Bob Carr’s diary has been rightly ridiculed, but it’s actually a cracking read. Plus how to make your office ever so much more efficient, and sad meals in sadder kitchens.
Inside Carr’s diary. For much of Bob Carr’s Diary of a Foreign Minister, he is a man on a quest, working unceasingly to attain the ultimate prize. But it’s not world peace or a West Bank ceasefire that takes up his time. Carr is flying around the world in business class, eating bad food because he is trying to get Australia a seat on the United Nations Security Council.
I was reminded of Andrew Jennings’ seminal book on the modern Olympics, Lords of the Rings. In the book, subtitled “Power, Money and Drugs in the Modern Olympics”, a whole chapter is devoted to the extraordinary lengths the applicant countries go to in order to win the votes of the International Olympic Committee.
Carr’s quest was to secure the votes of the last, uncommitted countries before the ballot in October 2012 — a date that looms much larger in the narrative than the Australian election. Kevin Rudd announced the bid for the seat in 2008; four years and $25 million later, Australia was elected. To do it, Carr moved heaven and earth. One of his first jobs was to meet with the Burundi Foreign Minister to discuss an Australian aid project — edible mushrooms. Later he went to a museum exhibition about Kazakhstan because he:
” … had promised their ambassador he would go. I want their vote after all. I told the desk to let her know the Australian Foreign Minister had turned up and LOVED the archaeological treasures of nomad culture. Glad I did; there was a catalogue waiting for me. Their Ambassador had told the museum to expect (me). If we can clinch her vote … “
Carr writes that the President of Tanzania indicated his support because of Australian aid, “specifically the bridge built over a gorge — I think near where he lives. He said it was practical, small, specific. It helped farmers get to their fields and saved children from being taken by crocodiles.”
Carr was very taken by this. “Saves kids from crocodiles — I’ll use that.”
And so, like the Tanzanian children inching their way through the crocodile-infested waters, Australia slowly moved forward, all the way to a seat on the Security Council, thanks to the efforts of Diplomat Bob.
The book has been much criticised, but overall it’s fantastic — gossipy and revelatory, like a book version of House of Cards with Bob as the erudite, waspish narrator. The best diarists are unafraid of making themselves look ridiculous, and Carr indulges us, endlessly name-dropping and writing about his weird food habits. It’s a bit like Alan Clark, without the sex.
When he drops the Tom Wolfish-persona, however, he writes from the heart. One day his party passed an Indian cleaner at Singapore Airport, who deferentially jumped out of the way:
“I wish there had been a way to get a message to him. It would read: no-one in this delegation … deserves your deference. The Australian Foreign Minister in his navy-blue tailored suit and his Hermes tie — he grew up in a fibro house on a sandhill where bare feet wore out old lino and fried eggs on fried bread would pass as Sunday-night dinner. The Minister … is like all his ilk: making it up as he goes along, improvising and thinking out loud and hoping it all hangs together.”
No more email. If you want to work a four-day week in a company with burgeoning sales, $10 million in revenue and 70,000 customers, then send your resume into Treehouse, an online IT education company. Florida-based founder Ryan Carson told the Quartz website that everyone in the company works a 32-hour week because they have abolished internal email, meetings and job titles. “The overarching theme here is this: we treat our employees like the responsible adults they are. We let people set their own priorities and communicate when it’s most convenient for them.”
Carson, who likes to have three-day weekends with his family, said Treehouse’s 70 employees avoid facetime meetings and phone calls whenever possible.
“As you know, it completely wrecks your productivity when someone comes over to your desk and taps you on the shoulder or pulls you into a meeting. You have to stop what you’re doing and participate in a discussion, whether you really need to or not.”
However, if an employee needs an answer, he or she can ping you on Hipchat, allowing you to respond when convenient. “We remove the ‘I need to know ASAP!’ communication that is often so rampant in companies today,” Carson said.
For internal communications, employees use a tool called Convoy, which allows anyone to post something to an internal forum. You can look at it when you have time and you can put an @person tag in there so they will see it when they next log in. Work is allocated and completed using a tool called Flow, which people fill out when they have time.
For everyone who came to work exhausted this morning due to working on the weekend, Treehouse could be your dream job. No meetings, internal emails or spurious hierarchy — the office of the future.
Depressing meals. For those of us who spend way too much time looking at gastro-porn on social media, a new type of food site is a welcome change. As an antidote to all those artfully lit shots of kale salad, some clever person has started up Dimly Lit Meals for One, subtitled “Heartbreaking Tales of When Cooking Goes Wrong”.
“It shows what real people are doing in their kitchens,” explains Tom, the author, “in between drinking too much and staring bleakly at plates of overcooked pasta.”
Tom, who is British, said: “People feel really bad because the stuff they turn out can’t hope to look like something Nigella or Jamie would make. A lot of people can’t be arsed with chopping vegetables, sometimes we just look at what’s in the fridge and get filled with a deep sense of despair.”