Originally Posted 7/15/2010
You know me. I usually do not lean toward deep philosophical thoughts; I'm rather the average Joe type. This time, on the contrary, I'm going to start from two Jeffrey Pfeffer's deep and insightful articles from the Harvard Business Review to derive what your grandpa likely told you many years ago. My contribution will be dropping in a smart idea or two.Jeffrey Pfeffer in this piece about power in the company environment and in this other on caring about your own career, makes some hard points about life in a company. The corporate world (and the world itself) is fundamentally not just. The quality of your career depends fundamentally on your political skills. If you do not take care of yourself, nobody will. If you do not defend yourself, you'll be attacked. In other terms, the entire idea of "do good and you'll be rewarded" is fundamentally wrong.
As a European, probably, I'm more prone to accept those points as facts of life and not to ruminate about them.
I started long ago to successfully apply my personal "Inverted Occam Razor" principle: if a fact has two equally viable explanations, the wicked one is true.
If these principles are true, there's an unintended consequence: the better your career is, the stronger your political skills are.
Unluckily, those at the top should be those who better understand a business and have clear ideas on how to make it prosper. The system, from this point of view, is fundamentally flawed, giving power to who has skills which are not related at all with the good, wise and cautious business management. As in all human things, there are exceptions. Maybe they're not so few but I believe that Pfeffer depicts the "standard scenario" of the western corporate world. So: what you, a small crank in a huge machine, can do to make your work life better? Simply get out of there.
There are a lot of ways to make a living without a job in a "Darwinian on steroids", soulless, company. They're often a good place to learn how business can be run (from the lower layers, of course), to specialize in a field and to acquire experience of the world, but you didn't marry it.
After some years in a company, usually a good move is going solo. Just use what you learned to create your own business and start moving at your pace, according to your rules. Many did that, and there's surely an alternative for everyone pursuing it. Personally, I'm not there yet, but, as you know, I'm on my way.
No use to say, if you're the kind of person who values corporate career above everything, please, move on and you'll be welcomed by the community of your peers.
This takes us back to the initial point. I'm pretty sure your grandpa, once, put his hands on your shoulders and said "My son, do not waste all of your life working for someone else like I did."
My one did it, and he was right.