Monday, 26 September 2011

The Misanthrope's Job Survival Manual

During a trying time in my old job, I was browsing at a bookstore and came upon this book. On the cover, a stick figure was kicking a water cooler above the big bold title, "I Hate People!"

It spoke to my heart. I picked it up, believing it held some answers to my predicament at the time.

Me, holding a copy of "I Hate People!" Not plotting anything with it
Penned by Jonathan Littman and Marc Hershon, I Hate People!: Kick Loose from the Overbearing and Underhanded Jerks at Work and Get What You Want Out of Your Job claims to help you do exactly that.

Written in an informal and humorous manner, it suggests that it's not the reader's fault if he or she's having a hard time at the office, and starts listing the kinds of people who are in such open and somewhat derisive terms as the "stop sign", "bulldozer", "switchblade", "minute man" and "sheeple". The reader, if he meets certain criteria based on a quiz, is referred to as "the soloist", the Individual, the Standaloner, the Chosen One.

As more and more of the Chosen One's foes are revealed, Littman and Hershon continue to sell the Way of the Soloist, outlining strategies that allow him to carve out a little space for himself within the organisation where he can work, plot, delegate and perhaps dig his way out of his stagnant little pond towards something better. All the while avoiding people, i.e. at meetings, functions, seminars and the like - potential time-wasters and threats to your impending glowing solohood.

Supporting anecdotes, case studies and facts-and-figures are bandied about to add to the feel-good factor, reinforcing the belief that the Way of the Soloist is the reader's way, your way. The reader is finally exhorted to embark on his solo quest and say out loud and proud: "I hate people!"

Upon some reflection, there are problems with this book, and the main one being: It won't necessary apply to a typical Eastern corporate environment which tends to be - correct me if I'm wrong - conservative, conformity-centric, sheeple-populated biospheres. Western-style concepts such as telecommuting, flexi-hours and the like don't quite jive with conformist-comfortable firms where employee attendance is considered a performance benchmark.

Individuals with the soloist bent tend to attract mostly unwanted attention. They become, at best, the butt of jokes and gossip fodder at the water cooler, pantry or dinner tables; at worst, scapegoats for something that went wrong somewhere in the company.

Not to say that this brand of office politics is strictly an Eastern problem, or that it's worse than the Game of Thrones in Western firms and multinationals.

It's just that everywhere, self-help books such as this one tend to make the best-seller lists, but few seem to think about whether a product based on Western corporate culture and practices can be applied to conditions in my part of the world.

For one, the anecdotes, facts and stats in the book are overwhelmingly from the West - which gives the unfortunate impression that, if you're in Korea, the Philippines or Petaling Jaya, the authors aren't talking to you. Only one "Soloist" from the East is highlighted: Ken Kutaragi, who is considered "Father of the Playstation".

Regardless, I Hate People is fun, engaging, informative and makes you feel good about one's crappy situation (it doesn't blame you if your job sucks). There's some content that might be useful, but it will be even more work to find out what works. The way it's written and categorised is bound to throw its status as a self-help book into question. Its entertainment value isn't really worth the price tag, however.

It did me and my job little good. My resignation, ill-timed, perhaps, was done with an old-fashioned quit letter.

But bravo to its branding. I paid nearly RM60 because of a stick figure kicking a water cooler and a loud catchy title.

12/10/2014  Made a couple of edits, and amended this paragraph to show that there are "Soloists" from the East in this book - albeit only one.

I Hate People!
Kick Loose from the Overbearing and Underhanded Jerks at Work and Get What You Want Out of Your Job

Jonathan Littman, Marc Hershon
Little, Brown and Company (2009)
263 pages
Non-Fiction (Business/Humour)
ISBN: 978-0-316-06882-6

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