Archive for the ‘officework’ Category

Tomorrow, the last computer in the house with a floppy drive goes to Free Geek for recycling. An era in computing is officially over for me.

Actually, the era was over several years ago. Even four years ago, when I bought my last computer, I thought twice about bothering with a floppy drive. Nor do I think that I’ve use the drive any time in the last two years, nor even more than once or twice in the year before that. I’d already converted to flash drives, and only the free-spending, why-not attitude that comes when you’re making a large purchase made me get a floppy drive in the first place, on the remote chance that I might need it.

I didn’t, really. When I looked through the nearly two decades’ worth of floppies that I’d accumulated, I found all of them working — unsurprisingly, since I take good care of my storage media. But I hadn’t used them for anything except a quick means of transferring files with older computers for eight or nine years, and they had nothing that I couldn’t do without.

Back when I got my first computer, getting three and a half inch floppies had seemed like a cutting edge idea. Even the person from whom I bought thought that five and a quarter floppies would be more sensible. But I figured that disks that were not only smaller and more rugged but boasted twice the capacity — a whole 720k! — was the wave of the future.

I was right, of course, and smug about it. At first, I did have difficulties when buying programs (this was back when free software consisted of emacs and not much else). At least once, I carried disks to Kwantlen College where I was a sessional instructor, so I could take advantage of the different size drives in my office to copy programs into a format that my computer at home could use. Yet, before I’d had the computer a year, the larger sized floppies started to disappear.

Then for years, floppies were my main source of backup. I remember how strange it seemed when floppies started coming in black, and then even colors. And, while at first the differences in quality between name brands like Sony and cheaper brands were obvious, it soon disappeared.

After a few years, too, 720k no longer seemed as large. In rapid succession, I switched to syquest drives, then CDs. Eventually, I moved to DVDs and an external hard drive for backup. The prices started falling on floppies, and so did the amount of shelf space they took up. The last time I happened to notice, floppies were selling ten for six dollars. Yet I remember a time when thirty dollars seemed a good price for a name brand collection of ten.

In a way, I suppose the fact that you can buy floppies at all is a testimony to the force of habit. Even my smallest flashdrive has over three hundred times the capacity of a standard floppy — the 1.44 megabytes ones having never really caught on. They’ve been yesterday’s technology for a lot of yesterdays.

I don’t get nostalgic for hardware, although it’s a good piece of historical trivia for fiction to recall that a single floppy was once considered the storage necessary for the average popular novel. Even when I name our cars, it’s more a joke than any sign of affection. Still, the end of my personal floppy era is another milestone in the passage of time, just as the moment when I realized that the IBM Selectric that I bought with a small inheritance from my grandfather was obsolete.

Come to think of it, I still have that squirreled away on the top shelf of the closet in the spare room. My reasoning, I think, was that I’d have a backup if the computer failed. Of course, exactly how I thought an electric typewriter would be of any use when I couldn’t use a computer is a mystery, considering that most of those circumstances would involve a loss of power. So, I suppose the next bit of housecleaning is to haul that piece of scrap iron away.

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A meaningless Labour Day is still strange to me. For years, as a student and English instructor, it marked the start of a new school year, or at least of a new semester. Then, when I worked in an office, it marked the end of casual summer wear and a return to seriousness – suddenly, all the promises to do something in the Fall came due. But now, working from home with an unvarying workload, it means very little except some quiet mornings when I go for my morning run. I didn’t even take a full day off, although I worked lightly, and got caught up on a few housekeeping chores such as sending out invoices.

It didn’t use to be like that. When I was growing up, Labour Day always came with a sense of disruption as much as regret. I always felt that I caught a rhythm in the summer holidays, filling my days with par three golf and bicycle riding, and that I was on the verge of some mental breakthrough that would be lost forever when I returned to school.

Later, at university, Labour Day marked the end of my labour. Thanks to my father, I was lucky enough to have a well-paying summer job that, together with scholarships, would keep me funded through two semesters of study. I was grateful, knowing how scarce such jobs were, but the work was unrelievedly boring.

Mostly, it consisted of repetitive jobs, such as assembling roof racks for telephone repair trucks, or drilling half a dozen holes in each of thousands of stakes for some purpose I never learned. One summer, I did enjoy building crates for equipment, which required some independent judgement, but, even that year, I was grateful to flee back to the comfort of university. Although such work told me that I was not the total klutz I had learned to believe, growing up left-handed, it also convinced me that I wasn’t going to do manual labor when I was an adult, no matter how highly paid I might be.

Twelve years of high school followed by five at university is more than enough time for conditioning to set in. Yet, as important as Labour Day was in those years, it became even more important when I started working as a teaching assistant and university instructor. In both positions, I was hired by the semester, and, often, I would only hear about my teaching appointments a few days before I had to step into the class room. Once, I actually only heard on the evening of Labour Day. So, in this period of my life, the Labour Day weekend became for me, not one last chance to get away while the weather was still good, but the point when my immediate financial future was determined, and, if I was lucky, a sleepless frenzy of preparation.

At night on Labour Day, I would fall asleep tense with anticipation, wondering how my lessons would be received and what students might be in my classes. Would any of the students with whom I’d had a rapport in previous semesters be there? Any of the occasional troublemakers? Any mature students, who often did so much to raise the level of class discussion?

Since about half my teaching was composition (and, even at that, I was luckier than the average sessional instructor), I knew that many would be fresh out of high school. I knew, too, that many, including scholarship students, would be overwhelmed by the sudden independence of university and have much to learn before they could write a university essay. Some would be shocked, and probably cry. Some would learn to love the responsibility and blossom. Either way, I would be one of those trying to help them adjust, and I would lie awake wondering if I was up to the challenge.

Labour Day changed yet again when I left academia. In business offices, it was marked by a sudden outbursts of suits for the men and stockings and heels for the women. The same people who hung on my office door talking when I was trying to work would suddenly be full of brisk purpose, striding around with a determination that left me feeling jet-lagged.

Throughout these years, I always thought that Labour Day would make a better New Year’s Day than January 1. Unlike January 1, it was a day when people’s lives really did change. But this morning, running through the rain and noticing the long line ups for the bus and the near gridlock on the roads, the most interest I could mutter was a vague interest in what was occupying other minds. I returned home happily to bathe and sit down to the keyboard, thinking myself well out of the post-Labour Day grind.

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For the past couple of weeks, I have been setting up my new laptop. It’s a challenge, since a number of items – the wireless card, the LightScribe capacity on the DVD drive, the webcam and the modem – are not supported straight off the CD with GNU/Linux. I’m frustrated that I don’t have the time to sit down and focus on each of these puzzles. However, I find that after eight years of using GNU/Linux, my attitude to these puzzles has changed.

Understand, I am an English major by education, and my technical knowledge is what I’ve picked up as needed. Moreover, I get bored by puzzles for their own sake – one reason I’ve never applied to MENSA (another is that one of the first members I met died because his pride in his own intelligence made him careless, but that’s another story). So, by training and temperament, I should be disliking the slow setup of the laptop immensely, especially since it’s compounded by my decision to use the Fedora version of the operating system, rather than the Debian one with which I’m most familiar.

Instead, I find myself unusually patient. Strangely enough, I actually look forward to approaching each problem, trying out ideas on my own, then scanning the Internet for possible solutions and patiently trying them one at a time. And, when I solve a problem (I’m now working on the third one), I have a small sense of triumph.

What’s changed me, I’m convinced, is using GNU/Linux. Unlike Windows or OS X, GNU/Linux assumes that you want to do things your way, and provides dozens of options for you, even from the desktop. If you need help, many programs have detailed help pages in one format or the other. So, naturally, if you’re the least bit curious, you can’t help starting to poke around. For some one like me, who is in Pandora’s league when it comes to curiosity, the temptation is constant and irresistible.

Besides, what choice do I have when something goes wrong or isn’t to my liking? I don’t use a commercial version of GNU/Linux, so I have no technical support to step me through solutions. If I go to a computer store, I’m lucky to find a clerk who has even heard of something called Linux, let alone Debian or Fedora. I can ask advice on mail forums, or search for helpful lines of investigation, but, in the end, I am left to experiment methodically.

This sort of patient trial and error is what developers call hacking (and, no, it has nothing to do with breaking into other people’s computers – that’s called cracking, to the initiated). Since my programming skills are laughable and I’ve never identified as a developer, the realization that I’ve picked up the habit and even learned to like it is somewhat disconcerting.

For years, I have made a living interpreting geeks to other people – and sometimes the other way around. But now I have to reassess myself. Maybe I’m a geek after all.

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Achievement statements are a way of listing your expertise on a resume to attract a readers’ attention. They are small case-studies, really, that show-case both your skills and your effectiveness. They’re ideal for those with too wide a variety of experience to fit comfortably on a few pages, and probably more likely to tempt a reader to look at your resume carefully. At worst, their novelty makes them interesting. At best, they state very clearly what you have to offer.

If you decide to use achievement statements, divide a sheet of paper or a text file in a word processor into three columns. Label these columns “What,” “How,” and “Results.”
Then think of things you’ve done that have made you happy or proud. Ideally, these accomplishments should be about business, but you should also consider events connected with family, school, or volunteer activities, especially if they highlight a desirable trait that might help you to get hired.

For each accomplishment, state what you have done in the What column. To keep the statement short, start with the past participle of a strong verb (for instance, “created” or “organized.” Then summarize what the accomplishment consisted of.

Then, in the How column, write what you did in order to achieve the accomplishment. Again, use the past participles of strong verbs.

Finally, in the Results column, use the same structure to explain what happened as the result of your efforts. In many ways, this column is the most important part, because well, it suggests reasons why someone reading your resume might want to hire you. At the very least, it gives readers and interviewers a point in your favor about which they might want to ask more details.

For these reasons, make your results as specific as possible. For example, giving figures where possible is more effective than a general statement. Readers are going to be more impressed by “increased sales 65%” rather than just “increased sales.” Sometimes, though, you won’t have the figures, and have to make do with what you have.

Then repeat this process for each accomplishment that occurs to you. If you can get a colllection of twenty or thirty, you’ll have all the statements you need to match them to any job for which you are likely to reply.

Some finished achievement statements from my own resume preparations:

  • Consulted on policy decisions as Contributing Editor by senior editors at one of top 3 Linux magazines. Wrote two regular columns, technical articles and reviews; advised on individual issues and articles. Results: Wrote 4-6 pages per issue of 90 page magazine. Magazine increased circulation by 56% in 8 months.
  • Set direction of first software product for startup company. Researched and wrote competitive analyses; set feature list; created branding campaign. Results: Company met production deadline with a competitive product. Company praised for its advertising and corporate philosophy by reviewers and customers.
  • Corrected serious flaws in a company’s first software product. Found flaws while installing software at home; explained problems to company principles; prevented new employee from becoming scapegoat; coordinated emergency effort to correct problem over Christmas. Results: Problem corrected before product shipped. Company avoided sales loss due to negative publicity. QA and programming work methods revised.
  • Negotiated bundling deals for retail product. Researched potential partners; discussed terms with third parties; advised lawyer on licensing issues and contract terms. Results: Product’s appeal enhanced and remained within budget per unit.
  • Developed and supervised branding campaign for new company and first software product. Originated concept; worked with design company; planned ad placement; negotiated ad rates; planned trade fair activities; liaised with customer base, partners ,& media; wrote ad copy, newsletters, and public statements. Results: In 4 months, company was regularly regarded by media as one of top 6 in a field of 20 companies.
  • You can place five or six of these achievement statements on the front page of your resume, with your work experience on the second page. If you choose the statements well, not only will readers have read a page of your resume – an investment of time that will encourage them to read the rest – but, before they have read the details of your career, they will be thinking of you according to the perspectives that you have chosen – and that can’t hurt in any job-hunting situation.

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As a communications and marketing consultant, I worked with over forty companies in eight years. They ranged from multi-nationals like IBM and Intel to startups and single-person operations, and from the reputable (if bureaucratic) to the fly-by-night. Three times, I was stiffed – – fortunately, for small amounts. Often, I was frustrated by lack of challenge or mismanagement that I was sure I could put right if I were in charge (and once or twice, I might have been right). But only once have I quit a job after three days of work, and that position remains, indisputably, the worst job I have ever taken.

Even my first job as a busboy, which I quit after the manager accused me of spilling water on a customer when I had been in the kitchen all shift can’t compare. As for the summer between university semesters that I spent drilling holes in wooden rods, I may never have learned what either holes or rods were for, but that was only for three months, and enduring acute boredom isn’t too bad when you earn union wages.

I took my all-time worst job in the weeks after I left Stormix Technologies, where I had my first experience as management (and awful I was, but that’s another story). I had quit in the sudden realization that the company could fold any time (and six months later it did), and repented my rashness at leisure. When a woman I knew from a consulting agency I sometimes worked through told me that she was now doing human resources at a company, I jumped at the opportunity to start at her new company. Never mind that it was a return to technical-writing after playing at management; it was a job.

The company was involved in online gaming, my acquaintance told me, leading me to believe that it was developing a world for role playing. Never mind that gaming seemed frivolous after working with free software; I told myself to be realistic and take the opportunity that was offered.

The first morning, I learned that my acquaintance had misrepresented the company to me. It was not involved role playing, but in developing casino games. In fact, the company had been the recent victim of a police raid for its activities, and had just changed its name. Otherwise, I would have recognized the name, because, in those days, I kept close track on all the high-tech companies in my area. I was dismayed, but I knew enough about the police to know that a raid didn’t necessarily mean any wrongdoing, so I fought down my misgivings.

The second day, I noticed a door that opened into a room larger than any I had seen in the office. It had well over a dozen desks — not workstations. If all those desks were occupied, it represented over a third of the company, yet no one was there.

“That used to be for our lawyers,” the guy at the next workstation told me when I asked about the room. “But they all moved to the Caymans after the raid.”

My dismay deepened. A company with almost as many lawyers as coders could only be a patent shark or one with serious legal difficulties, especially since they were all in the Caymans now. In fact, the company’s head office had relocated to the Caymans, where online gambling is legal in a way that it isn’t in the United States and Canada.

My resolve to be realistic slipped another notch or two.

I went home and spent a fitful night trying to bat my conscience down. Did I want to be part of such a company? I resolved to wait a week before making a decision. But, from the way I dragged myself from the SkyTrain and lingered in the nearest Starbucks on the third day, I knew that I was half-out the door already.

The final blow descended when my manager gave me a tour of the rest of the office.. It was on several levels of an old building in Gastown, and I had only seen one level of it so far.

The tour ended in the kitchen. “If you see the light on next door,” the manager said, pointing to a small red-tinged bulb above the door frame, “Keep quiet. They’re filming.”


“It’s what used to be our adult movie division. They’re a separate company now, but we still share the kitchen space.”

As he spoke, I noticed some long bathrobes draped over the chairs around the table.

Back at my desk. I tried to focus on my work, but I couldn’t. I was never much for gambling or adult movies (which, more often than not, are actually adolescent), but I’m not a prude, either. I’d always taken a more or less feminist of pornography as exploitation, but did I have a right to judge people who were shooting -rated movies of their own free will? In the past, I had met all sorts of people that wouldn’t exactly fit in to the average suburb, so why was I so depressed by the situation I found myself in?

I thought of a photo that had circulated in the local newspapers when the company had been raided, showing the company’s employees standing around on the sidewalk. I could be one of them, I realized.

Stopping all pretense of work, I decided that part of the problem was that, while I might tolerate the company’s business past and present, I didn’t want to be active in it. But an even larger source of my discomfort was the conviction that I had been duped. If the company misrepresented itself to attract employees, what else might it do in the name of business? I thought I had enough evidence to make a reliable guess.

Anyway, the only thing worse than being manipulated would be an attempt to deny the fact. My situation was too depressing for words.

At 11:30, I marched into the manager’s office and told him that I was suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome, and had been too optimistic to think that I could work regular hours. He was sympathetic, and even told me to come back if I got better, but there was not much chance of that.

A month later, I received a check for the days I had worked. I referred to the cheque as “my avails of vice,” and briefly considered not cashing it. By then, I had started at my highest-paid and most interesting job to date, and I didn’t need the money. But, in the end, I told myself that I had earned it, and rationalized that I deserved some compensation for what I had been through.

I still don’t know whether that line of thought was a copout. But I was glad to be out of that job before it made a gap in my resume that I would have to explain. And, in the end, I benefited from my decision to quit, because it raised me in the estimation of my in-laws. Yet, brief as the experience was, I’ll never forget the mixture of anger and chagrin with which I descended into the seamy side of high-tech.

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Martin Michlmayr, the former Debian project leader and recent Cambridge graduate, wrote to say that my dismissal of Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People as “simplistic hypocrisy” in a recent blog entry was an interesting contrast to the “glowing review” he had read on another site.

I answered privately, but Carnegie’s book has been viewed uncritically for so long — almost seven decades — that I think a public debunking is in order. So let me say here and now that Carnegie’s book presents a limited view of complex problems, and trying to follow his advice usually leads to psychologically dangerous behavior — two points that are often lost in his readers’ relief at being given concrete solutions to problems that concern almost everyone at one time or another. His advice is especially unsound in the IT department, whose members mostly interact in situations for which Carnegie’s advice is simply not designed.

You should never forget that Carnegie is a salesman first and last. And, like many people, he sees all situations in terms of the one that’s most familiar and important to him: being face to face with a potential customer, trying to close the deal. However, if you think for even a moment, there are many situations where this view is both inappropriate and misleading. Should you really see closing a deal as having anything to do with working on a group project? To the relationship between teacher and student? To a marriage? While you may find aspects of sales in some of these relationships, none of these examples are defined nor dominated by closing a deal — or, if they are, they are profoundly toxic.

The same is true of people. In the true capitalist tradition, Carnegie assumes that you can appeal to people’s competitive spirit in your effort to persuade. Yet, when you stop to think, even those who are competitive in certain situations hardly want to be so all the time. Often, other values like truth or reciprocity have a higher priority, even in the business world. Encourage computer programmers to compete, and they’re likely to roll their eyes. Ditto for graphic artists or researchers.

And just ask yourself who you’d rather work with on a project: someone who wasn’t outgoing but came up with original insights, or someone whose first priority was to be liked? Yet Carnegie urges that, in your efforts to be liked, you should hide your own passions in favor of echoing other peoples’, thereby cutting off the exchange of ideas that often leads to the greatest creativity.

The truth is that many situations require some give and take, even some temporary disagreement. But a person trying to follow Carnegie’s advice will shy away from conflict, even if it is ultimately useful. In many situations, trying to live by Carnegie’s stripped down sense of the world means that you won’t be able to function effectively. Outside the world of sales, being liked just isn’t the most important concern. Much of the time, assuming that it is becomes a dangerous and unproductive simplification.

Consider, too, the effect that following Carnegie’s advice can have. In his book, Carnegie stresses the importance of having a genuine interest in people, and genuinely listening to people. And, granted, diplomacy is a social grace. Yet if you have a shred of honesty,you have to admit that you will not have a genuine interest in some people. At times, you won’t even have a genuine interest in listening to the most important people in your life, because you are tired or distracted.

In such situations, what are Carnegie’s followers to do? Unless they abandon their credo, they can only lie, both to themselves or to those around them in everything they say and do, pretending an interest when they have none. In other words, they can only transform themselves into hypocrites. They are not just being polite; when you are polite you may not tell a boor that you want run screaming from him, but at least you know that’s what you would like to do. But when you are being a hypocrite, you add a level of manipulation to a relationship that is not only avoidable, but destructive to both you and the relationship.

Carnegie’s advice contains a fundamental contradiction: on the one hand, you are supposed to genuinely like people and encourage them to warm to you people, but, on the other hand, you do so only in order to manipulate them. Making a point of remembering their name, leading people along with a chain of questions that leads them to buying, letting people blow off steam so that they are calmer when you start addressing their complaints, offering upbeat praise, introducing them with a compliment that they will feel they have to live up to — all these are ultimately ways to control people, according to Carnegie, not things to do to develop a relationship for its own sake. So, once again, hypocrisy taints the relationship if you follow Carnegie’s advice.

Not that all relationships are between equals, or should be. But when you are constantly concerned with manipulating the other party, how can respect or any other mutual feeling enter the relationship? You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t despise a person you can always manipulate. You may even come to despise yourself for being the manipulator.

For these reasons, dealing with one of Carnegie’s followers can be a deeply frustrating experience. When you want a new perspective, often they won’t give one. If you want honesty or team work, you’ll be lucky to get it. If you’re used to not hearing a compliment unless it’s sincere, a Carnegie follower can momentarily lead you to think that you’re been extraordinarily successful — at least, until you realize that he or she says much the same of everyone, and the compliment is empty. In fact, once you become aware of Carnegie’s relatively limited bag of tricks, they become so obvious that you quickly stop trusting the person who uses them and start wondering what their hidden agenda might be. In the end, conversation, let alone working together, can become almost impossible.

Carnegie’s advice is not always so unhealthy. Some of what he says, such as trying to imagine yourself in the other person’s position, or allowing them to save face when you admonish them are solid people skills. Other pieces of advice, such as readily admitting you are wrong are also good advice — good enough to have come down over the millennia from Aristotle. But the trouble is, these nuggets are embedded in such an unstable strata of simplistic and hypocritical advice that they are hardly worth the effort of separating them out.

Unfortunately for Carnegie, all relationships are not a sales deal — and trying to pretend that they are is not only risky, but mentally unhealthy as well.

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Business experts always have an air of fantasy about them. Many give watered-down accounts of outdated psychology like the Meyers-Brigg personality test. Almost all give the impression that the writer’s experience of the modern office is either scant or years in the past. I mean, what other field would still consider a piece of simplistic hypocrisy like Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People a significant work for seventy years? But while their sense of dislocation fascinates me, business experts can be dangerous and offensive — and never more so than when they are promoting the modern cult of the leader.

According to this cult, proving yourself a leader is the way to advance your career. If you are not a natural leader — whatever that means — then you should try to become one by imitating various role models. Some experts go so far to suggest that you should copy the fashion sense and behavior of those higher in the corporate hierarchy. The goal is to become someone that others look up to and admire so that they follow you willingly (that is, are willing to sacrifice their personal time for your business goals). Should you not appreciate this goal, the subtext always seems to be, something is deeply wrong with you (presumably, that you’re a natural follower instead).

Where do I start explaining what is not only misguided but also deeply insulting about this sales pitch? Perhaps the point to make first is that this advice is based no more solidly on research than creationism, cryptozoology, or any other junk science. Are some people natural leaders? Or is that just code for being aggressive and extroverted? Can you really become one by imitation? Or does such imitation simply flatter your models and identify you forever as a follower? What percentage of people who use these techniques succeed, and what percentage fail? The failure rate must be extremely high, since by definition there are far fewer leadership positions than candidates for them. And how does the undisguised opportunism advocated fit with the more laidback, flatter corporate structures of today?

For that matter, who says that people are just looking for a leader to follow? Many jobs in modern business, up to (and maybe especially) most management, executive, and officer positions, can be done adequately by the average eighth grader. Beyond the inevitable division of labor and the coordination that it requires, very few people require a leader — and those that do aren’t people you want to hire anyway, because they are probably untrustworthy.

Similarly, while it’s true that people are often looking for a higher cause to give meaning to their lives, most of them don’t expect to find it at work. They put in hours of over-time because doing so seems a job requirement and they’re afraid of being fired if they object. Just because they put the best face on such demands, that doesn’t mean they enjoy them. Most people know when they’re being exploited, and having a leader won’t inspire most of them to do anything except hide their resentment better. Generally, it’s only very young workers or those very high up in the power structure who have a mental stake in a business. For the rest, it’s a income, a means to an end.

Nor does the average person’s relative indifference to advancing their career indicate inferiority in intelligence and talent compared to those who are dedicated careerists. Some people prefer to stay in a position where they are competent or fulfilled rather than advance. Many prefer to carve out their own small empire at right angles to the main power structure, like the quartermaster or surgeon on a 19th Century sailing ship. Others see those in the main power structure as enemies, and more or less actively oppose them — unionists, for example. An even greater number seek meaning from something other than work.

But the worst thing about those indoctrinated into the cult of leadership is that their beliefs encourage an arrogant oversimplification. Ambition, to cult members, is the only legitimate aspiration. From that position, it is a short step to justifying everything you do and viewing others as stupider and less talented than you are, and yourself as a superior being (or, at least, a demi-god in training).

Such a world view may be comforting to you when you have doubts at night, but, during the day, it’s also likely to make you a damned unpleasant person to be around. I wonder, too, how many cultists have defeated their own ambitions because they made their goals a little too obvious and displayed their contempt for others just a little too openly?

Perhaps the rest of us should thank the business experts for making it easier to detect their cult members. However, I think this service is vastly outweighed by the disservice the experts do by encouraging the cultists in their worst behavior by flattering them with comparisons to samurai warriors and heroic Antarctic explorers, and by pretending their naked ambition is anything except the rather paltry egotism that it so often is.

And should you be someone attracted to the cult of leadership, take a moment to consider how many assumptions that are either unexamined or at best proved by anecdotal evidence are contained in the key message of the cult of leadership. Personally, before I guided my future by such experts’ advice, I would like more proof that it was well-thought out and based on solid evidence. Otherwise, I may be making plans on a very shaky foundation — foundations that could very easily crumble beneath me and leave me unhappy and, because of my arrogance, very much alone.

Of course, the experts would have an explanation ready for such failure. Probably, they’d say I didn’t try hard enough, or didn’t apply their ideas correctly. That’s the beautiful thing about closed systems of belief — for the faithful, they defy debunking.

All I know is that I wouldn’t do a relatively unimportant thing like buy a washing machine from a clerk who sounded like the so-called business experts. So why would I buy a philosophy of life from them?

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