In which Jill turns to eastern philosophy before the next office smackdown.
I always like predictions. Every January I write a blog post about predictions for the coming year. Analysts and magazine columnists also routinely ask me what’s next. In past years I’ve predicted the increasing importance of data governance, the rise of cloud computing, the changing role of the executive sponsor, and the widening abyss between the business and IT. It’s sort of like being an armchair quarterback. And it’s all so, well…predictable.
This year I wanted to weigh in on corporate politics, which is a theme that reliably shows up in my predictions lists year after year. Corporate politics are like Seinfeld reruns: hard to spot initially then ultimately unavoidable.
You’re probably thinking that I’m going to go all Art of War on you. After all politics are about diverging ideologies, hierarchical power struggles, and land grabs. Crowded meeting rooms and heated arguments eventually cede to passive-aggressive attacks and organizational maneuvering. Meanwhile the beleaguered staff charged with executing on the outcome hunker down in their cubicles, waiting for someone to sanction an actual decision and surreptitiously exchanging Dilbert cartoons. But the skirmishes continue and no decisions are forthcoming except for the ones that exclude key players from updates and fuel below-the-radar efforts intended to derail competing initiatives.
No wonder corporate politics use conflict as metaphor. In the Art of War, Sun Tzu explains that a superior warrior foils enemies’ plots, ruins their alliances, and besieges their cities. And while we’re on the topic of war, don’t forget General George S. Patton’s quote, “No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.”
Many of us have performed heroic acts on behalf of our companies. Swigging coffee in proposal-writing all-nighters. Enduring multi-leg flight itineraries to deliver the client presentation. Forsaking the third gin-and-tonic in the interest of the early-morning start. You’ve been there and you have the battle scars to prove it.
But the war metaphor is wearing thin. We’ve had enough of it. Plus, the smarter side doesn’t always win. In his new book, Betterness: Economics for Humans, author Umair Haque asks corporate employees the following question:
“Did what you do have a positive, lasting consequence that was meaningful in human terms?”
I know, that doesn’t sound very hawkish. But according to several studies, employees are at their happiest not when they’re backstabbing their colleagues or angling for the corner office, but when they’re challenged with difficult but realistic goals and making progress in achieving them. We can pursue corporate profits and do our jobs while staying true to our own personal ideals. It’s the Golden Rule writ large on business. Your colleague is your neighbor is your friend is You.
In 2012 I’m putting Sun Tzu back on the shelf and picking up Lao Tzu, the father of Taoism. He said:
“Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power. If you realize that you have enough, you are truly rich.”
I dare you to read this quote out loud right before your next meeting.
Now go knock ‘em dead!
Photo by Beggs via Flickr Creative Commons License