Monday, February 04, 2008

It is Better to Be Nice Than Right In America

So I was interviewing for a job. And one would think logically, that if you could document through writing, research or what have you that you were one of the handful of people out there that saw the housing crash coming and could have saved this potential employer millions of dollars, they would want to hire you.

Not so.

Spoke with a recruiter who was one of the few that took a look at my resume and had the cajones to be forthright with me and say, "Captain, you scare people. You have too many things going on in your life and the fact you put in your resume that you predicted the housing crash scares people even more because you're not a team player."

Which threw me off a bit, because I was thinking that ESPECIALLY in this market, banks and other financial service firms would LOVE to hire somebody who could have predicted this. You know, that if you spent all of $100,000 on me say, 4 years ago at Citigroup I could have saved them $14,000,000,000 (not to mention the egregious severance package their former CEO got). That's a pretty good ROI. But ahhh, that is where you go thinking again.

For there are times that I sit here in the US and often wonder how is it that our economy is any more efficient than North Korea's. How, with the Pointy Haired Bosses of the World the US manages to eek out an additional 3.2% RGDP per year every year, when it has practically been every US employee's universal experience to see a train wreck like the housing crash coming, they futilely sound the whistles and alarms only to have the Point Haired Boss Conductor of the train SPEED UP.

And the only way I can rationalize this is that American society has become so obsessed with not insulting people, not making anybody feel the slightest bit on edge, than we put being NICE ahead of being RIGHT.

I'm sure there are anecdotes and stories abound (which I'd love you to post about and e-mail in) where being nice is put above being right. The housing debacle is just one such example. Approve everybody, borrowers or builders, regardless of their ability to pay and regardless of their ability to sell the properties. Or where I see wait staff tolerate people's crap who whine a gripe about their food not cooked to their anal retentive demands.

Regardless, I've always kind of had this theory in the back of my head, but I hadn't recently thought about it until I saw this book consistently on the top of the NYT's best seller list; The Secret. (and yes, I know it is under the Advice Column, but I couldn't find the Economist chart with it that showed it #2 for the overall list).

The whole idea of this book is, very simply, if you wish it to happen and think nice little fluffy bunny rabbit thoughts of ice cream and flowers, it will come true. And not only that, they contest that it's a "secret" that has given all the power to all the power brokers in the world and made millionaires and billionaires who they are. No, Bill Gates didn't think or answer the demand of an economy, he just thought happy thoughts and poof Microsoft was formed. The only reason I know of this stupid book is because my buddy Chico is hooked on it. And sadly he has yet to make his millions (but don't worry, he keeps wishing it will happen...AND IT WILL, BECAUSE HE KNOWS THE SECRET!)

Regardless, the fact this book is on the top of the NYT's best seller list only confirms what I fear; The US population would rather be lied to and believe in a fairy tale instead of face the harsh realities of life and make real progress. And that kind of thinking is dangerous because putting what's NICE ahead of what's RIGHT is that it ignores reality.

Yes, it would be nice to think there isn't a housing bubble (you'd be amazed how many bankers think the recovery is "just around the corner.")

Yes it would be nice to think Beanie Babies and Tulip Bulbs and Dotcoms can perpetually go up in value forever.

Yes it would be nice to think that the Minnesota Vikings would win a Super Bowl.

And it would be very nice to think that Social Security and Medicare are not going to crush this nation's economy in about 10 years.

Yes that would be nice.

But try to point out those "nasty realities" at a party and you are summarily shunned or asked to leave.

Try to point out the Vikings do indeed suck, and you will be kicked out of any Minneapolis bar.

And try to point out that a person can't afford a loan, and you'll be lectured about not being a team player.

Of course this puts the American worker in a paradox. Do you do what's right, or what's nice? And unfortunately for most Americans, they don't have the option. They're not independently wealthy and can't tell the Pointy Haired Boss to shove it. They don't have rich parents and can therefore afford the freedom of speech at work or just not work at all. They have to put food on the table and make ends meet, so rather than point out the emperor has no clothes, they realize if they want clothes themselves, they better say they see a fully dressed emperor. Naturally there is a price to pay for such ignorance and idealism about being nice vs. right. And that is the recession we're about to go into.

But don't worry, if we all think really hard and wish it doesn't happen and master "The Secret" then I'm sure it will go away.


Anonymous said...

I wouldn't worry too much. American companies will play nice right up until the point where ownership is no longer making the money they expect. When they reach that point they will start to play right in order to make money.

Also realize your recruiter friend is involved in the same game of nice vs. right. He's used to selling nice, and like his customers who are used to playing nice and now have to change their ways, he will soon find that he's better able to sell a person with a cold, hard record of success and he will in turn change his ways.

Expect to find yourself working for a company that has suffered some losses. They are the ones who will have change forced on them.

Anonymous said...

I am an engineer. I can attest to the fact the PHBs don't like to be told that an idea is stupid or bad or won't work as stated. So it's not just banking....

Anonymous said...

I spent the first 10 years of my working life doing what was best for the company and making all the right decisions and I got nowhere.

I learned that what you do is nowhere near as important in business as how you do something. We all know it. We've all seen the total dumbass get promoted simply because the boss likes the way he does things.

I then spent the next ten years of my working life kissing ass, and doing things how my boss wanted them done even if it was the wrong thing. Because it's 100X better to do what the boss says and fail than to prove him wrong and make him look bad. I now make 3X what I used to, and work 1/4th as hard as I used to.

Anonymous said...

"Perception is reality" is a similar infectious meme popular with the pointy haired. To a lowly engineer like me, reality is reality, but what do I know compared to the self perceived brilliant managers?

What I know is the pointy haired ones perceived that things were going so well they didn't need me. Yet less than three months after I was gone the company had multiple lawsuits from customers whose projects were stalled.

They had tried plugging my ex-engineer now pointy haired boss into my job with predictable results. Predictable to those grounded in reality but, not those whose perception is that an engineer is an engineer and they are all interchangeable.

Perceptions die hard. They offered to being me back as a contractor at what amounted to minimum wage to serve as a temporary assistant to my ex-boss. Yeah, right.

So it goes, everywhere apparently.

mapletree7 said...

What makes you think this is specific to America? 'The Secret' is Australian.

Ed Kohler said...

While this may be true about America, it's even more true when applied to Minnesotans.

I don't think you'd see the same response in New Jersey, for example.

Bill Gilles said...

Saw a help desk study once. The gist was a surly yet competent helpdesker was sent around to tell the idiots which hole to plug their mouse into, and had something like a 90% success rate solving problems.
Another helpdesker was sent out who wasn't so successful - taking twice as long to get half the results of the surly guy - but the bumbler was really friendly.

75% of those being helped said they would request the friendly bumbler before the competent crank.

Now that's market share...

Anonymous said...

Captain, this is again, the conservative high school grad, turned college student, and next to my dad and Rickenbacker, you're one of my heroes. I've been playing catch-up on the months of entries that I missed thanks to classes, but I can't resist a response to this entry.

I have a semi-respectable amount of pre-college business knowledge, and I had anticipated pursuing business or economics in college. Currently, I'm studying to be an engineer. But, I think I'm gonna' come back for a masters of business.

My dad, is, for all practical purposes, an un-official engineer. He's not college educated, but he has a keen head for mechanics and business, and because he's so dedicated to being "right" over being "nice" he's done very well within this company. For, in being "right" over being "nice" he gives them the results they NEED to see, and he just enjoys pissing off HR along the way. :)

So, if you're looking for work right now, I suggest you move to Texas, and apply for a financial position with my dad's company. It's a global power generation company, but the American headquarters, if I'm correct, is in Houston. And, in Houston, most of the CEO's seem to still prefer making money over being "nice," since HR has yet to emerge victorious over my dad. Then, the jokes he and I make at their expense, for their fluffy-bunny psycho-babble, are just a plus.

Actually, you wouldn't have to move to Texas to go to work for this company, but Texas would be glad to have you.

Captain Capitalism said...

Ha! You may be more right than you know, Ed. I had another recruiter say, "You ever think about moving out to the east coast? You'd do much better out there with your personality."

Captain Capitalism said...

Hi Anon College Student,

Well i'm glad I'm people's hero. Makes me feel good. Stick with engineering and then get an MBA. No point in causing yourself a headache beyond what's necessary.

Which company in Houston? Seriously, it's that or the military which I'm seriously contempalting right now.

None of this, "We had a complaint about you being too hard on the troops. Could you be nicer?"

she said: said...

Don't you know the key to being successful is being nice?

Being nice, is all that is required in life - otherwise you have to face the cold hard truth that life isn't turning out your way because of something you did. Or more accurately - failed to do.

Instead you can blame others. It must be everyones fault but your own that your are still living in your mothers basement.. Because after all - you're nice. Right?

P.S. You can either have a job or be right. Which one do you want?

Ranty said...

Your resume REALLY says that you predicted the housing crash?

Are you completely nuts?

Anonymous said...

Alright, anon college student here.

If you're really serious:
The company is called Aggreko.

They have two branches of their company. One caters to the entertainment industry; the other caters largely to refining.

Within the entertainment side of the market, they provide temperature control for movie sets and lighting and power for outdoor venues. On the industrial side, it's back-up power generation for refineries or hospitals, among other services.

To my understanding, Aggreko specializes in portable power generation, air-cooling units, and air-purification units.

And, I believe, they're looking for a VP of Finance.

You can go to, and look under career options, I think, and they should have the contact information listed. I know there are several depots in the northern states, around your area. Potentially, you wouldn't have to move around.

I can probably get you more contact info. if necessary, but try that website first, if it suits you.

Anonymous said...

The phrase "not a team player" has followed me around too. Not much you can do about it though, it's like recruiters and job interviewers can smell it on you.

Anonymous said...

Those that have the wisdom to predict things like the housing crash are not the usual job seekers. You scare the interviewer. You see, guys like you are usually the employer, not the employee.

Ranty said...

The last anon said it right.

You cannot say that crap if you are seeking employment! People like you are too fucking crazy to be employable - who's going to hire you????

You must really start your own venture, because you need to be the boss - it's part of your character; part of your skill.

(And I'm not just being mean - I think you might actually be nuts enough to found the next JetBlue or who-knows-what, and perhaps make gazillions. I wouldn't be surprised....)

Anonymous said...

I work in Minnesota for a company headquartered on the mid-Atlantic east coast that was recently bought by another larger company on the east coast.
My boss had been through this before and knew what would happen. He brought up what would happen a couple of years ago as the big company slowly took over and was crucified in his reviews. Guess what? He was right. He just wasn't nice.
I had the pleasure of filling in as a project manager for a while and took what my boss experienced to heart. I knew that if I kicked some butt so people got their work done, I would be looked down upon and get a poor review. If I played nice and the project lagged behind, I would get a good review. I chose the latter route. I played nice, the project finished much later than it should have, and I got a great review.

Captain Capitalism said...


Thanks Ranty!

I'm just the dumb guy that said there was a housing crash on the way over 4 years ago and I can even remember telling my then boss that we should lower our credit policy to a loan to value ratio of only 70%.

vcmc said...

two words: hedge fund. I suspect there's a lot of pointy hairedness at hedge funds these days, though...

Mitch said...

Isn't the fact that the book "the Secret" is near the top of the best sellers list another signal of the emasculation or "oprah-fication" of Western Civilization?

mapletree7 said...

eyeroll. The Secret is a piece of crap, but Oprah's Book Club has featured Tolstoy, Faulkner, and Steinbeck.

Anonymous said...

Hey Captain, this guy made $4 billion by foreseeing the housing ubble, perhaps you should become a hedge-fund manager:

Anonymous said...

Captain also this guy, he made $500 million from this same strategy (albeit he ruined his friendship with the guy who made the $4 billion for copying him):

You spotted what all those other hedge fund managers couldn't, that's amazing IMO!

If I ever start a hedge-fund, I'm going to make sure I know economics good.

Anonymous said...

Ah, so many skeptics of "American" "Corporations"...end of the day, people do hiring. If you're smarter than the people who hire you, there are two possible outcomes:
1. He thinks "Hey, Cappie is smarter than me, I should hire him."
2. He thinks "Hey, Cappie is smarter than me, I think I just made a little mess in my pants."

Based on my limited experience, the culture of big banks, older established corps, are more about job protectionism than performance...thus #2.

Go work for private equity, we thrive on hard headed truth tellers...but maybe I'm just from the East Coast.

coveredinbees said...

God, 'The Secret' is a godawful book isn't it? Oh, honestly, I've had two women in my life that thought it was amazing and I really TRIED to come at it with an open mind but within a few pages I found that I could only keep reading with the assistance of a brain enema. It is beyond dire. The worst, most patronising shite that was ever committed to print. I have no clue why anyone with more that seven braincells would consider this inspiring. Perhaps cosmic ordering does exist because I can't imagine how the author would be successful without supernatural interventions.

Christ, the other posts are boring!