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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Inspirational reading for the workplace

To fully understand the corporate world I’ve been reading some select books, available free online (these are, by the way, easily copied and saved in inconspicuous Word documents so you can read them at work).

So far I’ve read:

Animal Farm by George Orwell

"Four legs good, two legs bad" Remember these words when they stick you in a cubicle and expound the merits of teamwork.

1984 by George Orwell

Everyone should read this book and not assume they already know all about it. Recent cultural manifestations like the TV program Gran Hermano have made the message of this book seem banal. But, to illustrate my point, I once had a boss (in Spain) who was grooming me for a managerial position and he explicitly told me to keep my distance from my future subordinates and to report any suspicious behavior or comments - all the while maintaining the facade of "buen rollo". That’s the essence of the totalitarian future in 1984. Everybody gets pitted against each other. Today’s friend is tomorrow’s enemy. Come to think of it, the current hysteria in Spain is like this.

Beyond good and evil by Friedrich Nietzsche

Nietzsche was right. That’s why he went crazy at the age of 44. He blew open everything and laid bare the essence of humanity. His questioning of democracy and equality can lead to many interpretations – some really terrible ones – but his psychological insight has illuminated me. Things at work, past jobs, past bosses, make more sense now.

The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli

I’m currently reading this. Machiavelli wrote The Prince as a handbook for princes who lived in the tumultuous era of 15th century Italy. Governments and corporations use his tactics to this day. I especially like this part of his foreword:

Nor do I hold with those who regard it as a presumption if a man of low and humble condition dare to discuss and settle the concerns of princes; because, just as those who draw landscapes place themselves below in the plain to contemplate the nature of the mountains and of lofty places, and in order to contemplate the plains place themselves upon high mountains, even so to understand the nature of the people it needs to be a prince, and to understand that of princes it needs to be of the people.

This is going to be good …

Next I plan on reading one of those "10 steps to success" - type books (if I can find one free online, that is). Also, one of those books that tells you how to prioritize your life by making lists. And of course, The Art of War by Sun Zu, required reading for corporate mavens the world over. I think, then, I’ll have a pretty good idea of what’s going on around me.

I got started reading all this after a conversation with one of my bosses. I was helping him with a marketing proposal - I can’t remember for who, but I probably shouldn’t mention it – and he was adamant about using phrases and words like penetrate, last ditch, no holds barred, point of no return, saturation, pervade, launch, strike ... and, more often than not, all in one sentence like:

"We must penetrate the PoS in the target country and pervade the marketplace with strategically placed [name your product] in this last ditch no holds barred point of no return launch situation before the competition strikes."

I had a vision of him – a stocky, perpetually flustered looking man with a shock of red hair – wearing a half-cocked doughboy helmet, pointing at a map of the "target" country, saying "We … must … prevail!" I thought to myself, what the hell has this guy been reading? He’s fucking nuts!

I’m in Spain, and initially I thought things would be different … work wise, I mean. Pues, no. It’s the same exact mentality. Multinationals are especially homogenous in this respect. But in any other work environment, even teaching English in an academy, or doing construction work, you will see the same patterns emerging. Essentially people are the same, wherever you go.