The crap that passes for advice on how to work is frequently shocking and, if one had to live with it, disheartening to put it mildly. I think I’d rather just jam a spoon into my eye. Here the advice at the Young Black Professional Guide – mind you, these are a summation of what someone things work is supposed to be – this is their ‘rules’ – their vision of the majesty of vocation:
- Don’t Use the Company Computer for Non-Work Activity.
- Avoid Extreme Scents.
- Communicate in Kind (“assess how most of your co-workers communicate and follow the example of the majority”)
- Keep Personal Drama to Yourself.
- Keep a Tidy Work Environment (“clean work areas stand out from those that are disorganized”)
Seriously? This is how we want to live our lives? Worried about checking something on Facebook? Standardizing yourself like a widget in a line factory? Checking around for what others are doing, and doing that – checking around for the peccadillos of middle management and basing your activity on that?
- Stay off the internet (that’s where the creative people are. What about “I deliver everything I promise, so get off my ass, I’m growing into a more creative, connected person and extending my value to any organization”? Of course, I could be just playing Farmville, but then ever heard of Google’s 80/20 innovation model? So again, leave those farmers alone.)
- Don’t be unusual (in how you look, smell, taste, …whatever – unusual might show promise – stick with the tried, true, and mediocre. There aren’t any truly brilliant contributors who look unusual, right? Or really, that’s the issue – they might be top talent, but the important thing is that they look like cardboard cutouts. Steve Wozniak – you couldn’t make it at Sears, ya know.)
- Duplicate the majority (be a follower, avoid an independent sense of style – especially work style – that’s a trait of the unique, and the unique are never high-level contributors – the goal is aim for the middle, so you will always be imitating your equals, pleasing your superiors, and conveying these ‘rules’ to your subordinates – that, friends, is work)
- Don’t be dramatic (I can dig this one, but on the other hand, I find some of the best minds are divas – if you’re good enough, some of it just goes with the territory – ask Ralph Lauren, Steve Jobs, or Oprah. One wonders if divas aren’t the norm in taking new, up and coming companies into key successes, or at least a crucial part of the mix. What if Steve had been more concerned about blending in?)
- Keep a tidy work area (because geniuses never have messy desks, do they? Come on, this is the clincher. At the end of the day, the main thing you should have to show for your accomplishments, the sum of what you’re leaving behind as you head for home, is a clean station. Woo hoo! You delivered. You came through! The stapler is in the right place.)
Hey, if someone wants to live by these rules, I’m a firm believer that there’s a place for him in lots and lots of companies – in nearly any company. Nearly. But there are also companies, I wonder if they know, where these rules don’t apply, where people like this can’t find anything to do. Not just companies, too – non or not for profits. I’ve worked in organizations where people tried to replicate these settings, but just found nowhere to get a foothold. We’re not really going after the above referenced article personally – it’s representative of what you can read in any number of books and journals on how to succeed in corporate life. But perhaps the most important thing it misses are these, to mention a couple:
- Success isn’t something others can give you, even if you make them really, really like you. It comes from the deepest part of what is personal. Most organizations try to get people to define success by their role in the company – to be vocationally dependent. Great ones want everyone to go beyond – beyond what? – beyond whatever we can think of at this moment. Far from being threatened by it, they hope to be inspired. But great companies are the exception, because there are just so many of the other kind. So maybe when we’re talking about our opposing sets of rules, we’re really talking about the kind of company you want to work for. Some people don’t care – they’re aiming for the crowd, and it’s not hard to hit. It just takes a milder aftershave.
- The rules of work aren’t a static body of knowledge or commonly received wisdom you can pass on to others as a formula. They’re your rules and, at best, for others, they’re a starting place for thinking, because the talented will always invent their own rules – the rules of work are constantly new. The rules of a mediocre job, well those are exactly what our intrepid climber mentioned – if your goal in life isn’t related to defining your life’s work, but merely to get a sucky peon part in a bad movie, you can’t be making your own rules. But look around you at the great things people have created. You probably have one on a screen or in your pocket. They were all commentators on the rules, with their lives, the way Talmudic scholars would comment on the Torah. The rules, in other words, include the notion that the rules themselves have nothing to do with the straightness of your tie, and all it might imply. The rules of work, really, are waiting for your to define them.
Again, no worries if you want to work where that guy works, or where he expects you’re going to work. You can be supremely successful there, until the economy goes in the toilet and they lay you off. You can take the stapler with you. If your goal is that your work and your humanity, your soul, the deepest desires of your heart, the search for meaning in your mind, are interwoven with your work, then fitting in is more likely to to screw you out of any chance of achievement you might have had.