Summary and Anecdotes

In this book, Dan, 52, the author of the book and a former Newsweek laid-off employee, was able to land on a job in the tech industry. He believed entering the new industry can be an awesome opportunity for him, both for his career and for financially supporting his family.

He was made many commitments on what he’d do when he joins, but later found none of them were true. In addition, he found out that his manager would be someone who’s half his age, and that he totally does not fit into the company culture (all youths, high churn-out rate, and no country for old men).

On the surface, it was all the company’s fault, according to Dan. Many things are absolutely absurd according to his recount, and he’s quite dissatisfied about what he does. Yet on the inside, I felt that it was Dan who has misjudged his situation, and also misbehaved (several times) in a corporate world.

The first thing that made me aghast was Dan’s remarks to colleagues who are not of the same character type as he is during a company training on how to deal with different types of people. He literally said to kill them. Not only so, he does not feel a thing about it. What’s worse, even after a couple years when he was writing about this story, he still spent large paragraphs trying to justify himself, quoting that if it were in his old job (with people in the news industry), such remarks would be regarded as jokes and everyone laughs about it. That’s a pure insult to everyone, including his journalist friends. I am not a big fan of the so called political correctness shenanigan, but, saying killing someone else and not feeling a thing is really horrifying to me.

A second anecdote I noted in the book was his lack of basic business rules in a professional world. He talked with Dharmesh Shah (CTO) and Brian Halligan (CEO) about his fancy idea of creating a high profile online magazine. Both the CEO and the CTO said it was a good idea and said go for it, and that “tell your manager that we agreed”. But Dan got no proof. No witness, no evidence, nothing. He also bypassed three levels of the management chain (i.e., ignoring his boss, his boss’s boss, and his boss’s boss’s boss). No wonder he won’t get any resource to help him with the fancy new idea.

Another one is about his new manager Trotsky. It was obvious that Trotsky is good at managing people. Not long after he joins, he made Zack, Dan’s old boss, leave. Trotsky made Dan believe that Dan has met an awesome opportunity and his doomed days would be over because Dan’s old boss is gone. He made Dan believe that he is Dan’s best friend and ally. On the other hand, while Dan did not explicitly write in the book, it is equally obvious that Trotsky thinks Dan is an old guy, incapable of finishing his work, does not fit to the company culture, is limited in his capability (missed communication leading to an invited speaker canceling the travel and talk). In Trotsky’s eyes, he is doing Dan a favor to have kept him in the company. All of these conflicting perceptions finally clash when Trotsky was fed up with Dan and started to abuse him. Dan had to leave the company soon afterwards. Indeed it is often difficult to evaluate one’s true situation in a complex environment, especially when you are dealing with another who is with an EQ orders of magnitude higher than yours. How would Dan know this, assuming others are not candid with him? The answer, in my opinion, is VORP (Value Over Replacement Player), a buzzword that is at the heart of every employee in Dan’s company. Dan should have constantly evaluated himself against others in terms VORP, and he’d see that he actually does not quite have a big comparative advantage to those young college graduates who he often mocks. That way, he’d have a much clearer picture of where he stands in the company’s employees.

What do I learn from this story?

  • Be politically correct. This is crucially important. It could cost your job at a single instant.
  • Be modest. Don’t be arrogant or overly outspoken. No one likes you if you are arrogant.
  • Evaluate yourself using the VORP mindset. Are you worth what you are paid? How much (extra) does it cost for your employer to replace you?—If that goes negative, you’ll be laid-off pretty soon.
  • EQ is much more important than IQ. For corporate world and for the real world.

Last, but not the least, a word discussed in the book struck me quite hard. It’s acerbic. Dan mentioned he is just an acerbic person when he speaks. That defines him. If not like this, it would not be Dan. I am not commenting on what Dan should or should not do, but all of a sudden this word makes me reflect what kind of a person I am, when perceived by others. I am kind of an acerbic person too.

I always keep a high standard against myself, think in terms of where I fall short and could do better, and take for granted of the things I do right. Without knowing it, this standard subconsciously affected my interactions with others, in that in many cases, I skip the parts that others are doing a fantastic job, and my responses to things others told me often start with negative sentiment (and often without any positive remarks). Many a time I might simply be giving candid feedback to colleagues, but in others’ ears, in reflect, it may sound like criticism because I skipped the positive parts. No one likes acerbic people I guess. This might be my biggest revelation after reading this book. Time for a change.