The corporate job might be the devil, but the devil too can teach you a few tricks.
Before I turn you people into hitmen, politicians and corruptors… let me tell you…
I’ve worked the corporate ladder for some time. I know what it’s like to enter the office every morning and have the world outside stop existing. Being stuck in a universe filled with meetings, problems, politics and longwinded email threads. And inside that universe nothing feels more important than that universe. Or so it is communicated to you each and every day.
But when you stay outside for long enough, reality does slowly come kicking in.
You realize you are working for VP’s and CEO’s who you’ll probably never meet. Who after reorganizing their entire department, affecting the jobs of you and your colleagues, hop on over to the next company. And what exactly are you contributing to the company anyway? So yeah, that paycheck and complimentary phone & laptop are nice, but what’s stopping them from taking it all away.
I quit my corporate job
And I’m glad I made that decision. I’m working for a startup and I can tell you: it’s a good feeling to be able to focus my energy on actually building stuff I understand and like. To have clear goals on which you truly want to work. It makes waking up in the morning so much better. It’s still hard work, long hours and stress, but at least there’s meaning and fun behind it.
Still, the corporate job did teach me a couple of things I would have never learnt anywhere else. Lessons I’m taking with me in everything I do. This is not me recommending you to enter the devils universe, but when you get a chance to enter it, don’t dismiss it point blank. And if you have no choice but to take on a corporate job, well, at least you’ll learn these things…
You Learn to be Professional like a Hitman
Large organizations are full of noise: politics, bad attitudes, unclear responsibilities, bad processes… full of them. Getting things done in such an environment takes true skill and professionalism. It’s like navigating Shibuya crossing knowing there are snipers aiming for you from every rooftop and in the mean time you have to finish a rigged crossword puzzle within 30 seconds.
How you do that? By learning to cut through the bullshit with a feather.
While it’s attractive to take a huge sledgehammer to force a decision or get someone to take action, what most probably will happen is that you along with all the noise, also destroy any type of credit you had.
That’s bad. Real bad.
Once you’re out of credit and painted as a large elephant, people will either avoid the hell out of you or make you their next hunting target. Anytime you want to get even the slightest of the slightest done, you’ll be massaging the fuck out of people’s egos. Not good.
So here’s how to be Hitman:
- When you get a decision, a go-ahead or any type of mandate, follow up immediately. Decision = Action. Ride out the momentum for as long as you can. You’ll never know when another one pops up.
- Account for every type of bullshit argument. Basically, question your own argument so hard that you’re almost starting to doubt yourself. When you get caught or harassed, you’ll always have an answer.
- Hear bullshit, listen to facts. You’re ears are going to collect so much ignorant, dumb, stupid and oblivious stuff, it’s unreal. The trick is to hear what people are saying, but never listen to it. Act on content, derail the bullshit.
You Learn to Talk and Deflect like a Politician
Being in a large organizations forces you to become a versatile communicator. That won’t happen immediately though… but only after you’ve seen 90% of your ideas dismissed, received a few passive aggressive emails and got invited by your manager more than once for a ‘talk’. In other words: after you’ve lost your naivety.
Large organizations are not connected to each other by responsibilities and cooperation, but instead by grudges, bonds, ambition, past experiences and boredom.
The experienced (read: older) people usually have a past (either in the company or in the industry) where they’ve already bumped heads with many of your colleagues. While it’s not your job to know that history, it is your job to signal and understand when something like that might influence a decision.
Communication within a large organization is almost per definition not transparent. Be mindful about conflicting stakes and perspectives. Learn to distinguish politics from personal failure.
And never ever say anything you might regret in an email. If you wanna go there, do it in person.
If you wanna be slick like a Politician:
- Recognize there’s always a past you weren’t a part of. Most corporate organizations have been around longer than you’re alive, and that’s also true for many of the employees.
- Communication is never transparent, and in a large company that’s extra true. So always be careful with going on record (read: email).
- Distinguish personal failure from political failure. Not everything is in you hand. Understand when that’s the case and move on.
You Learn to Influence like a Corruptor
Shopping for information, getting people on board, selling ideas. Corporate waters are dark, murky and dangerous. It takes skill to get things done. As the captain of your idea one of the most lethal waters is the one that’s completely still. The one where the wind died down completely and you’re all alone. Now it’s time to row. Row, row, row. Or else you better make sure you have an engine pushing you forward.
Often in a large organization that still water is when you want to give up. Doing something yourself is fine, but at some point you’re gonna need other people. You’re going to need that manager to order her employees to implement your process.
Getting people to help you move your ship forward and navigate around the icebergs is one of the most important things within a corporation.
How you do that? Sacrifice one idea to build up credit for the next one. When you agree a couple of times on things you don’t agree with, you can use that as leverage for the one thing you really want. It’s all about giving and taking. And knowing when to give and when to take.
And this how corruptors do it:
- Don’t take complete ownership of a good idea — even if it’s yours and yours only. Share the credit and the support for it will be so much stronger.
- When it comes down to it, be ready to sacrifice an idea. If you can’t get the support you’ll only end up frustrated and alone. Move on to the next thing and use that lack of support to your benefit (read: guilt trip them).
- If you’re dead set on this one idea, and it’s completely worth it to pursue it. Then remember that it’s better to have a couple people blowing in your face, than end up in still waters.
It’s fine if you end up landing a corporate job. Really, it’s definitely not the end of the world. Some people are even way more cut out to make in the corporate world than anywhere else.
But if you do go there against your own will, try to see it as a learning school to develop yourself as a person. Especially in a more junior role you’ll probably never contribute anything tangible you can show off, but that’s fine. Instead of giving, do a lot of taking.
Corporate jobs are a great testing environment to see where you stand as person.
But do beware: corporate jobs will suck your soul dry if you stay too long. DON’T let that happen. Don’t get too comfortable. But also don’t let the power of a large organization get to you.
Never end up alone on a still sea with no one backing you. Thinking you’re ideas are bad. Being indecisive on what to do next.
Instead, learn what makes someone successful within a corporate organization and then take all those lessons to leap the hell out of it.
I did it, you can do it, let’s all do it!