the horrors begin.

The horrors being with a white male salesperson coming over to ME. Not to us, not to her, to ME. I don’t immediately notice that it is only me being recognized as a potential buyer. My wife notices – she should notice – but she keeps her disappointment to herself. Why make a scene, right? Unluckily for the sales person, he chose the least social of our couple to engage with, and I wave him away with a mild disregard. Not because I’ve noticed his unacceptable sexist attitude, but because I can’t stand tech sales people that don’t have advanced engineering training, and who could (and should) be easily replaced by an interactive touchscreen display. If only he’d known that my wife is quite sociable, and likes geeking-out about tech. He could have gotten two forms filled in. It is Samsung’s loss. But is it?

Moments later another salesperson appeared. An Indian female sales person. We’re were still playing, and as I am an equal-opportunity-salesperson-dismisser, she was waved off by me with as much subtle contempt as the first person was. Waved off by me. Not us. And not my wife. By me. Again disappointed she said nothing. Again the salesperson and Samsung lost out on another two entries into their promotion. Their loss. But is it?

Having test driven the S6 we decided it was time to move on. I left feeling somewhat disappointed by the S6 interface. My wife left feeling disappointed for quite a different reason.

We meandered down the mall, and passed the Samsung store. The store was full of promotion girls and boys donning cameras and making creating a spectacle with their customers. It looked awful, but mostly because of what you already know about me and salespeople. However I was immediately reminded of a terrible experience we had in that store about 6 months before. We were on the hunt for a UltraHD TV, and had gone to see what Samsung had to offer. Both my wife and I were geeking-out at the specs, and a particularly awful salesperson placed himself between myself and my wife with his back to her and spoke directly to me. Because I couldn’t stand him, and his tactics this time were horribly transparent, insulting and frankly nauseating, we left almost immediately. And I won’t go back there. Their loss. But is it?

We ended up buying a lovely UltraHD TV from LG that same day months ago. We got it at a steal. On the day we bought it I was completely convinced it would fit on one of the walls of our lounge. My wife was unconvinced, and we took a small bet: Whoever was wrong would buy the TV. It was a fun bet because we have operated a joint cheque account since about 6 months before we got married. We were buying it together regardless of who won. For the record, my wife’s spatial perception memory is way better than mine. She was spot on!

So back to our Sunday of sexism, we carried on past Samsung and found ourselves walking by our LG Store – the same one where we had fond memories of a non-sexist engagement after a particularly terrible Samsung sexism. In the middle of the store I saw that they had a display of the LG G3, and with the Samsung S6 freshly in my mind, I thought it would be cool to compare the two products. We went in together, I started playing with one of the tablets, while my wife started flicking through the options on the G3, audibly noting the feature differences to me. It turns out that our previous experience was a completely lucky event.

The salesperson came directly over to us and greeted me by saying “Good day Sir”. I sort of grunted hi, and my wife said hi in an attempt to engage him. He dismissively said hi back to her, and then asked ME if he can help ME! I didn’t immediately notice how ridiculous and sexist this whole engagement was, and I half-replied by telling him we were comparing the LG offering to the Samsung offering, but don’t need any of his help (read: said politely please god leave me alone immediately).

But this time it is clear that my wife has had all the disappointment she can take for one day. She had been actively excluded from taking part in three product showcase opportunities because the people who she could have geeked-out with – the very people who are employed to geek-out with potential consumers – would not acknowledge her as a individual, let alone as an consumer!

After three horrific engagements, she let me into her world of disappointment. She was a bit angry, a bit put off, but mostly massively sad and disappointed. Disappointed in the salespeople, disappointed in the experience, disappointed in the brands themselves, and disappointed that she has to go through life working as hard (harder probably) as I do, to be continually cast down as a second rate consumer and individual who will not ever be engaged directly about things that she is passionate about.

I’ve said over and over that this is their loss, but is it?

It really is not just their loss. These actions have effects. They have effects on my wife’s self confidence, on her self image, and the image she has of her gender more generally. Through their unthinking and deeply embedded sexism these salespeople from both genders, and different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, have effectively dehumanized and subordinated her to a second class consumer. And this is unacceptable in modern society and damaging to a modern economy.

As consumers and business leaders in a fast paced and hyper-connected economy we have to demand more from people. These salespeople need training. The sexist and racist assumptions embedded into people’s everyday approach to common economic transactions have to be checked, because they have real effects on people. In my opinion business leaders have a moral obligation here. The irrational economic premises embedded in a front-of-house salesperson which effectively halve (if not more) a companies potential market will probably be corrected in the market as marketers will figure out how to sell their wares to women. Women currently have to largely “put up” with this sexist environment because the imperative to have technology in order to be competitive and to be connected will probably outweigh most peoples moral desire (when it even exists) to resist this embedded sexism.

But lets not kid ourselves. It is not Samsung’s loss, and it is not LG’s loss. The entrenched sexism has an effect on real people. It reinforces the social stratification that says women are less than men in the minds of men, and in the minds of women. It reinforces the idea that technology is for boys, and not for girls. And it means that my wife – who is a foot smarter than me in my estimation – loses the drive and desire to be in the technology sector because her gender means that she doesn’t get to play. This is a loss for me, it is a very real loss for her, and taken to the extreme where this happens to millions of women world wide and daily, it is a massive loss for our economy and the progress of our society.


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