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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Don't Drink the Kool-Aid

Last year, I ran in to a former student. He was waxing poetically about his job and I was happy for him and proud to have played a small part in his success. As time went on, he spoke with increasing excitement about his company and what it was doing. Then, he asked me for advice. I told him that things were apparently going great for both him and his employer but I reminded him to try and keep some perspective on things. My exact line was “Remember, don’t drink the company Kool-Aid.”

The line is used frequently in North America these days. It refers to a horrible scene in Guyana in 1978 when Rev. Jim Jones along with many followers drank Flavor-Aid laced with cyanide and took their lives. Since then, it has morphed in to “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid” meaning that you should never have unquestioning belief in any company or movement. Some degree of critical examination is always required.

As I think back, I can honestly say that I was never a Kool-Aid drinker. Every place that I worked had strengths and each had shortcomings. But I never ignored the flaws of management or the weaknesses of some personnel or departments within each organization. Some of it I shared with superiors, some I discussed with trusted associates, and much I will simply carry to the grave.

I am not suggesting that you be a malcontent or a cynic. No organization is perfect and none of us are  perfect employees. But, if you can stay a bit detached you usually work better. Disappointments are few as you expect less than the true believers. You can simply do your absolute best and not worry about it. If another opportunity comes along, you are more likely to give it balanced consideration, as you are not in awe of your current management.  You realize that the grass may be greener or just different somewhere else.

People are forever telling me that their team or company or organization is the “best in the business.” I just smile. Some are indeed awfully good but everyone cannot be the best. And, it is important to have a certain pride in the organization that you belong to and the people with whom you work. But, if you drink the corporate Kool-Aid, you will likely begin to rationalize things sooner or later. Statements like “we are not overcharging, we are worth it” start popping up. Or “that client is an idiot and we know better” meets only with nods of approval. At that point, you need a reality check. Is this place ethical? Are we turning out a shoddy or dangerous product or possibly bending the truth more than a little but rationalizing it as we all drink from the company fountain?

In today’s world, you cannot just leave in a huff. There are mortgage payments, college bills, healthcare expenses, and not a great many really terrific available positions. If you try to stay detached and objective, your career decisions will be better, you can live with yourself and most likely will not be bitter in old age.
Being loyal to your employer is a very positive. Being blind to obvious shortcomings is not.

If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you may reach him at doncolemedia@gmail.com

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