What Might You Learn From A Corporate Cynic?

Hey, don’t shoot the messenger, will ya!
I recently spent several hours reading every single blog post of one, Jerome Alexander; a self-titled corporate cynic.


How exactly I found his blog I can’t now remember, but the urge to explore was stimulated by a comment written by Simon Stapleton on my How List Writing Can Make You Happier post:

I was thinking, would this have the opposite effect if I wrote down the things daily that made me sad?

Ha!Ha! I guess many coaches are often stereotyped as folks who always love thinking happy thoughts. Nothing wrong with joyful happiness; it’s a very uplifting state to be in.

But then again there are times and places when I sometimes feel sad, angry, jealous, worried and every combination thereof. And when my coaching and consulting clients come to me with very serious career situations and decisions to be made on their minds. For sure, coming on strong with the happy thoughts act would not a good business relationship make!

So what do I do?

Well, my take on thoughts these days is somewhat like my view on clouds in the sky. There are bright clouds, dark clouds, high ones, low ones, storm clouds, fair weather clouds etc. An endless parade of cloud formations which I am sometimes in the middle of, but which all eventually pass me by, or even disappear in front of my eyes.

Thoughts can be viewed in a similar light in my opinion; just replace the word clouds with thoughts in the above paragraph, and you may see what I mean. They come and they go. There may be consequences (good and less so) depending on how I respond to those thoughts. But while I yet breathe, pass along that mental sky they eventually will.

In the IT world this concept of looking at a list of things that (might) make me sad came directly to my attention when working with those delightful folks from BCP/DR - Business Continuity Planning and Disaster Recovery.

Earthquakes, fires, floods, bomb threats, epidemics: you name it and these guys and gals had some kind of project wish list to cater for potential risks and threats like those above. When I met with them I’d lots of doom and gloom thoughts about what could happen in a given scenario but was still able to function professionally and help to make and test contingency plans.

You’d probably say that I was detached from the real implications because these thoughts were around still imaginary outcomes. And you’d be right. In a real emergency, there’d be real emotions - fear, anger, despair, sadness. Which begs the question of whether the emotions drive the thoughts or is it the other way round? A question for another day.

Actually many IT folks I knew were good at adopting a pragmatic but skeptical approach to whatever business issue their technology skills were being used to help solve. Collectively we’re a group of “Doubting Thomases” , which is probably a good thing in a world where Murphy’s Law reigns supreme, and where that old US Air Force maxim, If it works it’s obsolete is a living law :-).

Where I used to draw the line was with cynicism - in others, but especially when I noticed it in myself. Cynicism about not just corporate botches and bickering, but about life, politics, anything. I used to get mad at such an attitude, believing nothing positive could come from such a defeatist perspective.

Perhaps I should’ve remembered my clouds are thoughts metaphor a lot better at those times.

Because what I’ve noticed in myself is that even cynical thoughts have a purpose, and yes, sometimes an upside. That’s why, when I started to read Jerome’s corporate cynic posts I not only had many a quiet chuckle (plus the occasional out loud guffaw), but I also began to see how Jerome’s experiences with a bunch of nitwit corporate schemes, the odd psychopath/sociopath senior manager and a collection of all too human middle manager colleagues, made his cynical responses not only logical but inevitable.

Only someone of sound mind could possibly have become cynical in such environments and with those experiences. To profess anything else would demand a straitjacket for company.

Of course, whether I want to be around cynical thoughts for long is a separate issue and I accept that we probably have differing opinions on when and for how long it’s appropriate. But since I believe that cynicism is just another thought cloud and probably a protective one at that, I wouldn’t judge such behaviour too harshly.

Instead I’d ask myself every so often, “what are these thoughts about?” And then just observe them, when I can detach from the emotional hooks for a moment or two. Knowing that they’ll move along soon enough or I can even whip up a constructive mind breeze of my own and start examining the situation from a different point on my belief compass.

For example, take this very honest and cynical April 1st (!!) post from Jerome on the hopes, plans and dashed realities created by a poorly implemented major corporate initiative&of the 1990s “Total Quality Mismanagement from the corporate cynic” , as he aptly titles it. We&‘ve probably all been through this kind of train wreck - 20 degrees of good idea and 160 degrees of appalling mayhem 🙂

Can you detect (your) cynicism in Jerome’s post?

What else?