Prisoner’s Dilemmas- VI: Job Interviews & Telling the Truth

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The game-theoretical concept of a “Prisoner’s Dilemma” applies to situations where no overt defection has occurred. Many readers may be perplexed by this assertion since, by definition, Prisoner’s Dilemmas entail “players” selecting uncooperative strategies. However, there are scenarios where the selection of a specific approach could lead to non-optimal outcomes. But such a strategy would not be considered a direct form of defection. These strategies are analogous to a defecting because the participating economic agents are moving away from a given focal point; rather than converging upon it. Even though the participants are not directly undercutting each other but inadvertently select noncooperative strategies. One salient example of this is any situation in which both parties choose to lie to the other. Both agents believe it is in their self-interest to obscure the truth, but doing so will only engender more problems.

A novel application of this theory would be in job interviews. Why? The hiring manager and the applicant concurrently have incentives to distort the facts. The prospective employee stands to benefit from embellishing their credentials. Likewise, the hiring manager might think it is shrewd to exaggerate or overemphasize the company culture when it is difficult to find a qualified candidate. When used in unison, the consequences are disastrous. The new employee will not be unqualified for the position and will also have unrealistic expectations for the job role. Ultimately, creating more issues for the hiring manager and the jobseeker. Telling a lie may not be a direct form of uncooperative behavior, can often yield similar results.

Gresham’s Law Applied to Human Capital- Career Stagnation

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The premise behind Gresham’s Law is that money of a higher intrinsic value will be hoarded while the money of a lower substantive value but legally recognized as having the same nominal value will be circulated throughout the economy. Succinctly put, “..bad money drives out good money…” pithily sums up this economic phenomenon. However, is this occurrence solely confined to the commodity of money? Doesn’t the observations convey in Gresham’s Law applicable to other goods? For example, unless a baseball card collect is presented with an astronomically large monetary offer, odds are they will be unwilling to part with a limited-run rookie card of a legendary major league player. This scenario reflects many of the assumptions regarding commodity value implicit in Gresham’s Law. Generally, rare collectibles are held on to, while mass-produced memorabilia is readily available at the local garage sale or swap meet. Most collectors will hang on to the items that are considered valuable unless another interested party can provide a commodity in exchange that exceeds the perceived value of the collectible held by the hobbyist in possession of the coveted item.

However, how does Gresham’s Law interact with the intangible commodity of human capital? A firm or a business unit within a firm would want to retain top-level talent and let go of the mediocre/poor performers. Before we can delve into this analysis we must distinguish what human capital is. Human capital is the economic value that the employee brings to the firm. Typically through their experience, education, certifications, knowledge of company procedures and policies, position-specific “tribal knowledge”, critical thinking skills, and other pertinent soft skills. For readers who have never worked in a corporate environment before tribal knowledge is the informal and unwritten knowledge of best practices of how to perform within a specific job role. It stands to reason that a potential employee possessing all of these attributes would be a hot commodity on the job market. If currently employed by a company would be an employee of a high value.

If human capital is valued in a similar sense to other commodities such as money, how do businesses act in a manner to retain this high-quality talent? The answer most human resources representatives would give is that their organization creates an environment that fosters career advancement. Stressing the perks such as tuition reimbursement, possession of company stock options, and opportunities for placement in vertical job positions. While these factors may play a role in some employees choosing to work long-term for the same company, there is another variable that HR will not be forthright about. That is oftentimes exceptional employees with a high degree of human capital end up getting pigeonholed to the same role. Oftentimes these individuals are blocked from transferring to other business units or positions within the company by the request of middle and executive management. The reason behind limiting this MVP’s potential is quite pragmatic, the business unit cannot afford to lose this individual. Their skills and knowledge are essential to the day-to-day operations of the business. It would be nearly impossible to fill the void if they were to get promoted or transition to a lateral position within the firm. In the corporate world, this individual may be referred to as a subject matter expert or colloquially known as a SME.

It should be noted that the desperate attempts of management to relegate this individual to the same job role has the propensity to backfire. Why? Because this individual gets fed up with their limited job prospects and ends seeking career advancement at another firm. In a free market for employment, a high-quality employee has many prospective options when it comes to their career. If a firm stubbornly, confines them to a shallow career path they will simply look for employment at another company.

Workplace Rent- Seeking Honorable Mention

 

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In my previous blog entry, I discussed the topic of rent-seeking in the office. I detailed three common forms of workplace rent-seeking. However, there are several other notable forms that I feel are worth mentioning.

 

Withholding Information:

 

This is more so applicable in the training process.  The specifics of internal procedures are often colloquially referred to in an office setting as “tribal knowledge“.  Individuals who are either paranoid or not confident in their position with the company will withhold information in the training process. They may refuse outright to properly train new hires. They may only provide a portion of the correct information. They may monopolize specific train materials. Through creating artificial information asymmetry they make themselves look more valuable and decrease their chances of being terminated. Making themselves the default team subject matter expert.

 

Candy Bowl: 

 

As the old saying goes you attract more flies with honey than vinegar. There is some validity to this statement. The candy bowl can be seen as either a trap or a peace-offering. Either way, it detracts from the true nature of the individual who maintains it. Typically, they are a very disagreeable and temperamental person. To soften their image they attempt to appear charitable by proving communal bowl filled with sweets.  If your peers like you, you can get away with a lot. More accurately if you can bribe your peers after being nasty to them you can continue to get away with a lot. If your co-workers don’t have any lingering issues with your boss will keep you around. Why? If you aren’t disturbing the group dynamics there isn’t any reason to deliver punitive actions.

 

Plastering Your Cubicle With Positive Quotes: 

 

Anyone plastering their cubicle walls with quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or Gandhi is someone to avoid like the plague. If you make your workspace a billboard for inspiration quotes you most likely have a few skeletons in your closet. To be so extreme with advertising one’s proclivity towards positivity should be a red flag. An indicator of someone attempting to manipulate human psychology for their gain. It is meant to distract from their overt from their negative behavior. It falls into a similar behavioral category as self-promotion. The objective is to have others focus on what is most salient and not what is factually true.

Workplace Rent-Seeking

 

 

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Introduction:

One of the core principles of Public Choice Theory is the concept of behavioral symmetry.  Behavior symmetry can be best defined as

“… the same behavioral model of human action must apply to all decision-makers regardless of institutional setting (public or private).” (Shughart II & Wardle, 2020, P.594)

This conceptualization firmly reflected in James M. Buchanan’s proclamation of  Public Choice Theory being ” politics without romance“. Meaning whether you work in for the government or a private corporation your incentives generally don’t change. Working as a bureaucrat doesn’t dampen the allure of a high salary or generous benefits. Many people tend to view politicians and government employees as working towards the common good. Ignoring the fact that their decisions are not immune to self-interest. Demonstrating that this faulty assumption about civil servants is nothing more than a halo effect. The belief that government employees are striving towards a higher moral good than individuals employed by a corporation is illusory. People respond to incentives regardless of their occupation.

 

Considering the previously described application of behavioral symmetry, it wouldn’t be outlandish for a phenomenon that transpires in the public sphere to occur within a private institution. To take it a step further, to even claim that it takes place on an individual level. As in actions taken by a single person versus a solitary institution.  Could the principles of Public Choice even be applied to the individualized interactions of workers in an office environment? Certainly! After all, incentives do not change. We are merely changing the environment and the scale of transactions.

 

The concept of rent-seeking tends to be commonly reflected in the behavior of office workers. What is rent-seeking? It can be described as a person or organization attempting to secure wealth without creating generating any productive output. Generally, this is done so by seeking an institutional advantage. Gordon Tullock, the theorist who developed this theory, utilized the example of tariffs to demonstrate a practical application for this concept. Governments typically do not impose tariffs on their own, but rather due to lobbying pressure from interest groups. Tullock referred to this variety of behavior as “wasteful” (Tullock, 1967, P.5). As a side note, Tullock may have been the architect rent-seeking, however, it was economist Anne O. Krueger who coined its name’s sake back in 1974.

 

Based on my observations of working in a corporate office there are three prevalent forms of workplace rent-seeking. This list includes: self-praise/  verbal demolition of co-workers, brown-nosing, and creating busywork. Any action or omission of action in the workplace is overtly economic. No one works for free. The only difference is scale. Many of these behaviors are anti-competitive. At work, your co-workers are your competition. All of these behaviors are attempts to secure gains without creating any additional wealth. Through damaging the image of co-workers or the individual improving their image, they are gaining potential job security which protects their paycheck. Typically, at the expense of the employer because this behavior does not distract from employees doing their jobs.

 

Self-Praise and Verbal Demolition of Co-Workers:

As the saying goes talk is cheap. Unfortunately, empty words have carried more clout than they should out on the sales floor. Anyone can pat themselves on the back and expound upon the “superior” customer service they provide. Especially when the boss is present. Much of this bluster, whether it is factual or not, skew popular perception. It is easier to take things for face-value than to look below the surface. If someone is persistently selling their skills and value to the company, it is easier to believe them than to validate their claims. Even when faced with contrary metrics many managers still fall into the folly of accepting the shameless self-promotion of these under-performing employees. This acquiescence is generally also reflected in the perceptions of this subpar employee’s peers. Despite all of the opposing evidence they will express a favorable opinion of this individual. Making the manager less inclined to terminate this individual. The manager would not want to jeopardize group dynamics. However, baseless self-promotion does is nothing but counter-productive and a waste of company resources.

 

The devious foil of Self-praise is the verbal demolition of co-workers. Portraying co-workers in a bad light to distract from an individual’s performance deficits. One common example is proliferating gossip and rumors. Even to be so brazen to fabricate formal complaints regarding interactions with individuals. For example, a false sexual harassment complaint filed with human resources.  Gossip being on the lower end of the scale and fraudulent human resource reports being a more extreme form. Going to great lengths to assassinate the character of your co-workers requires a great deal of time and effort. It could be suggested that it would even be easier to just do your job. Versus wasting everyone’s time and resources with such puerile and sophomoric attempts at subterfuge.

 

Brown-Nosing:

 

Complimenting the boss, attending all of the social functions you are invited to, pretending to be his friend, laughing at all of his lame jokes. Brown-nosing, sucking-up… this behavior goes by many terms. No one every engages in brown-nosing without having a specific set of ends. Whether it would be the boss overlooking poor performance or giving other forms of preferential treatment. Such as being picked over more qualified candidates for a promotion. Why work harder when you could just work smarter? It is easier to go get drunk with your boss at a happy hour and pretend to be his best friend than to do your job. It is astonishing how many people in management fall for these naked attempts to curry favor with them. Then again an entire encyclopedia could be written about the psychology behind this mystifying phenomenon.

 

Creating Busywork:

 

The image of busy workers is synonymous with productivity.  Is this always the case? Not always. Sometimes workers will generate work or purposely utilize inefficient methods to complete tasks to create the perception of productivity. Some employees will go so far to create arbitrary tasks they will intentionally do their jobs incorrectly. Their pointless busywork would be correcting their own mistake. As perverse as that sounds, I have seen it with my own two eyes! Unfortunately, perception tends to carry more weight than substance.  Even if that perception is illusory.

 

A more traditional example of this rent-seeking tactic is to intentionally procrastinate and then do all your work at the end of the day. To create the illusion that you are busy and working hard.  Versus addressing action items as they come in throughout the day. Generating the image of having a mountain of work to do makes it look like you have a heavier workload. Making you less susceptible to being ousted out in the next round of layoffs. While counter-productive these methods aim to mask the fact that their position is nothing more than a redundancy.

Machiavelli in the Office-Part VII: Lady Luck

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Machiavelli’s wisdom is often overshadowed by is reputation.  A reputation that is synonymous with ambition and a wanton disregard for higher moral standards.  It is reasonable to question to what extent this image was true. The royal monarchs of old-world Europe were known to give lips service to the lofty visions of Aristotelian virtue.  In reality, quite often fell short of this ideal. Typically veering more toward the vices of greed, lust, ambition, and other excesses. From this perspective, it would appear as if Machiavelli merely pays the price for his honesty and pragmatism. It could be argued that he may even be more moral for his candor. Then again who wants someone exposing all of the trade secrets? It should also be noted that many of the debauchery prone rulers post-1532 who spoke of higher virtue may have very well taken a page out of old Nick’s book.

 

Machiavelli taught us about things far deeper than how to maintain an iron fist rule over a principality.  He was intimately aware of the shortcomings of human nature and intricately weaved these insights into the greater corpus of his brand of political philosophy. Hence why it is almost a crime to narrow his observations to the maintenance of the autocratic rule that characterized the Florentine royal court. He guides the patient and prudent reader that transcends the scope of political power. Machiavelli’s  The Prince is truly multidisciplinary and timeless. Expounding upon questions as broad as those of human psychology, diplomacy, opportunity costs, effective communication, and resource utilization.  So why not apply these lessons to the modern-day workspace? Hence why I have embarked upon this ongoing series.

 

Today’s topic of analysis is luck. Yes, the enigmatic variable of chance.  As much as skill and effort do play a role in success, there are circumstances that we cannot control.  The marginal effect of luck was not lost on Machiavelli. Especially considering he saw the advantage in managing newly acquired territories on virtue rather than on a happenstance shift in vicissitudes (Machiavelli, 1532, P. 22. Transl. Mansfield 1985) [1]. While it is unwise to rely on luck alone it cannot be left out of the equation. As luck accounts for all of the factors that are outside of the domain of our control. Through acknowledging the power of chance and uncertainty we can humble ourselves. Not fall prey to the hubris that can blindside us from success. Luck is a double-edged sword. When lady fortunate smiles upon us everything is wonderful. As soon as that smile sours and forms a grimacing scowl dark days are on the horizon. The variance of chance serves as limitation and such be considered in any decision.

 

The Prince certainly exhausts the point that fortunate alone cannot ensure success. Chance is too unstable to provide any clear and substantive results.  Luck and fortune are imperative in any enterprise that involves risk. It might be wise to preface that it best to take on calculated risk versus running into the situation blind. Machiavelli understood this well. However, he also acknowledges that you do need to take some risks. That with no risk there is no reward. That lady luck tends to smile down upon the young rather than the old. Why? Because as we age we become more risk-averse. Without risk, there isn’t a reward. Creating a razor-thin balancing act between the risk-to-reward ratio. Providing us with the insurmountable task of finding the golden mean. While lady luck does favor the young, keep in mind the young tend to make more mistakes. They may incur large victories on rare occasions, but they also experience a lot of losses.  Those losses provide the framework for our wisdom as we get older.

 

I conclude, thus, that when fortune varies and men remain obstinate in their modes, men are happy while they are in accord, and as they come into discord, unhappy. I
judge this indeed, that it is better to be impetuous than cautious because fortune is a woman; and it is necessary if one wants to hold her down, to beat her and strike her
down. And one sees that she lets herself be won more by the impetuous than by those who proceed coldly. And so always, like a woman, she is the friend of the young, because
they are less cautious, more ferocious, and command her with more audacity.

(Machiavelli, 1532, P. 101. Transl. Mansfield 1985) [2].

 

Regardless of the contingencies of luck, when lady fortunate smiles we must be ready to act.  In all honesty,  pushing aside the flowery language and the rape metaphor (which I do not endorse), he is telling us to recognize opportunities when they present themselves. Any time fortune turns in our direction it is a rare gift. The opportune time to exercise our virtue or skill to foster sustained success. Your boss assigns you to attend an industry convention. It sounds like an inconvenience, but you have been given a great opportunity. You have been presented with the chance to network. If you are presently dissatisfied with your job, you have your opportunity to scout out your next employer.  If you are a hiring manager you have just interviewed a perceptive and bright job candidate that exhibits leadership qualities. Do not let the age of this recent college graduate fool you. With some guidance to polish the soft skills, this individual could be your future protege. Lady luck has just thrown you a bone. You need to take her up on this gift. It requires your skill to recognize what is right in front of you. If not, it will pass you by. Because luck is fickle and fleeting.

 

 

Machiavelli’s wisdom is often overshadowed by is reputation.  A reputation that is synonymous with ambition and a wanton disregard for higher moral standards.  It is reasonable to question to what extent this image was true. The royal monarchs of old-world Europe were known to give lip service to the lofty visions of Aristotelian virtue.  In reality, quite often fell short of this ideal. Typically veering more toward the vices of greed, lust, ambition, and other excesses. From this perspective, it would appear as if Machiavelli merely pays the price for his honesty and pragmatism. It could be argued that he may even be more moral for his candor. Then again who wants someone exposing all of the trade secrets? It should also be noted that many of the debauchery prone rulers post-1532 who spoke of higher virtue may have very well taken a page out of old Nick’s book.

 

Machiavelli taught us about things far deeper than how to maintain an iron fist rule over a principality.  He was intimately aware of the shortcomings of human nature and intricately weaved these insights into the greater corpus of his brand of political philosophy. Hence why it is almost a crime to narrow his observations to the maintenance of the autocratic rule that characterized the Florentine royal court. He guides the patient and prudent reader that transcends the scope of political power. Machiavelli’s  The Prince is truly multidisciplinary and timeless. Expounding upon questions as broad as those of human psychology, diplomacy, opportunity costs, effective communication, and resource utilization.  So why not apply these lessons to the modern-day workspace? Hence why I have embarked upon this ongoing series.

 

Today’s topic of analysis is luck. Yes, the enigmatic variable of chance.  As much as skill and effort do play a role in success, there are circumstances that we cannot control.  The marginal effect of luck was not lost on Machiavelli. Especially considering he saw the advantage in managing newly acquired territories on virtue rather than on a happenstance shift in vicissitudes (Machiavelli, 1532, P. 22. Transl. Mansfield 1985) [1]. While it is unwise to rely on luck alone it cannot be left out of the equation. As luck accounts for all of the factors that are outside of the domain of our control. Through acknowledging the power of chance and uncertainty we can humble ourselves. Not fall prey to the hubris that can blindside us from success. Luck is a double-edged sword. When lady fortunate smiles upon us everything is wonderful. As soon as that smile sours and forms a grimacing scowl dark days are on the horizon. The variance of chance serves as limitation and such be considered in any decision.

 

The Prince certainly exhausts the point that fortunate alone cannot ensure success. Chance is too unstable to provide any clear and substantive results.  Luck and fortune are imperative in any enterprise that involves risk. It might be wise to preface that it best to take on calculated risk versus running into the situation blind. Machiavelli understood this well. However, he also acknowledges that you do need to take some risks. That with no risk there is no reward. That lady luck tends to smile down upon the young rather than the old. Why? Because as we age we become more risk-averse. Without risk, there isn’t a reward. Creating a razor-thin balancing act between the risk-to-reward ratio. Providing us with the insurmountable task of finding the golden mean. While lady luck does favor the young, keep in mind the young tend to make more mistakes. They may incur large victories on rare occasions, but they also experience a lot of losses.  Those losses provide the framework for our wisdom as we get older.

 

I conclude, thus, that when fortune varies and men remain obstinate in their modes, men are happy while they are in accord, and as they come into discord, unhappy. I
judge this indeed, that it is better to be impetuous than cautious because fortune is a woman; and it is necessary if one wants to hold her down, to beat her and strike her
down. And one sees that she lets herself be won more by the impetuous than by those who proceed coldly. And so always, like a woman, she is the friend of the young, because
they are less cautious, more ferocious, and command her with more audacity.

(Machiavelli, 1532, P. 101. Transl. Mansfield 1985) [2].

 

Regardless of the contingencies of luck, when lady fortunate smiles we must be ready to act.  In all honesty,  pushing aside the flowery language and the rape metaphor (which I do not endorse), he is telling us to recognize opportunities when they present themselves. Any time fortune turns in our direction it is a rare gift. The opportune time to exercise our virtue or skill to foster sustained success. Your boss assigns you to attend an industry convention. It sounds like an inconvenience, but you have been given a great opportunity. You have been presented with the chance to network. If you are presently dissatisfied with your job, you have your opportunity to scout out your next employer.  If you are a hiring manager you have just interviewed a perceptive and bright job candidate that exhibits leadership qualities. Do not let the age of this recent college graduate fool you. With some guidance to polish the soft skills, this individual could be your future protege. Lady luck has just thrown you a bone. You need to take her up on this gift. It requires your skill to recognize what is right in front of you. If not, it will pass you by. Because luck is fickle and fleeting.

Machiavelli in the Office – Part VI- Don’t Hire Mercenaries

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Machiavelli could easily be considered one of the most misinterpreted thinkers in political philosophy. His name has become synonymous deceit and other vices of public office. This marred image of Machiavelli has sullied his reputation as a philosopher for centuries. Despite Machiavelli’s image problem, his insights extend well beyond the provincial mode of retaining tyrannical authority. He expounded upon immutable truths about human nature. Truths that need to be acknowledged anytime you are navigating any kind of social hierarchy. Whether naturally developed or systematically contrived.

 

By Machiavelli conveying these truths in his works of political philosophy, he distinguishes himself on a deeper level than a mere political theorist. Rather, he transcends that restrictive title. Embarks upon detailing the more convoluted and perplexing realm of human nature. His observations at times even veer into the territory of practical advice.  Hence why the application of his work isn’t just limited to the sly trickery that characterized the Florentine royal court back in the 16th century.

 

In terms of applying  Machiavelli’s lessons to the workplace, this insight is a unique one. That requires some abstract thinking to foresee the application but conceptually is similar enough that it works. This is about hiring managers utilizing contracted employees from employment agencies. This is colloquially known as “using temps” or temporary employees. Some individuals may question what hiring temps over fully company employees has to do with mercenaries. Hiring mercenaries is something that Machiavelli advises all shrewd rulers to avoid doing so.

And by experience one sees that only princes and armed republics make very great progress; nothing but harm ever comes from mercenary arms. And a republic armed with its arms is brought to obey one of its citizens with more …. (Machiavelli, 1532, P.50. Trans. Mansfield 1985) [1].

 

And because with these examples, I have come into Italy, which has been governed
for many years by mercenary arms, I want to discourse on them more deeply, so that, when their origin and progress have been seen, one can correct them better. (Machiavelli, 1532, P.52. Trans. Mansfield 1985) [2].

 

Let him, then, who wants to be unable to win make use of these arms, since they are much more dangerous than mercenary arms. For with these, ruin is accomplished; they are all united, all resolved to obey someone else. But mercenary arms, when they have won, need more time and greater opportunity to hurt you since they are not one whole body and have been found and paid for by you. (Machiavelli, 1532, P.55. Trans. Mansfield 1985) [3].

 

All three quotes from The Prince exemplifies the perils of hiring soldiers. At the end of the day, the soldier of fortunate only has his eyes set on fortune. There isn’t any sense of pride, heritage, community, kinship, or other forms of social cohesion bonding them to the kingdom they have been paid to defend. Even if native-born soldiers are receiving a salary and other benefits (in the modern era; health insurance, education) they still have a bond to the country they defend. They joined the military out of nationalist or patriotic convictions.  There is more of an emotional and philosophical bond to there defense of the homeland. Money can motivate people to do unfathomable things. To truly and consciously commit to taking a bullet for a cause is an act based upon strong convictions. This is the kind of loyalty that cannot be bought. Some historians have even speculated about the folly of England utilizing Hessian mercenaries in the Revolutionary War. Ultimately, providing some credence to the assertions of Machiavelli.

 

Temporary workers hired from an employment agency provide similar issues. From my observations, temps tend to be fired for much more frivolous reasons than full employees. If you are hired directly, in most instances, your boss will understand if you are having car trouble. If you are a temp you could very well be fired over the incident. If you were directly hired by the company you would be subject to the rules listed in the “employee handbook”.Such document details policies that provide specific parameters for proper conduct. Meaning you can be three times versus once before you are terminated. Temps are technically considered employees of the employment agency. So they are not insulated by these measures. Paralleling the premise of being paid to be a foreign soldier.

 

The pretense of lacking stability and lack of uniform policies for temps skews incentives away from productivity. We all know that “temp-to-hire” arrangements are an exercise in carrot dangling. Your manager doesn’t ever treat you like part of the team. What is the point in killing yourself for a company that will never outright hire you? It presents a problem of mutual investment. The employer doesn’t feel invested in the temporary employee. The temporary employee does not feel invested in the company.  Creating a disconnection that is a very similar dynamic to that of mercenaries. A lack of connection and commitment does not yield good results.

 

 

 

Machiavelli in the Office – Part V: Respect Property and Privileges

 

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Machiavelli’s remains one of the most insightful and misinterpreted philosophers of the Pre-Enlightenment era. His observations have been grossly distorted to the point that his very name inspires fear of treachery and callous calculations. Few people in human history have ever been honored with having their name made into an adjective. However, this honor for Machiavelli is muted by the fact that it carries a negative connotation. Leading to his legacy as a writer and thinker to be forever stained.

 

Machiavelli’s legacy is marred by misconceptions is typical for writers who are either seldom read or read in the proper context. I would tend to agree with Machiavelli scholar Harvey Mansfield that the latter is very much applicable to his work [1]. Machiavelli was immoral or amoral as he is typically painted by popular perception. Rather he departed from the classical understanding of morality.  Favoring pragmatic uses of force and deception versus appealing to divine directives. These same godly decrees most likely were given lip service by the pre-renaissance ruler. However, once they interfered with the interests of the royal court were quickly dispensed with. Leading one to surmise that maybe Machiavelli wasn’t any less moral, but rather was more forthright.

 

All because he has been misrepresented over the centuries does not mean we cannot draw valid lessons from him. He provides some great reflections upon general aspects of human nature that extends beyond the blood-soaked halls of the 16th-century Florentine royal court. Lessons that can be applied to just about any social structure including the work environment.

 

In Niccolo Machiavelli’s book The Prince, he mentions several times that a rule needs to respect the property of his subjects. This lesson can be modified for a manager in an office environment by supplanting property with workplace privileges. An example would be allowing your employees the ability to work remotely a few days a week. Keep in mind this example may be more applicable in the pre-COVID-19 world. It will work for this essay. Naturally, if you receive a directive from upper management to suspend this privilege with little justification their will be some backlash.  The brewing undercurrent of frustration and resentment will dampen morale.  The consequence of backlash is referenced multiple times in The Prince.

 

Machiavelli cautions to be cautious when levying taxes upon your subject because unjust and burdensome taxation could fuel discord (Machiavelli, 1532, P. 68 & 72, Transl. Mansfield, 1985) [2]. Predating the whole “taxation is theft” mantra. However, he does more directly call out the vice of not respecting property rights among rulers.

 

What makes him hated above all, as  I said, is to be a rapacious usurper of the property and women of his subjects. From these, he must abstain, and whenever one does not take away either property or honor from the generality of men….  (Machiavelli, 1532, P. 68 & 72, Transl. Mansfield, 1985)  [3].

 

In other words, it might be wise if you have any leverage to debate this policy change with upper management. Otherwise, you will have some disgruntled employees on your hands. Unfortunately, in some instances, managers need reminders to keep their hands off of the property of their subordinates. It could be as minor as using Karen’s bottle of hand sanitizer when she on vacation without her permission.  It could even as severe as taking claiming to Henry’s commission on a sale behind his back. Both situations demonstrate a boss disrespecting the property of their employees. While the scene with the hand sanitizer is little more of minor faux pas, taking someone else’s commission is stealing out of their pocket.  Aside from the moral consideration of theft, how are you going to gain the respect of your staff if you are willing to blatantly steal from them?  You are lucky if you can retain staff at that point never mind have them respect you.

 

Unfortunately, I have to say don’t fraternize with the spouses and romantic partners of your employees. Not that they are property. Slavery has been abolished, therefore people cannot be property.  There is no better way to sow resentment than to cross that line. It is a folly that will not only sully your reputation as a leader but will cause unnecessary friction.  Also, it is completely a superfluous action. There is never a good reason to venture into that territory.  No one leadership using reason would ever think that such conduct is permissible. You are not a member of congress. You are not in the oval office. There is no reason to ever go there.

Machiavelli in the Office – Part IV: The Folly of Neutrality

 

 

 

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Machiavelli was arguably one of the most dynamic minds of the Renaissance era. Some scholars argue that was the first pragmatic philosopher. Lending his contextual morality to thinkers such as Friedrich Nietzsche and Ayn Rand. The righteousness for its very sake can prove to be an impediment. Even stray us away from the greater good. This for any ruler would be to protect and defend their principality/kingdom. Being the first pioneer to venture into the dark waters of practical utilitarianism has made Machiavelli a symbol of moral impropriety.  Forever staining his legacy as an intellectual and writer. To such an extent some are bold enough to claim that he was not even a philosopher.

 

The pragmatically-minded Niccolo Machiavelli provided some deeply profound insights into the study of politics. However, many of these insights are quite transcendent and shed light on the inner mechanics of human nature. Applying to more than the grisly and hallowed halls of the 16th-century Florentine royal court. Realizations that can be applied to better survive the duplicity of the boardroom or sales floor.

 

As in any work environment, disagreements are invariable. They are bound to happen regardless of workplace dynamics. The defining difference between successfully navigating such situations and being trapped in a spider’s web of drama is simple.  Do not be neutral! I would also innovate upon Machiavelli’s point by including do not play both sides of the conflict. Remaining neutral or being a “double-agent” has several adverse effects. All will damage your reputation at work. It will make you appear to be dishonest, disloyal, indecisive, weak, and disconnected.  None of these attributes will convey any leadership potential or valuable soft-skills. Rather it makes you look pretty foul professionally.

 

A prince is also esteemed when he is a true friend and a true enemy, that is when without any hesitation he discloses himself in support of someone against another. This course is always more useful than to remain neutral, because if two powers close to you come to grips, either they are of such quality that if one wins, you have to fear the winner, or not. In either of these two cases, it will always be more useful to you to disclose yourself and to wage open war; for in the first case if you do not disclose yourself, you will always be the prey of whoever wins, to the pleasure and satisfaction of the one who was defeated, and you have no reason, nor anything, to defend you or give you refuge. For whoever wins does not want suspect friends who may not help him in adversity; whoever loses does not give you refuge, since you did not want to share his fortune with arms in hand. (Machiavelli, 1532, P.89. Transl. Mansfield. 1985) [1].

 

Staying neutral or switching sides above all damages trust.  As conveyed in the wise words of Machiavelli. If there are ongoing issues between a co-worker you are friends with and another co-worker. Your work pal is expecting you to stick up for them and have their side of the conflict. Anything else will damage your relationship. Granted, we are only talking about one co-worker, but the image is everything. If you appear as disloyal, dishonest, or fake word will spread. Typically you will not be the wiser. The true irony being many of the individuals proliferating gossip about you being fake are the same people that fall into this very same trap.

 

If you are neutral in an inter-department conflict the negative consequences are only magnified. If others cannot rely on you for support, how can you expect them to do the same? That is precisely Machiavelli’s point. Beyond appearing to be fake, you are burning bridges. People who may have been willing to help you through various conflicts or issues will be less inclined to. Like anything else in life, reciprocity is key. That doesn’t matter if it is a key ally being attacked by hostile forces or a dispute over the delegation of responsibilities at work.  We all make cognitive assessments about our relationships. Everyone whether consciously or subconsciously is keeping a proverbial scoreboard. Similar premise to a bank account, if you don’t contribute anything the well will eventually run dry. It is best to bring what you can to the table. Whether or not you intend to protect a true friendship or solidify an alliance is another story.

 

To expect the benefits of a relationship regardless of its nature, without out reciprocating anything beneficial is presumptive. Very well could put you on the road to creating a new adversary. Machiavelli, the dark philosopher himself, recognized this. He understood to achieve anything you need the assistance of others. We are not marooned on a  desert island like Robinson Crusoe. If you appear to be disloyal or to manipulative, you will eventually hit a brick wall. Leaders need the support of their subordinates. If you are under leadership you need the support of your leader and peers. Marring these ties with being the office gossip or being too timid to declare sides, is only a detriment to yourself. Wanting to keep the peace in the office is a laudable goal. However, it is far too idealistic and not within reach. If a dispute is unavoidable, you need to pick aside. The consequences of not doing so are much more profound than those of staying neutral. Having only enemies in the office is a lonely and treacherous road.

Machiavelli In the Office-Part III: This Isn’t a Popularity Contest

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The principles detailed in Machiavelli’s flagship mirror-for-prices book The Prince are quite versatile. Concepts that can be applied anywhere from the bedroom to the boardroom. Ideas that possess utility beyond the treacherous halls of the 1500’s-era Florentine courts. They may very well be useful to you in your daily life. May even be able to help you navigate the minefield of climbing the corporate ladder.

 

In the third installment of this series, we will examine one of the most well-known quotes from The Prince.

It is better to be feared than loved when either is to be dispensed with. (Machiavelli, 1532. Transl. Mansfield 1985) [1].

 

The meaning quote appears to be quite linear. Many variations of this concept have circulated throughout history and popular culture. This premise was first captured in print by Machiavelli. Presents a pragmatic truth that is applicable anywhere. From the schoolyard to the prison yard. It even has its utility on the sales floor. All because you enter adulthood doesn’t mean that “bullies” become a thing of the past. Unfortunately, individuals looking to victimize others is all too real of a problem in the workplace.  Whether you are in management or are an entry-level employee you need to be to cope with this aspect of work. There will always be people looking to undermine and tear you down. Outside of the emotional stress, it can cause, it also can be detrimental to your career. Sometimes rumors can take on a life of their own, you wouldn’t a damaged reputation to sully any opportunities for advancement.

 

To some extent this advice from Machiavelli is counterintuitive. Growing up we were always told, “you get more flies with honey than vinegar”. There is some truth in that to a degree. Like with most things in this world, kindness is not exempt from the Law of Diminishing Returns. If you are too kind, those with a proclivity for predation will see a potential target. Not to mention, another point shrewd point that was made by Machiavelli. People are fickle. You can be exorbitantly kind and friendly to them one day. The next they will be stabbing you in the back. Trying to be everyone’s friend may be a luxury you can’t afford if you are serious about your career.

 

Often excessive kindness is viewed as a weakness. If due to dynamics within the work culture you are not well-liked, kindness will only be a noose around your neck. Even pretending to appear kind will be too much of a liability. You will have to cultivate a tough exterior. One that conveys you will put up with any nonsense. Sure everyone will appreciate you bringing in donuts for about 15-minutes. Then less than an hour later you are back to being the office doormat. The weak link that can be used and abused. More domineering and aggressive co-workers will recognize this and will try to test you. Give them a run for their money. Let them know you are not intimidated!  The shock of that alone will have them reeling. Underneath it all, they are weak people. They are lazy people. In order to make themselves appear productive, they need to degrade others. This is nothing more than grade A sophistry. Nothing of substance. Just tawdry and cheap tricks. Do not let these prime examples of dishonesty, banality, and mediocrity get to you. If they were more capable they wouldn’t need to stoop to such lowly tactics to discredit others. Gently push back, they will not expect it. Their reaction will be priceless.

 

Crafting a resilient facade and be able to defend yourself from the office “bully” does have its limitations. While you don’t want to seem like a pushover, without constraint aggression can backfire. Even the master of statecraft and subterfuge understood that if you become known for superfluous acts of cruelty you will become hated (Machiavelli, 1532. Transl. Mansfield 1985, p.72) [2]. This would defeat the whole purpose of making yourself appear intimidating. Once you cross certain lines, your co-workers will relish taking you down. Not due to perceived weakness, but due to your actions appearing to be unjust. Per unwritten and unspoke social conventions, there are certain norms that are to never be violated. Defending yourself from the predator by becoming the predator is rarely ethically justifiable. Machiavelli acknowledged this indirectly. The informal restraints of excessive cruelty are other people. Whether codified in formal law or in informal normative values. If others sense injustice in your actions, they will put you in your place.

 

That is one of many examples of why labling Machievlli as “amoral” is a misnomer. There was a loose moral code implied in The Prince. A general message of pragmaticism above all. If you fail to protect and effectively rule your principality, you have failed as a ruler. While this brand of philosophical thought is not grounded in the grandiose conception of idyllic morality, doesn’t mean it is devoid of morality. Pragmaticism may seem cold and mechanical there are natural constraints. If as a ruler you implement a grotesquely inhumane policy, public outcry and the threat of rebellion will swiftly prove as a check on your power. The same applies in terms of inspiring cautious respect among your co-workers. Act in a manner that will persuade people to not take advantage of you. However, the perception of your co-workers also operates as a restraint on how menacing you can be.

Machiavelli In the Office- A Career Advancement Guide (Part-1)

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Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince is arguably one of the most important books ever written. It is often speculated to be one of the first written works of political philosophy. It dropped us down from the lofty cloud of idealist virtue to the Earthly necessity of hard-nosed pragmatism. Straying from the idealized conceptions of Plato’s Republic and Aristotelian “right-reason”.  It is not enough to behave virtuously, but we must also have virtuous intentions. It because evident how such principles can impede effective leadership. Machiavelli was concerned with results making him to some extent a forerunner for . He catapulted us into the era of modern philosophy. An acknowledgment of what is versus what should be. An acknowledgment of the true nature of man in contrast to what man could be. Such deep insights are not without a price. Few thinkers have been as universally misrepresented and villainized as Machiavelli.  Often reduced to a cartoon caricature.

 

A book spanning less than 200-pages rarely has many insightful observations embedded in it as The Prince. Few books are as nuanced as The Prince contributing to the wide array of misinterpretations. Most of us would prefer to live under governments far more liberal than a highly centralized principality. That does not mean the advice in Machiavelli’s most well-known work doesn’t apply to modern politics. The observations made in The Prince applies to any organization with a social hierarchy. Meaning its applicability extends the bloodstained floors of the Florentine royal court. The wisdom presented in The Prince can easily be applied to the boardroom as well as the political arena. I would contend that many of the principles that encompass the Machiavellian brand of political philosophy can be applied in the office. That’s right, you can utilize these same tactics at work.  Here we will embark upon a series of applying the political lessons from Machiavelli to the workplace.

 

The first lesson of we can draw from Machiavelli to apply to our work life, it is more important to appear virtuous than to be virtuous. Keeping up appearances. What your actual motives are for making friendly small talk with your co-workers or subordinates is inconsequential to the outcome. Similar in politics, it doesn’t matter if you follow through with your campaign promises. The “say-do gap” can be mended by high voter approval ratings. If the voting public has a high opinion of you it isn’t necessary to be effective. The same can be said at work. Even if you are the hardest worker in your department you could be passed for a promotion if you appear to be unsociable. The consequences of having cultivated such a bad reputation is difficult to correct. To some extent, image is everything.  This is a sentiment that is echoed throughout The Prince.

 

Thus, leaving  out what is imagined about a prince and discussing what is true, I say that all men whenever one speaks of them, and especially princes, since they are placed higher, are noted for some of the qualities that bring them either praise or blame. … someone cruel, one merciful… the one honest, the other clever… And I know that everyone will confess that it would be laudable thing to find a prince with all of the above mentioned qualities  that are held good. But because we cannot have them,  nor wholly observe them, since human conditions do not permit it. (Machiavelli, 1532, P. 61-62. Trans. Mansfield 1985) [1].

 

And one of the most powerful remedies that a prince has against conspiracies is not to be hated by the people . (Machiavelli, 1532, P. 72. Trans. Mansfield 1985) [2].

 

Both quotes exemplify how appearing to be good is more important than being good. There are a lot of admirable characteristics that you want to display to your co-workers. You want to appear smart, creative, reliable, friendly, interesting, enterprising, etc. The probability of one person possessing all these attributes is slim. Making it a necessity to pretend to have these attributes. Which is imperative if you are seeking career advancement. The idiom of “faking it until you make it” is central to this whole idea. This is why oftentimes individuals in management rarely admit to being ignorant or lacking information.  It degrades confidence in their leadership abilities. This is somewhat perverse the standpoint of pure logic. Human perception is seldom guided by logic. Especially when we account for the prosperity of people to use heuristics to aid in making quick decisions. A rule of thumb is to appear to be organized, sociable, hardworking, intelligent, and possessing a capacity for critical thinking. It is hard for your boss or co-workers to objectively validate that you have all these characteristics. It is easier to assume some who is confident and well-spoken has their shit together. Rather than examine the quality of work from a co-worker that is more reserved.  Whether you are dealing with voters or hiring managers appealing to their biases is key.

 

Part of behavior in a manner that will cultivate a positive image it is imperative to stay on the good side of your co-workers. Attend the occasion happy hours. Say good morning to everyone. Engage in small talk. Small talk can also double as a means of extracting information and gossip. Serves as a dual benefit. No one will be the wiser that you have ulterior motives. It also helps you to better integrate yourself with your co-workers. All of this goes into the social capital bank for you. Regardless of your intentions. If you are within the good graces of your peers they are less apt to throw you under the bus or start rumors about you. It isn’t full proof, but what is? It is when you appear unfriendly and negative is when people tend turn on you. Appearing to be nice will help smooth over your deficits in other areas of your job. Even if you are an impeccable worker, if you are hated by your peers you are on borrowed time.  It will create a hostile work environment for yourself and at that point you are better off jumping ship. Unfortunately, a bad reputation will endure longer than your tenure at the company. It is quite cumbersome to revive a sullied reputation among closed-minded people.

 

Much how Machiavelli dedicated his great book Lorenzo de’ Medici, I should dedicate this blog series to someone.  To the recent college graduate with too much time on their hands. As you pursue Zip Recruiter and Indeed for your first career opportunity, please keep this blog series in mind. The advice present is unorthodox and may even make your future human resources representative queasy. However, take from a guy with a job … it is sound advice. I may not be as innovative or clever as Machiavelli, but I can apply his philosophy to corporate America on a micro-scale.  I wish you luck in your job search.