Churchill’s Secret War – How The Pouter Was Born

“Fight Against Stupidity And Bureaucracy”

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“History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.”

Sir Winston Churchill

 

By and large the above statement is true. History does remember Sir Winston Churchill well. He was a remarkable war leader for Britain and indeed for the Allied nations throughout World War Two, and prior to and after the war years he had a remarkable political career.

Churchill was also an accomplished writer and historian, although he could afford a team of researchers to help him with his books. His multi-volume memoire of the war are remarkable and well worth a read for those interested in this period of history.  

Inevitably a lot of what went on during World War Two was of a top secret nature. These things covered a vast range of topics from spying and counter espionage, thru code-breaking and intelligence analysis, to developing a variety of gadgets that had the potential to be used for defense or as weapons against the enemy.

One of the groups involved in this work was given the nickname “Wheezers and Dodgers”.

They were commanded by a man named Goodeve, who was given to say to all new recruits something like, “You’ll have no set hours and no official leave. You will often be required to work all night as well as all day and seven days a week if necessary. You’ll see many secret documents. Don’t talk about what you see.”

One of their pressing tasks early in the war was to work on camouflage problems, because Goodeve had found, to his astonishment, that in spite of the increasing threat of German air power no serious attention had been paid to camouflage in the Royal Navy since the First World War.

His intervention led to a surprising incident.

One day into the department stamped an irate officer who introduced himself as Commander Pouter. Marching up to Goodeve, he said angrily, “What’s this I hear about your section meddling with camouflage?”

Goodeve told him that they were, “looking into it to see what can be done to make our ships less visible,” and that ” If no one studies these new conditions nothing will ever get done “

Pouter was one of those insufferable people who had no idea how stupid he was and who abused the positions he had been given by trying to control everything and stifle any outside input into his little empire, especially intelligent input. 

“I’ll have you know that I am entirely responsible for all Admiralty policy regarding camouflage” said pompous Pouter, “and that policy is that there shall be no camouflage . . . and no experiments either!”

Apparently startled by the outburst, it took Goodeve a few seconds to recover from this. As he got up to open the door for his visitor he turned to the others in the room saying, “Our way is now perfectly clear. You’re to go straight ahead with the experiments.”

Then addressing his remarks to Commander Pouter he said, a little brusquely, “Our report will go to the First Sea Lord. If you wish I will send you a copy.”

 

This story highlights yet again that if an idiot is put in charge very little, if anything, productive will get done. But it is interesting for a reason other than that.

This confrontation also led to the coining in the department of a new term for the measurement of the Unit of Obstruction. This unit became known as the ‘Pouter’.

However, on further reflection, this unit seemed altogether too large to have any application inside the Admiralty, since it was fervently hoped that this degree of obstruction would rarely occur.

So the term ‘micro-pouter’ was introduced and has been used ever since to assess all such absurdities. Such was its popularity that its use spread to other parts of the military and even further afield. 

Sometimes idiots get the fame they crave, but for entirely the wrong reason.

Optimist Or Pessimist?

 

“Fight Against Stupidity And Bureaucracy”

 

churchill-opportunity-optimist-pessimist
Churchill poster opportunity optimist v pessimist


Yesterday I wrote about whether your glass is half full or half empty.

Closely related to that, though also slightly different in degree perhaps, is whether you are an optimist or a pessimist.

I have a friend who has gone through life with a “when one closes another one shuts” philosophy. He also says things like, “Behind every silver lining there’s a cloud”.

It’s amusing, but in his case and I would guess in a good many others, that attitude eventually becomes a self-fulfilling predicament. He’s never taken any chances in life and he has been in a job that he never really cared for, for the past 30 years or so. He’s just counting the days until he can retire and he has been doing that for many, many years, not just recently. Sad, but it can’t be helped, or rather he can’t be helped.

As well as creating an aversion to any sort of risk, if you think things will go wrong then they usually will, and more often than not it’s your own fault. If you set out to do something with failure uppermost in your mind, you psych yourself out of giving 100 percent to the task at hand. If you don’t give it that 100 percent effort then it will either not turn out as good as it could have, or it will fail completely. In such cases the pessimist always blames things like bad luck, or other people, never their own defeatist attitude from the outset.

An optimistic person, on the other hand, will approach a task thinking it is going to succeed. Therefore in their case they will put much more care and effort into it (even sometimes subconsciously) thereby raising their chances of succeeding. Don’t get me wrong, starting off with an optimistic viewpoint will not guarantee success, it will just make for a better attempt at the job, and the better the job you do the better are the chances it will succeed.

Failure will stop a pessimist dead in his tracks because he is sure he is going to fail from the beginning and when it happens he shrugs his shoulders and packs up and goes home.

But failure won’t do the same for a person with an optimistic outlook. An optimist is surprised by failure. He usually wants to know why it happened, so he will analyze it and then try again.

And that is one of the great secrets to success. Sir Winston Churchill probably defined it best when he said that “success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm”, and although Churchill is now remembered for his notable political victories and war-time leadership, he also had his fare share of defeats as well along the way.

I have been part of several projects that have been complete failures, but that never stopped me from getting back up, dusting myself down, and trying again. And if you stay optimistic and work accordingly giving 100 percent of your effort then sooner or later you will succeed.

I’m very optimistic about that!

 

PS: I haven’t tried this out, but they say you should always borrow money from a pessimist, because he doesn’t expect to get paid back!