Thursday, February 14, 2013
Fight the Power - Or Not
I got lucky today. I was able to lunch with an old friend, and we had a great conversation. We used to work together at a medium-sized corporation. It was a decent place, with the typical challenges - aggressive people, on the make, trying to advance their careers and so on. We joined right in, with gusto. But since it was a medium-sized company, it was kinda comfy. People might be out to get you, but you knew them all personally and had some understanding of their motivations. And many of our fellow professionals were kind and generous. It was a pretty darn decent place, I realize now. When my old friend and I worked there, we didn't fully appreciate its positive qualities. Well, at least I didn't.
So I left about 17 years ago, and embarked on a career journey that ended up in a 3-man business. I totally love my gig as a principal in a small firm, even though it is a bumpy, white-knuckling experience at times. My old friend also left the mothership at about the same time and went on a different journey. He landed at Gargantuan MegaCorp. right before the financial crisis and recession hit. The huge company sailed through the crisis nicely, and my friend kept his job and its associated cash flow. But, of course, a price is paid by anyone who works in a large organization.
Here is what happens in a large enterprise, no matter if it is a for-profit corporation, a governmental entity or a non-profit organization: Individuals have insights, try to guide their bureaucracies to make a wise decision, and they get crushed. The decision-making infrastructure can't accommodate individual initiative, and the best and the brightest face a disheartening choice - either salute and march down the wrong path or puff out your chest and put your badge on the table. If you have a family, a mortgage payment, looming college tuition bills, etc. - well it is tough to lay that badge down, even when you desperately want to say "Take this job and shove it." It is energizing to holler "Fight the Power," but it isn't much fun to come home and tell the family that you got fired for "insubordination."
So my old friend is trying to fit into a decent slot at Gargantuan MegaCorp. He works hard and represents his organization honorably. He is a brilliant fella with a kind heart. He is a family man with 2 kids under the age of 10. And he has gritted his teeth a few times when his very correct recommendations were rejected for reasons of expediency or organization politics.
In these United States, we tend to celebrate entrepreneurs and "rugged individuals" that bust out through sheer force of will. I submit that the honest, hard-working types that are striving to convince major organizations to do the right thing are also heroes. And every once in a while, one of these anonymous organization soldiers convince their Leviathan to change for the better.