Wednesday, 22 June 2011

A Failure's Guide to Winning the Rat Race

Evenin all - while taking care of business last Wednesday, I floated a couple of ideas for books that could be published. The one that appeared to get the best response from the gang was the title of this piece, and it is easy to understand why. I'm yet to encounter anyone who thinks that the rat race is a wonderful thing, that the right people do well in it and that the corporate ladder at least loosely correlates to levels of aptitude and ability. Everyone who has ultimately failed to get anywhere (myself included) sees themselves as a victim of office politics as opposed to being an individual who was not quite good enough, while we all know a thoroughly limited brown-noser or five who really have slithered their way up the greasy pole.

I've acknowledged that I'm more likely to win Miss Teen America than I will ever be to make any sort of headway in the occupational games that people play. There's no point getting overly annoyed about it and taking some advice from Malpoet a couple of weeks ago, the best thing a person can do is indeed their own thing. Therefore, I'd advise anyone in my position, especially if they're still young enough to get other things done, to stop caring, have a sense of humour about what is really a silly situation and thank the man upstairs that they did not become what they had to in order to get ahead. As a dismal failure in the rat race, I'm pretty well qualified to tell you what you should have done - namely the complete opposite of what I did - so here are some tips for those who still believe there is something worth saving:-

1 - Understand that How Talented you are is Completely Irrelevant...

In my recent piece 'Rat Race Misery and the Lies of Adolescence' I intimated that many teenagers grow up with some deeply misguided notions about the 'grown up' world - ie that those of us who possess skill and a conscientious disposition have the land of milk and honey on the tips of our fingers in adulthood, if only we are prepared to grasp it. Before you can approach becoming a sensation in the corporate world, one must first ditch this youthful idealism if they clung to it in their formative years and embrace the quality that will instead serve them most effectively - namely that of obedience. If there is one thing that a megalomaniac wannabe cult leader already in power loves, it is a disciple who never asks questions, or ponders whether the course of action about to be taken is the correct one. Worry not about having to relinquish your ability to think for yourself, because once you have submitted to a culture of blindly doing as you are told, then insignificant factors such as whether you know the square root of anything will be conveniently overlooked.

Leave your brain and your independent streak at the gate and the suits will love and reward you appropriately for it. Most who cracked the higher echelons of the corporate ladder are enduring triumphs of obedience over ability.

2 - Learn the Message - then Get on it...

Within any organisation there will always be a dominant culture. There will also be words and phrases which you will hear over and over again, and appear to substitute quite nicely for actually doing anything. Worry not, for you don't actually have to know what any of this lexis means - in fact much of it has very little or no meaning at all. In order to enjoy the trappings of life as a flourishing rat, fluency in English is advantageous, but getting your head around management speak is absolutely essential. In order to help you with this quest, a nice link is attached here:-

Moreover, try to appreciate that there are individuals within any organisation whose views on any subject are those you should seek to parrot at all times. In the event of an equally influential person within the group expressing a different answer to the same question, then simply adopt the Groucho Marx philosophy of "those are my principles - if you don't like them, I have others". Above all else, do not attempt to think for yourself, on any issue, at any time.

3 - Cultivate an Image and Re-Invent Yourself more often than Madonna...

An organisation is a lot like a woman (thanks Swiss Toni) in that what she requires from you can change at the snap of the fingers or the blink of an eye. Of course, by leaving that dangerous tendency of yours to think independently on the street outside, you've laid a lot of the ground work here, but it's worth asking exactly what this group of people is looking for at this moment in time. For instance, do they want an employee who displays a capacity for going about every task at breakneck speed, charging up and down like a blue-arsed fly as a means of demonstrating how 'committed' they are?

Like obedience, the presentation of a relevant image will always be of far more use to you than a basic aptitude for any given task. Appearing busy, focussed and on the ball is therefore far more important than actually being so. Look the part, act the part, get the part - who said anything about actually playing the part? It's that simple...

4 - Remember You're all One Big Happy Family...

Not only is networking a vital part of a successful career path within any organisation, it also operates as a 'two birds with one stone' method of 'fitting in' and enabling your 'face to fit'. Only by appreciating that those you work with are an extended family will you truly achieve this aim, and company events are as good a place as any to start. Corporate parties are not 'the Horror, the Horror' as some useless scribes would have you believe, they are joyous occasions at which people come together and express their genuine (honestly) affection for their colleagues, even those they have only just met.

So attend stag parties, hen parties, weddings, divorce parties, funerals, pets' funerals and any other en masse event that one of them invites you to, making sure you create the impression you enjoyed all of them equally. Remember, you're on a warning if you don't.

And, absurd as it sounds, bring cakes in on your birthday too...

5 - Until You've Made it, Keep it in your Pants...

What is often forgotten is that the rules of occupational engagement vary quite wildly depending upon whether you are a Chief or an Indian. Once most of the grease on the pole sits well below you, the number of 'thou shalt nots' will of course rapidly diminish, but until then, it would be wise to live the personal life of a monk. People love to gossip and many also operate under the insane delusion that what any situation requires at any given time is a bit of their own personal interference - in short, people are shits, aren't they? If you're fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to hook up with a colleague, then the chances are that one of you will need to move on sooner or later in order to escape the circus. If the love-in breaks down or turns into an awkward "I love you more than you love me" situation, then this automatically becomes 'baggage' and a permanent black mark on your record.

Therefore, the smartest move is to completely compartmentalise the workplace and your bedroom, at least until you've become a 'somebody'. At that point of course, the rules cease to apply, and you can blur those zones marked 'work' and 'play' as much as you please...

6 - Learn to Smile as you Kill...

You knew there would be sacrifices, and here's the last one for this instalment. Unless you can fake sincerity and harness the ability to take someone under your wing then shaft them as only a true corporate can, then a glass ceiling will continue to apply in terms of how far you can go. Spotting an axe-murderer is a fairly straightforward task, but a smiling assassin can become an altogether more difficult figure to trace. A good trick here is one you can practice this on people you know - learn to look them in the eye, and tell the most direct lie that you can while keeping a straight face, "no I didn't have a drink on the way home", "of course I didn't have a bet on the 4-30 at Newmarket", or if you're feeling particularly daring "yes, it's true - Iraq has weapons of mass destruction".

If you can pull this kind of material off to people who you care about, then the veneer of occupational sincerity will be as watertight as you can possibly make it. And another thing - once you've stomped them to death and done a little dancing on their grave, try not to feel too bad about it - it's only a game after all...

What I think will be necessary in order to complete a book on this subject is a string of willing volunteers ready to share their stories of arse-lickers getting their bosses' food for them in the canteen and that sort of thing. Hopefully one or two of you will be able to provide some insight on this subject which will supplement and enhance my own with some amusing anecdotes. I'm gonna sit down with a few people who have already offered their assistance and try to flesh this out, but in the meantime, take care and happy racing...


  1. Dear me, you do seem to have self esteem problems:

    1. Understand how talented you are is completely irrelevent?

    What you need to recognise is what talents you have and how they benefit the group. Everyone has the capacity to shine if they really want to.

    2. Learn the message then get on it?

    It can't be very satisfying to follow a mantra that you really don't believe in. If the organisations goals and values are at odds with your own there are other organisations. We spend more time at work than any other waking activity. You should at least be doing something you believe in.

    3. Cultivate an image and re-invent yourself more often than Madonna?

    Why not just be yourself, it will be easier in the long run. Remember you managed to get through an interview process to get this job. Somebody must have liked you so why not just carry on being the same person.

    4. Remember your all one big happy family?

    I have never worked anywhere where social events were compulsory but they certainly help to build team spirit. There will always be individuals that you won't get along with, but these should be in the minority. If you don't like the company of the majority of your workmates, you're probably in the wrong job.

    5. Until you have made it keep it in your pants?

    The workplace is the most likely place to meet a partner. It beats the pub and the nightclub hands down. People that you meet in the workplace are more likely to share you values and can be good long term partners. Sometimes relationships breakdown, but this does have to spell the end of a career. ABBA survived two marriage break ups and still managed to get on with the job. Rank by the way has very little to do with it.

    6. Learn To Smile as you kill?

    There are so called smiling assassins in any organisation. Some of them will actually be psycophaths, but fortunately they are few and far between. The idea that you have to be ruthless and insincere to succeed in business is a bit of a myth. It might bring some short term results but to succeed, in the long run, you need to keep people onside and lies tend to find you out.

    You do seem to have become very disilussioned with your career. I think that rather than writing a book you would be better off having some counselling.

  2. Thanks for the concern Joyce

    Not everything I said should be taken literally by the way - much of it was tongue in cheek, but in my experience there is more than a grain of truth in all six observations.

    Your comments were very hopeful and warm-spirited and I thank you again for posting them.

  3. To Aunty Joyce

    Don't waste time giving that miserable misfit your concern. You did give him some sound advice though, find another job!

    Good riddance.

  4. Daz and Joyce I think that the truth lies somewhere in-between. From my experience the more you to a statist organisation the more contacts, rules and behaviour mater far more than competence. Has Steve Jobs got to where he is on merit, I think so. Hector Sants? I think not.

  5. Having had several dozen successful careers in many differen sized organisations, I can confirm that Daz's advice is absolutely spot on. Switch your brain off, keep your shirt clean and keep your nose brown - you'll go a long way in any large corporation!

  6. Keep your shirt clean and your nose brown - very nicely put...

    You should come and write on here...

  7. The Dude also believes that the rat race should be avoided at all costs. This system has been created by the greedy few. We need to break free from the system and live a life that has meaning.