In sharing the insight gained by learning from naive mistakes, thoughtful
conversations with clever people, targeted reading and focused observation over
many years and across various geographical and cultural arenas, I hereby
offer the guidance I wish I had when I was young. Of course, a little
guidance will not deprive anyone of the privilege of learning from their own
mistakes. But like a lighthouse, it may help to keep you off the rocks.
On the job, you will run into situations that just don't make sense.
And if you ask questions, you don't get any straight answers. And nobody
seems to notice or even care that something stinks. For example you may have
been told that the mantra of the company is "Together We Win!" But
the behavior and rhetoric you observe seems to be more competitive than cooperative.
Atmospheres like this may be the result of weak or misguided leadership,
indifference or it may simply be that your perspective is different than that
of your colleagues and managers.
Of course, in some organizations you will find blatant examples of
intentionally deceptive behavior. In bureaucratically orientated
companies, where exaggerated attention is paid to hierarchy and
metrics, clever people quickly learn how to "game the system" for
selfish purposes. For example, you might run into "Leaders" whose
only goal is to put themselves into the best possible light and promote
themselves at any cost. A common example would be when they take all
the credit for good results and shift the blame away from themselves
when things go wrong, even if the action leading to the bad result was
directed by them.
The scenario above is just one common example of the kind of behavior we
will call "smoke and mirrors"
in this project. Magicians use smoke and mirrors to create illusions and
distract the audience. Here the expression is used as a metaphor for the antics
and rhetoric that people use to divert attention away from incompetence, intrigues, hidden
agendas and the like.
Straightforward people like to believe that office-politics can be ignored and
honest hard work will inevitably be rewarded with acknowledgment and promotion.
This may be true in a genuine meritocracy. But in the “real world”, if you
don't have a good handle on the unspoken, unseen influences running in the
background, you will wind up frustrated. This doesn't mean that you have to abandon your values or compromise personal
or professional integrity in order to do well. But it is necessary to
learn how to pursue your goals under challenging circumstances
without hurting yourself.
There's a lot of good material out there that addresses the topics in this
project. Most of it, like The No Asshole Rule by, Robert I. Sutton, concentrates on how to eliminate bad behavior in organizations. But I
have never found anything that offers no-nonsense guidance to help regular
people understand and deal with smoke and mirrors. So I decided to write it
The first step is to take a good honest look at yourself. You will discover
that the awareness with which you approach challenging situations holds the key
to dealing with them effectively. With this in mind, we will consider things
Perception; Everyone sees the world their
own way. How can this simple fact be applied to make your life better?
Communication; Why are misunderstandings so
prevalent and how can they be avoided?
Education; Why is it impossible to get
the right education?
Ethics; Is it good to be bad? Is it
bad to be good?
Politics; Can authentic people truly
succeed in toxic environments?
Network; Cultivating legitimate
relationships with people you don't like, how and why?
There is a list of suggested
reading for each of the points mentioned above. The books and articles drill
down on the subjects that the sections focus on and provide a deeper
understanding on specific aspects of the tutorial.
Go to Perception!