It's a fair bet that no nine-year-old, asked what job they want to do as a grown-up, ever mentions "operations management". The term seems so wilfully dull that you half-suspect it might be a stratagem, on the part of operations managers, to hide a life full of debauched parties and cocaine-fuelled games of laser tag. But it isn't. It refers to designing the unglamorous but essential systems that keep industry moving: scheduling the lorries to pick up the parts to deliver to the factories that assemble the widgets that… You get the picture. "The term 'operations'," reads a suitably uninspiring definition from an Open University course, "embraces all the activities required to create and deliver an organisation's goods or services to its customers or clients." Operations management means managing them. All of which prompts one overriding question: have you fallen asleep yet?
'You are anal retentive," reads a possibly apocryphal T-shirt, "if you wonder whether there should be a hyphen in 'anal retentive'." As methods of psychiatric diagnosis go, this isn't great – but then again, "anal retentiveness" is itself a bogus notion. Few ideas of Freud's stand more discredited than his claim about the importance of bowel control in the formation of personality. It arose in an era when families were large and indoor plumbing was new, argues the psychoanalyst Robert Galatzer-Levy: bowel-related matters probably did figure centrally in the life of young Sigmund, as he waited for his siblings to finish in the bathroom. Critics of Freud have suggested that he often constructed his supposedly universal theories on similarly shaky ground, but I think we all know they're just suffering from repressed attraction to their mothers.
Like you, I assume, I possess a number of skills that I don't feel receive sufficient recognition. For example: I can read street signs from a greater distance than family or friends. I am good at untangling tangled wires, not that I get any praise for it. I can tell what time it is, accurately, without a watch. And I have a special talent for entering my pin at cashpoints in a way that is both nonchalant yet resistant to thieves' prying eyes. Until recently, I'd assumed I'd go to my grave with these strengths unremarked, reduced to hoping that future historians might notice what my contemporaries had missed. But then I encountered the work of the humorist Andy Selsberg.