Thursday, September 10, 2009

Meditations on stubbornness.


There are a lot of things you shouldn’t be or do in the work-world if you want to survive. Perhaps at the top of the list of corporate taboos is stubbornness. Nope, being stubborn only gets you in trouble.

Maybe what I’ve written above is not quite precise. Maybe it’s better to remark that to survive in the modern corporate state you need to be docile. You need to (as it says on 360 review forms) be a bridge-builder, a collaborator and a team-player. That’s how you hold onto your job. If you are treated badly, don’t protest. Meekly say, “I guess I’m just lucky to be working.” When they ask for 10% of your salary back, or insist that you take an un-paid furlough—how’s that for a euphemism?—accept it graciously, say you understand. When productivity goes up and salaries go down, when the salary gap between the C-suite and the workers widens, widens, widens, grin and bear it. Be docile.

If you are in advertising, don’t dig in your heels over an idea. Or even a set of standards. If the client wants to cheapen their brand by using cheap stock photography, if the client wants to dumb-down their brand by forcing you to use jargon and nouns as verbs, if the client wants to destroy their integrity by making you spout their party line, go gentle into that goodnight. What’s the alternative? What can I do? The agency won’t support me. I’m just lucky to have a job.

Be pliant and compliant and never defiant.

This is what we are told today in a thousand different ways. We are meant to be scared, appreciative, loyal. We are meant to fold like a shirt in a Chinese laundry.

Well, don’t do it. Because doing it means giving up. And giving up means you’re essentially dead.

For every person who sticks to his guns, there are legions who cave. For every Steve Jobs there are dozens of “low-cost providers.”

As George Bernard Shaw said, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

Stubbornness is creativity. Stubbornness is innovation. Stubbornness is success.

5 comments:

Teenie said...

Whew! You scared me for a minute there, Geo.

Jake P. said...

One of my favorite moments in the corporate world--shortly before I quit and not much longer before I would have been fired--was when the results came back from one of those psychological DiSC tests.

My boss looked at the list of adjectives describing me and said, "'Defiant.' Yeah, that sounds about right."

Anonymous said...

In theory I agree with you.
In reality I do not.
Every General knows when to make a tactical retreat. In today's crazy market, don't throw your job away because someone want so to use cheap stock photography. Maybe it's Ok if you're creating the next ground breaking ad that will be remembered for generations and studied in marketing courses, but if it's over a dumb ad, cave in as fast as you can. Wait for your opportunity to be defiant. Fighting for an ordinary ad is not worth it, and everybody is doing ordinary ads today. I had an old art director who wanted to kill everybody at the agency if they didn't like the way he ragged his type. Fight for principles, not for ads.

geo said...

Oh, anonymous, I do agree with you. My point is to stubbornly hold onto the big view. Allow yourself a bit of buffeting but keep your eyes on the prize. Sorry if I wasn't clear with my examples.

Shanty Mathew said...

Anon is right: It's ok to lose a battle in order to win the war. But being pragmatic is part of the job at the best of times.

What the article says is that having a spine might actually be an impediment in some agency situations. Words emanating from ivory towers are expected to be taken literally.