Where the Wild Things Are

No place to work

My First Job

Working with graduates reminds me of my early working years. Many years ago, after a series of interviews, I landed myself a job working in online publishing.

Every day, I would go to work in a building shaped like a magnificent ship. Where the CTO would ride around the office on his Muji bike. Where in the kitchen were Smeg fridges filled with an infinite supply of still and sparkling bottled water. Where there was a Playstation and a pinball machine and we were encouraged to play. (“It helps to get the creative juices flowing don’t you know?” the designers would say.)

What’s more, on the top floor of the building was a bar-restaurant that bore an uncanny resemblance to the one in Ally McBeal. Those were the days during the dot.com boom.

The Way of One World

During this time, I learned a lot. That most of the “real business” got done down the pub over a beer. That if you wanted to succeed, you needed to work for a “big boss”. That some people went to work to do a good job while others did the minimum yet expected to get paid more.

Those were the days when managers would educate graduates like myself. The most memorable lesson was one from a recently- hired manager. He’d been with the company for less than 2 weeks.

“Portia,” he said. “If you want to get on in this world… The moment you get a new job is when you start looking for another!” This comment would be followed by raucous laughter from some of the crowd.

I didn’t know what to think when I heard both the advice and the laughter. My mind crowded itself with questions. How can you learn and improve if you’re constantly on the lookout for something better before you’ve acquired and developed your skills? As a manager, how much can you possibly care about the people and why would you help them grow if your mind is already somewhere else? Most important of all, how can you build something that lasts and why do it if you don’t expect to be here tomorrow?

Uneasy questions demand game-changing answers

It’s taken me a long time to reconcile my thinking and actions with the lessons I learned back then and continue to learn everyday about how organisations work.

Instead of accepting the status quo and playing the same game day in day out, recognise that we each of us have the power to change the game.

Instead of leaving behind any old legacy, let us create “inheritance” – something of value for those who come after us, an organisation that is at once prosperous and adds value to the world in which we live.

Instead of “doing deals” down the pub, let us reward people based on¬†meritocracy – based on their performance at work; how much value they add and the amount of personal potential realised.

Instead of teetering on a knife edge performing an unsustainable balancing act of work and life, let us figure out what’s really important to us so that we can unite the two instead.

Last, but not least, instead of being caught up in the tide of commoditisation of everything we have and everything we are, let us figure us what’s for sale and what is not. Because once we realise what we have that even money cannot buy, we discover what it takes to change the game.

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