Max Barry (born 18 March 1973) is an Australian novelist, short-story writer and essayist. His books include Syrup, Jennifer Government, and Company.
- Apparently we’re now in a state where most ads are full of people looking at us in a way that would heat us up down to our toes if it happened in real life, and we don’t think anything of it.
- October 16, 2005 weblog post
- When someone thinks, “I liked his last book, I’ll hope this new one is good” and shells out their hard-earned, I fervently want that person to be thrilled.
- October 8, 2005 weblog post
- I think this is the first time I’ve altered a book based on what you guys told me. So it’s an occasion! Soon I’ll be putting up polls to choose between plots, and then it’s a short stop to accepting anonymous contributions and stapling them together while I sip margaritas on the deck of a Pacific cruise ship.
- August 24, 2005 weblog post
- Someone from the Internet Writing Workshop sent me a link to the Gender Genie, where you paste in a section of text and it uses an algorithm to detect whether the author is male or female. Or, if you’re an author, you can tell whether you’re really nailing your opposite-sex characters. I mean, nailing their dialog.
- August 8, 2005 weblog post
- Look, I understand that for a lot of people, the US is superior to their country of residence in myriad ways, but I'm Australian. We have it all: the weather, the beautiful cities, the brand of football that involves neither padding yourself up like Santa Claus nor standing in a line in front of goal and covering your testicles.
- Great Writing interview[]
- When it's done with being graceful and poetic, language is meant to communicate, after all.
- Great Writing interview
- I feel comfortably qualified to talk about anything, but that's a personal problem and I'm dealing with it.
- Great Writing interview
- Corporations! It's like there are these gigantic monsters living among us, and we don't mind that they're monsters because when we look at them they smile and hand us cheeseburgers. That's nuts.
- Great Writing interview
- All page numbers are from the hardcover first edition published by Viking ISBN 0-670-88640-8, 1st printing
- All formatting (except the one ellipsis noted) as in the book
- Marketing (or mktg, which is what you write when you’re taking lecture notes at two hundred words per minute) is the biggest industry in the world, and it’s invisible. It’s the planet’s largest religion, but the billions who worship it don’t know it. It’s vast, insidious and completely corrupt.
Marketing is like LA. It’s like a gorgeous, brainless model in LA. A gorgeous, brainless model on cocaine having sex drinking Perrier in LA. That’s the best way I know how to describe it.
- Chapter 1, “Me, Me, Me” (p. 5)
- The first principle of marketing (okay, it’s not the first, but it doesn’t sound nearly as cool to say it’s the third) is this: Perception is reality. You see, a long time ago, some academic came up with the idea that reality doesn’t actually exist. Or at least, if it does, no one can agree what it is. Because of perception.
Perception is the filter through which we view the world, and most of the time it’s a handy thing to have: it generalizes the world so we can deduce that a man who wears an Armani suit is rich, or that a man who wears an Armani suit and keeps saying “Isn’t this some Armani suit” is a rich asshole. But perception is a faulty mechanism. Perception is unreliable and easily distracted, subject to a thousand miscues and misinformation…like marketing. If anyone found a way to actually distinguish perception from reality, the entire marketing industry would crumble into the sea overnight.
- Chapter 1, “Me, Me, Me” (p. 6)
- To get a good job in marketing, you need to market yourself.
- Chapter 1, “Me, Me, Me” (p. 7)
- I note that as in all large corporations that loudly subscribe to equal opportunity and employment based solely on skill, the receptionist is young, female and gorgeous.
- Chapter 2, “Fukk” (p. 12)
- mktg case study #2: mktg cola
NEVER, NEVER DISCUSS TASTE. TASTE IS 90 PERCENT PSYCHOLOGICAL AND IT DOESN’T SELL COLA; IT’S ROUGHLY A TENTH AS IMPORTANT AS IMAGE. THERE HAVE BEEN STUDIES.
- Chapter 2, “Fukk” (p. 18)
- It’s much easier to be incomprehensible than intelligent, and most people can’t spot the difference.
- Chapter 2, “Fukk” (p. 22)
- mktg case study #3: mktg shampoo
PICK A RANDOM CHEMICAL IN YOUR PRODUCT AND HEAVILY PROMOTE ITS PRESENCE. WHEN YOUR CUSTOMERS SEE “NOW WITH BENZOETHYLHYDRATES!” THEY WILL ASSUME THAT THIS IS A GOOD THING.
- Chapter 2, “Fukk” (p. 25)
- I’m very interested in what sort of car she’s driving because I think it will reveal some insight into her personality. After all, I don’t have a car at all, and that reveals plenty about me.
- Chapter 5, “Buy Now, Pay Later” (p. 47)
- “White coke?”
“It’s a trial product.”
“Wow, sounds cool. What does it taste like?”
“Coke,” 6 says.
“Well, yeah,” I say, “but how is it different to, say, Classic Coke?”
“It’s in a different can,” 6 says.
I wait, but 6 just looks at me. “What, that’s it?”
“No,” she says. “It will also cost twice as much.” She pours herself a Pepsi. “We’re after a more upmarket niche.”
“You really expect people to pay double for a white can?” I ask, astounded. “When it tastes exactly the same?”
6 aims a chiseled frown at me. “I didn’t say it tastes exactly the same. I said it is exactly the same.”
- Chapter 5, “Buy Now, Pay Later” (p. 54)
- 6 says, “Tina’s doing an arts degree.”
“Oh?” I say, as if the eyebrow ring, blond hair with a streak of black and oppressive eye makeup hadn’t tipped me off.
“Oh, let me guess,” Tina says. “He’s a marketer.”
“Hi,” I say.
…“I hope they pay you well for strangling the youth of this country with cultural conformity.”
- Chapter 5, “Buy Now, Pay Later” (p. 56; ellipsis represents the elision of two sentences of description)
- There’s nothing more fascinating than a girl who won’t have sex with you.
- Chapter 5, “Buy Now, Pay Later” (p. 57)
- “Reversing gender stereotypes doesn’t eliminate them,” 6 says, tossing the bacon. “You just create a whole new set of prejudices.”
- Chapter 5, “Buy Now, Pay Later” (p. 61)
- mktg case study #6: mktg cigarettes
FOR A PRODUCT THAT KILLS ITS CUSTOMERS, THIS IS PRETTY EASY. FOR ONE THING, YOU ONLY NEED TO CONVINCE PEOPLE TO START BUYING. BUT THE BEST PART IS THAT YOU GET TO DEFEND THE ACT OF SELLING A PRODUCT YOUR CUSTOMERS CAN’T STOP BUYING BY CLAIMING THEY HAVE FREEDOM OF CHOICE. BEFORE EACH MARKETING CAMPAIGN, PRACTICE THE LINE: “IT IS NOT THE POLICY OF OUR COMPANY TO DICTATE THE LIFESTYLE OF OUR CUSTOMERS.”
- Chapter 5, “Buy Now, Pay Later” (p. 70)
- mktg case study #8: mktg groceries 
USE LARGE SPECIAL! TAGS ON GOODS WITHOUT REDUCING THEIR PRICE. PRACTICE THE LINE: “OUR COMPANY FEELS THAT THE WORD SPECIAL IN NO WAY IMPLIES A CONNECTION WITH PRICE.”
- Chapter 8, “Measurement” (p. 90; the word SPECIAL is underlined in the book)
- “Look, how about this: just once, don’t assume every person you meet has a personal vendetta against you.”
6 frowns at her drink. “That’s not a sound strategy.”
- Chapter 8, “Measurement” (p. 92)
- mktg case study #9: mktg lies
OCCASIONALLY, JUST OF COURSE, YOUR COMPANY WILL BE CAUGHT IN A LIE. THIS IS NOT GOOD. IF POSSIBLE, IMMEDIATELY FIRE SOMEONE EXPENDABLE AND PUBLICLY APOLOGIZE. IF NOT, YOU MUST STICK TO THE LIE. PERCEPTION IS REALITY.
- Chapter 8, “Measurement” (p. 106)
- I learned pretty early in my career as an agent to be friendly to utter jerks; it’s an essential skill.
- Chapter 10, “A New Life” (p. 121)
- “Your problem is that reality isn’t good enough for you.” she says levelly. “You need a fantasy.”
- Chapter 10, “A New Life” (p. 132)
- “She’s such a bitch,” Tina says, which I find a little contradictory, but overall quite true. “She’s got to be in charge of everything.”
I sit next to her. “Well, I guess. But in business, that’s leadership.”
Tina stares at me for a second. “I can’t believe you consider that a positive trait. How about her inability to accept other points of view? Is it good leadership to be narrow, too?”
“Focus,” I say. “They call that focus.”
Tina stares at me. “Her paranoia?”
“Compulsive need to have everything just how she wants it?”
“Aggressiveness,” I say, “is already a good thing.”
“Jesus Christ,” Tina says, her eyebrow ring glinting in the morning sun. “Sometimes I worry about this country.”
- Chapter 11, “Hollywood” (pp. 162-163)
- “Art and marketing can’t coexist,” Tina says. “It’s either one or the other.”
“Not this again,” 6 says from the sofa.
Tina ignores her. “I made the film for you with the intention of appealing to a bunch of corporate suits. That I used artistic techniques to do it is irrelevant.”
“Just because it’s aimed at a particular market means it’s not art?” I say.
Tina nods once. “Exactly.”
I frown. “What if I take a work of art and market it? It’s still art, right?”
“You can’t take artwork and just tweak it to be more commercially appealing.” She sips at her beer. “Not without destroying its artistic merit.”
“Tina, this is so crap,” 6 says, standing up. “If I showed you a painting but didn’t tell you whether it was created by a starving artist or an agency commissioned to produce it, you couldn’t tell me whether it was art or not.”
“Oh, I think I’d be able to tell,” Tina says.
6 shifts impatiently. “Who cares what the intent was? It’s the result that matters.”
“The intent is not divorceable from the result,” Tina says. “I know you people don’t want to face that, but it’s true.”
“You don’t want to face the fact that marketing is the greatest producer of art on the planet. There’s packaging, copy, TV advertising—can you tell me why that’s not art?”
“If you can’t make that distinction yourself, I won’t be able to explain it to you.”
“Oh, right,” 6 says, “you think some hack’s poems that no one ever reads are more important than movie half the world sees? A lot more people have seen a Coke can than a van Gogh.”
“I’ve noticed you corporate people do this,” Tina says. “Confuse popularity with quality.”
“It’s a democratic society, Tina,” 6 says. “Your opinion of what’s quality is no more valid than mine. Popularity is quality. And so marketers are today’s real artists.”
“Drink, anyone?” I say.
- Chapter 12, “Scat and 6 in Love” (pp. 186-187)
- The whole morning feels very strange until I realize that for the first time in a long while, 6 and I don’t have anything to do. We have the whole weekend to kill: no deadlines, no last-minute struggles, no panic. It almost feels illegal.
- Chapter 12, “Scat and 6 in Love” (p. 190)
- mktg case study #13: mktg magazines
GIVE AWAY FREE CRAP (PREFERABLY ADVERTISER-SUPPLIED FREE CRAP). DOESN’T MATTER HOW WORTHLESS OR USELESS IT IS: SALES WILL RISE. STRANGE BUT TRUE.
- Chapter 12, “Scat and 6 in Love” (p. 191)
- “It’s all responsibility and no control,” 6 says. “The classic path to failure.”
- Chapter 13, “Backlash” (p. 204)
- “You.” He stares at me for a second, then shakes his head. “You told me the truth.”
I don’t know what to say. “Yeah.”
“Scat,” he says, a pained expression on his face, “haven’t you learned anything?”
- Chapter 17, “The Premiere” (p. 292)
Jennifer Government (2003)Edit
- All page numbers are from the hardcover first edition published by Doubleday ISBN 0-385-50759-3, 1st printing
- Nominated for the 2004 John W. Campbell Memorial Award
- All italics as in the book
- "John here," the other John said, "pioneered the concept of marketing by refusing to sell any products. It drives the market insane."
- Chapter 1, “Nike” (p. 4)
- "I remember when you could always rely on those little street kids to pop a few people for the latest Nikes," Vice-President John said. "Now people get mugged for Reeboks, for Adidas — for generics, for Christ's sake."
"The ghettos have no fashion sense anymore," the other John said. "I swear, they'll wear anything."
- Chapter 1, “Nike” (p. 5)
- What’s not fair is that our society rewards selfishness. That’s not fair.
- Chapter 5, “Wal-Mart” (p. 18)
- The T-shirt was black with a big NRA logo on the chest: an AK-47 crossed with a burly arm. Underneath, it said: FREEDOM IS AN ASSAULT RIFLE. That was kind of catchy, Billy thought. The NRA was getting hip.
- Chapter 19, “Billy” (p. 66)
- The compound was like a mutant Boy Scout camp: all green tents and vehicles and barrels, smack in the middle of nowhere. He saw a troop of soldiers drilling in a field. They reminded him of high school football players with guns. Then a tank rolled past.
“Shit! What’s that?”
“That is an Abrams M1A battle tank, sir!”
Billy looked around with new respect. Now he understood why the NRA membership fees were so high.
- Chapter 19, “Billy” (p. 66)
- She was surprised by Dallas’s ugliness. Even with the sun rising behind it, the city looked as if it had been built to withstand bombardment. She’d never seen so much concrete in one place.
“What do you think?” Rendell said in the cab. “Nice, huh?”
“Where are the trees?”
“There are some parks.” He craned his neck. “I think you can see one…” A heavy truck roared alongside them. The cab darkened like it was descending into the earth. Violet put her fingers in her ears. “Past that traffic accident.”
- Chapter 27, “Dislocation” (p. 97)
- It was turning into a sly, anti–free market statement, and irony irritated him. There was no place for irony in marketing: it made people want to look for deeper meaning. There was no place in marketing for that, either.
- Chapter 34, “Competition” (p. 116)
- The easier your job, the more you got paid. John had suspected this for many years, but here was the proof: pulling down five hundred bucks an hour to sit in the afternoon sun on top of an L.A. office tower. He was wearing a suit and shades, reclining on a deck chair while a light breeze blew in from the bay. John thought he might have found the perfect job.
- Chapter 40, “Acculturation” (p. 138)
- "Hey, I saw this old British movie, all the people spoke so different, you could hardly understand them. But everyone here speaks American as good as you and me. What's with that?"
- Chapter 40, “Acculturation” (p. 144)
- “We’ll refer the incident to the Government, and they will—”
“The Government? The enemy kicks you in the balls and you want to fill out a complaint form? You think the Government’s even on our side?”
- Chapter 45, “Execution” (p. 165)
- John said, "You know what makes a successful executive?"
- "Dude, I am a successful executive."
- "Decisiveness," he said. The doors slid open. A man in a briefcase was standing there; he raised his eyebrows. John pointed the gun at the man's leg and squeezed the trigger. It was louder than he'd expected.
- "Holy shit!" the kid said.
- "Also implementation skills," John said, and left the elevator.
- Chapter 45, “Execution” (p. 168)
- Some people would break the rules to get things done and some wouldn't; it was simple as that. John didn't have much use for the latter.
- Chapter 51, “US Alliance” (p. 190)
- "By this action, the Government has proved that so long as it exists, none of us are truly free. Government and freedom are mutually exclusive. So if we value freedom, there's only one conclusion. It's time to get rid of this leftover relic we call Government."
- Chapter 53, “NRA/Ground” (p. 202)
- The room was dead quiet. “Yes, some people died. But let’s not pretend these are the first people to die in the interests of commerce. Let’s not pretend there’s a company in this room that hasn’t had to under the profit above human life at some point. We make cars we know some people will die in. We make medicine that carries a chance of a fatal reaction. We make guns. I mean, you want to expel someone here for murder, let’s star with the Philip Morris Liaison. We have all, at some time, put a price tag on a human life and decided we can afford it. No one in this room has the right to sit here and pretend my actions came out of the blue.”
He took a risk and paused for effect. If the IBM Liaison was going to preach at him, now was his once. But he didn’t. He just sat there. Pussy, John thought.
“Look, I am not designing next year’s ad campaign here. I’m getting rid of the Government, the greatest impediment to business in history. You don’t do that without a downside. Yes, some people will die. But look at the gain! Run a cost-benefit analysis! Maybe some of you have forgotten what companies really do. So let me remind you: they make as much money as possible. If they don’t, investors go elsewhere. It’s that simple. We’re all cogs in wealth-creation machines. That’s all.
“I’ve given you a world without Government interference. There is now no advertising campaign, no intercompany deal, no promotion, no action you can’t take. You want to pay kids to get the swoosh tattooed on their foreheads? Who’s going to stop you? You want to make computers that need repair after three months? Who’s going to stop you? You want to reward consumers who complain about your competitors in the media? You want to pay them for recruiting their little brothers and sisters to your brand of cigarettes? You want the NRA to help you eliminate your competition? Then do it. Just do it.”
Their faces; ah, their faces. They hadn’t seen this coming at all, John realized. He was opening the door to a brave new commercial world and they were transfixed by the pure, golden light of profit spilling from it.
“I’m a businessman. That’s all. I just want to do business.”
- Chapter 58, “John” (pp. 221-222)
- “Tough day?” General Li said.
John sighed. “Just a couple of Liaisons making trouble. Things were much simpler when I didn’t have to listen to other people, Li. Democracy is a pain in the ass.”
Li sat. “In the military, we have always had a healthy disrespect for democracy.”
“I can see why,” John said. “All right. Now let’s talk about tanks.”
- Chapter 63, “John” (pp. 238-239)
- Hack was asleep when the phone rang. It was amazing how much more sleep he got now that he was unemployed. He was starting to feel bad for all the people who had to drag themselves into their drone factories by nine. They didn’t know what they are missing.
- Chapter 67, “Hack” (p. 255)
- It was amazing, he thought, how everyone bitched about corporations but no one was willing to risk pissing them off. Hack was disappointed at the level of motivation among this society’s counterculture.
- Chapter 67, “Hack” (p. 256)
- All page numbers are from the hardcover first edition published by Doubleday ISBN 0-385-51439-5, 1st printing
- All italics as in the book
- Elizabeth is smart, ruthless, and emotionally damaged; that is, she is a sales representative.
- Q3/2: August, p. 2
- On level 14, Elizabeth is falling in love. This is what makes her such a good sales rep, and an emotional basket case: she falls in love with her customers. It is hard to convey just how wretchedly, boot-lickingly draining it is to be a salesperson. Sales is a business of relationships, and you must cultivate customers with tenderness and love, like cabbages in winter, even if the customer is an egomaniacal asshole you want to hit with a shovel. There is something wrong with the kind of person who becomes a sales rep, or if not, there is something wrong after six months.
- p. 11
- Like every other department in Zephyr, Training Sales has an open floor plan, which means everyone works in a sprawling cubicle farm except the manager, who has an office with a glass internal wall, across which blinds are permanently drawn. Open-plan seating, it has been explained in company-wide memos, increases teamwork, and boosts productivity. Except in managers, that is, whose productivity tends to be boosted by—and the memos don’t say this, but the conclusion is inescapable—corner offices with excellent views.
- pp. 13-14
- How she became manager remains a mystery. But there are only two possibilities. One is that Senior Management mistook her tirades for drive and a commitment to excellence. The other is that they knew Sydney was a paranoid psychopath, and that’s exactly the kind of person they want in management.
- p. 31
- He is looking for something called The Omega Management System, which is the latest management fad in a tradition stretching back through Six Sigma and Total Quality Management to the practice of bleeding sick patients and investing in tulips.
- p. 36
- People talk about bedroom eyes; well, Megan has the whole suite.
- p. 40
- There are stories—legends, really—of the “steady job.” Old-timers gather graduates around the flickering light of a computer monitor and tell stories of how the company used to be, back when a job was for life, not just for the business cycle. In those days, there were dinners for employees who racked up twenty-five years—don’t laugh, you, yes, twenty-five years!—of service. In those days, a man didn’t change jobs every five minutes. When you walked down the corridors, you recognized everyone you met; hell, you knew the names of their kids.
The graduates snicker. A steady job! They’ve never heard of such a thing. What they know is the flexible job. It’s what they were raised on in business school; it’s what they experienced, too, as they drove a cash register or stacked shelves between classes. Flexibility is where it’s at, not dull, rigid, monotonous steadiness. Flexible jobs allow employees to share in the company’s ups and downs; well, not so much the ups. But when times get tough, it’s the flexible company that thrives. By comparison, a company with steady jobs hobbles along with a ball and chain. The graduates have read the management textbooks and they know the truth: long-term employees are so last century.
The problem with employees, you see, is everything. You have to pay to hire them and pay to fire them, and, in between, you have to pay them. They need business cards. They need computers. They need ID tags and security clearances and phones and air-conditioning and somewhere to sit. You have to ferry them to off-site team meetings. You have to ferry them home again. They get pregnant. They injure themselves. They steal. They join religions with firm views on when it’s permissible to work. When they read their e-mail they open every attachment they get, and when they write it they expose the company to enormous legal liabilities. They arrive with no useful skills, and once you’ve trained them, they leave. And don’t expect gratitude! If they’re not taking sick days, they’re requesting compassionate leave. If they’re not gossiping with co-workers, they’re complaining about them. They consider it their inalienable right to wear body ornamentation that scares customers. They talk about (dear God) unionizing. They want raises. They want management to notice when they do a good job. They want to know what’s going to happen in the next corporate reorganization. And lawsuits! The lawsuits! They sue for sexual harassment, for an unsafe workplace, for discrimination in thirty-two different flavors. For—get this—wrongful termination. Wrongful termination! These people are only here because you brought them into the corporate world! Suddenly you’re responsible for them for life?
The truly flexible company—and the textbooks don’t come right out and say it, but the graduates can tell that they want to—doesn’t employ people at all. This is the siren song of outsourcing. The seductiveness of the subcontract. Just try out the words: no employees. Feels good, doesn’t it? Strong. Healthy. Supple. Oh yes, a company without employees would be a wondrous thing. Let the workers suck up a little competitive pressure. Let them get a taste of the free market.
The old-timers’ stories are fairy tales, dreams of a world that no longer exists. They rest on the bizarre assumption that people somehow deserve a job. The graduates know better; they’ve been taught that they don’t.
- pp. 41-43
- Last month we had to sit through a presentation on eliminating redundancy, and it was a bunch of PowerPoint slides, plus a guy reading out what was on the slides, and then he gave us all hard copies.
- p. 49
- You can say this for Senior Management: it knows how to articulate a goal. The strategy may be fuzzy, the execution nonexistent, but Senior Management knows what it wants.
- p. 54
- He flips to the section on retrenchment. A sacking, the book says, is one of the most harrowing and stressful events you may ever experience—Jones assumes “you” means the person being sacked until he realizes it’s talking about the manager. According to the book, sackings can be highly destabilizing: workers stop thinking about doing their jobs and start thinking about whether they’ll still have them. It then describes a rage of strategies managers can use to harness that fear and uncertainty and jujitsu-throw it into a motivating factor.
What Jones doesn’t find in the book—and he doesn’t notice this at first; he has to flick back and forth—is any mention of the retrenched employees. How they might feel, for example, or what might happen to them afterward. It’s kind of creepy. It’s almost as if once they are sacked, they cease to exist.
- pp. 55-56
- “Anyway, my plan. Last week I filed a claim for disability.”
“Disability? For what?”
“Think about it. If I’m born stupid, is that my fault? No, I’m just an honest, hardworking Joe, doing my stupid best. And the company can’t sack people who have a disability. It’s a fact.”
“Wow. That’s clever.”
“Thanks.” He smiles. “See, you just need to know how to work the company.”
- Q3/3: September, p. 68
- The departments don’t report the problem because a good manager knows the only reason to call Senior Management, ever, is to deliver good news. People who ring Senior Management with problems do not have much of a future at Zephyr Holdings. Senior Management is not there to hold departmental hands. It is there to dispense stock options.
- p. 71
- “Customers are vermin, Mr. Jones. They infect companies with disease.” He says this with complete solemnity. “A company is a system. It is built to perform a relatively small set of actions over and over, as efficiently as possible. The enemy of systems is variation, and customers produce variation. They want special products. They have unique circumstances. They try to place orders with after-sales support and they direct complaints to sales. My proudest accomplishment, and I am being perfectly honest with you here, Mr. Jones, is not the Omega Management System and it associated revenue stream—which, by the way, is extremely lucrative. It is Zephyr. A customer-free company. Listen to that, Mr. Jones. A customer-free company. In the early days, you know, we tried to simulate customers. It was a disaster. Killed the whole project. When we started again, I cut every department that had external customers. It was like shooting a pack of rabid dogs. Now, I’m not claiming Zephyr Holdings is perfect. But we’re getting there, Mr. Jones. We’re getting there.”
- Q4/1: October, p. 105
- Someone tried to tell me the other day that the only habitable place in America is California. But I just don’t understand how you could spend your life restricted to summer outfits.
- p. 108
- “When someone asks for the ethics tape, we know they’ve already decided to invest. They just want some reassurance so they can feel good about it, too. That’s the thing you learn about values, Jones: they’re what people make up to justify what they did. Did you take business ethics in college?”
“They teach you people’s behavior is guided by their values, right? That’s a load of crap. When you watch people like we do, you find out it’s the other way around. Look, I believe in what Alpha does, I really do. But do I worry about whether every little thing we do is ethical? No, because you can rationalize anything as ethical. You talk to a criminal—a tax dodger, a serial killer, a child abuser—and every one of them will justify their actions. They’ll explain to you, totally seriously, why they had to do what they did. Why they’re still good people. That’s the thing: when people talk about the importance of ethics, they never include themselves. The day anyone, anywhere, admits that they personally are unethical, I’ll start taking that whole issue seriously.”
- pp. 111-112
- Ninety-five percent of all jobs suck, Jones. That’s why people get paid to do them.
- p. 112
- She dabs at her eyes. “Jesus, you nearly killed me.” She takes a deep breath. “Whoo. Okay. Tell me how you justify buying a new pair of shoes.”
“When there are starving people in Africa, what kind of person spends two hundred bucks on shoes? See, once you buy into that paradigm, it’s a bottomless pit. You can never feel good about yourself while there’s anybody in the world poor or hungry, which there always is, Jones, and has been since the dawn of time, so you feel guilty and hypocritical all the time. I’m consistent. I admit I don’t care. You want me to reassure you that Alpha is ethical, but I’m not going to do it, because ethics is bullshit. It’s the spin we put on our lives to justify what we do. I say, be big enough to live without rationalizations.”
- p. 148
- The atmosphere of desperate, ignorant terror essential to healthy rumors seeps away, replaced by a silent, wary paranoia. People bunker down, jealously keeping what they know, which is nothing, to themselves.
- p. 174
- There are two ways of looking at Senior Management. One is that it’s a tightly integrated team tirelessly pulling together in the service of whatever’s best for the company. The other is that it’s a dog pack of power-hungry egomaniacs who occasionally assist Zephyr as a side effect of their individual campaigns for wealth and status. Nobody believes the tightly knit team theory anymore. Once, a long time ago, it may have been true, but the instant a dog-pack person made it into Senior Management, it was all over. It’s like a fox getting into the chicken house; pretty soon there are only foxes and feathers. If Senior Management ever was ever made up of selfless individuals who put teamwork ahead of self-interest—and this is a big if—they were long ago torn to pieces.
- pp. 180-181
- Jones says, “What if we could make the company better? If we could change things…make it a better place to work. I mean, there are so many things we could do.”
Holly looks at him blankly. Freddy says, “Jones…you’re still new here People suggest ways to improve the company every day. Their ideas go into the suggestion box in the cafeteria—where the cafeteria was, I mean—and they’re never heard from again, except during all-staff meetings when Senior Management picks out the most useless one and announces a cross-functional team to look into it. A year or two later, when everyone’s forgotten about it, we get an e-mail announcing the implementation of something that bears no resemblance to the initial idea and usually has the opposite effect, and in the annual reports this is used as evidence that the company listens and reacts to its workers. That’s what happens when you try to make Zephyr a better place to work.”
- Q4/2: November, pp. 208-209
- The Infrastructure Control manager is a short, muscular man with a dark beard. He is an oddity in Zephyr Holdings: a person who started on the floor and was promoted through hard work. This makes other managers uncomfortable. The idea that you can get ahead through sheer competence, and not politicking, backstabbing, fleeing impending disasters, and clambering on board imminent successes, undermines everything they know.
- p. 222
- Sydney feels an affinity with Human Resources. She likes the name, with its not-so-hidden implication that employees are an exploitable resource, like stock or real estate. And not a particularly valuable one, despite that old chestnut about employees being the company’s most important asset. Sydney knows the truth: give the company cash resources, give it strategic partnerships, give it inventory; give it anything but prickly, unreliable, idiosyncratic humans. People are the worst: you can’t stack them, or (easily) relocate them, and you can’t even just leave them alone to accumulate value. That’s why the company requires HR: a department to transform humans into resources.
- pp. 226-227
- “What happened to sticking together? What happened to teamwork?” He gives Holly a dirty look.
“Hey,” Holly says. “You know what Roger told me? He said there’s no such thing as teamwork. It’s a con. The company doesn’t promote teams. If you want to get ahead you have to screw everybody else and look after yourself. Co-workers are competitors. Roger told me the truth: there’s no I in team, but there’s no U, either!”
- p. 237
- The only thing more amazing than the catalog of brutal methods the company uses to demean its workers is that it thinks it’s helping. Not that the employees are going to say this. Positive feedback is taken very seriously, often ending up in annual reports, but negative feedback leads to HR investigations into employee attitude problems.
- Q4/3: December, p. 273
- Mona says bravely, “I can’t see how this will work. You can’t abolish Senior Management. Zephyr isn’t a democracy. It’s a corporation.”
“I believe,” Klausman says, “that Jones is advancing the theory that those two concepts are not mutually exclusive.”
- p. 289
- Senior Management may have been incompetent; it may have been corrupt; it was certainly full of assholes—but they were their incompetent, corrupt assholes.
- p. 294
- There’s no requirement that jobs be meaningful, Jones. If there was, half the country would be unemployed.
- April, p. 334
- But what can I say? That’s how business works. Nobody gives a crap about ethics. That’s why people like me will always be successful.
- p. 335