My brother works for a large bank in their IT department. Last week he received a disturbing note from his boss:
Our main objective next week will be to enter our objectives in the performance objectives document.
Apart from being couched in the worst kind of ‘Human Resources’ jargon it raises two very troubling questions:
a) Given that this is itself an ‘objective’, should it be listed along with all other ‘objectives’ in the ‘objectives document’?
b) If the answer is ‘Yes’, then should it first be entered and then erased, since, once all objectives are listed, this particular objective has been achieved and it ceases to be an ‘objective’.
This puts me in mind of Bertrand Russell’s struggle with the notion of a ‘set’, a concept he needed in order to derive mathematics from logic, an enterprise he embarked on with Alfred North Whitehead and published between 1910 and 1913 as Principia Mathematica.
A set is defined in terms of a property possessed by its members. Assuming that a set can contain sets it seems legitimate to ask if a set can be a member of itself (for example the set of all sets contains itself).
Some sets are members of themselves and some are not. It seems legitimate, therefore, to ask if there is a set of all sets that are not members of themselves. But then you run into a paradox: if the set is a member of itself then it cannot be, and if it is not a member of itself, it must be. Russell had to invent a somewhat arbitrary Theory of Types (a hierarchy of sets) to rescue the enterprise, but it was not convincing.
Troubled in a similar kind of way, my brother wrote back to his boss:
Would the objective to enter objectives also be one of the objectives to be entered in the objectives document? I think we need to know.
His boss replied rather enigmatically:
It is actually part of the ‘Performance calendar topic’ which we all need to achieve as BAU.
I do not understand what this means (but BAU is apparently an acronym for Business As Usual).
It is not often that the world of work is troubled by deep logical issues, such as even the masters of world thought have struggled with. But when it is, we need direction from our managers.