My working life has been extremely stressful for as long as I can remember. A mirthess steampunk factory of angst and unworkable puzzles against a backdrop of uncollegial passive-aggression. But like most sciency mid-career people, I wear golden handcuffs that hold me back from making a clean break. After years of manning the bilge pumps to keep the place working at maximum capacity, people get tired and inflexible. Minor infractions of protocol project to large images of disrespect and imagined malfeasances that burn into the internal viewing screen of our minds.
I write this blog in part as a means of passing along things I’ve gleaned over time from circumstances and people. Today I have peers who are VP’s of research at some major corporations. Because of the sort of place I chose to align with, my progress will not keep up with these friends. This is the result of the deal I made with the devil years ago. That deal was the result of chosing a location over an organization. The folly of this is now only too apparent and must serve as an example to be passed along.
It is ever so important to be choosy about with whom you sign on and even more important, who you choose to spend your best years with. It is easily possible to commit to corporate beings who demand 110 %, but fail to reciprocate the dedication. Power is in the ability to commit resources. In the business world all manner of things, brilliant or outrageous, are justified by the intonement of the words “business is business”. In the minds of many, this mantra justifies all.
I’m always amazed at how easy it is to don the corporate armor and strut around like a peacock. I did a bit of it myself for a short period after I became a sales manager. But after a month reality threw a bucket of cold water on that fantasy when I realized that power is truly in the hands of people who sign the checks. It always has been. Sales people are a particular breed selected from the herd at large for their goal oriented drive and constant urge to prove themselves.
The chemical business is conservative and socially constipated for the most part. It is nothing like the Silicon Valley paradigm where production is presented as a form of play time. I’m sure it really isn’t, but it is a great recruitment meme.
In business, there are wagon drivers and there are scouts. I’ve come to realize that I am a scout. I love riding into the brush looking for a path. Others are better adapted at coaxing the oxen to pull the wagons.
Business isn’t quite the meritocracy that it is often projected to be. Business demands the adoption of certain kinds of behaviors around the alpha dogs. People land in positions of leadership for all kinds of reasons and sometimes under the most unlikely circumstances. Helpful attributes include singlemindedness, focus on the bare essentials of moneymaking, an engaging personality, and a knack for landing on your feet. Aggressive behavior and a bit of psychopathic ambition are helpful.
The fact of power is the act of power. People early in their careers should strive to understand how power is accumulated and used. Even if you are disinclined to swing the stick around, it helps to understand it.