As titans of business, MBAs are hard chargers who work countless hours to advance their careers and the goals of the company. Working hard is just part of the bargain but at what price?
Author Greg Marcus explores the plight of the chronically overworked in his latest book Busting Your Corporate Idol — How to Reconnect With Values & Regain Control of Your Life. Dr. Marcus’ own story is the classic case of overwork at the expense of his life outside of work. Even though Dr. Marcus was trained as a scientist (he has a Ph D. from MIT), his experience parallels many MBAs struggles to find that balance between conquering the world and having enough energy, time and motivation to enjoy what you have conquered. I can certainly relate because I fought the same demons Dr. Marcus talks about.
Rethinking Corporate Agency
What I find compelling about Dr. Marcus’ book is that he explores the reasons we “worship the company” and how that worship is unhealthy for us and the company. He also takes a look at how corporations, the “real American Idol” as he puts it, create this worship culture to guilt us into working harder and harder for marginal gain. In fact, it’s this hope for additional, just out of reach gain, which rarely happens, that pushes us to break the simple rules of economics that will drive us to an early grave.
Dr. Marcus frames his argument for the importance putting “people first” by digging into how societies throughout time have interacted with each other as well as some great examples of real world corporate idol worship (from his own research, news stories and the literature).
Impactful Writing Without Being Too “Heady”
I find Dr. Marcus’ writing style pleasant to read yet rich enough to impact the message in a way that’s challenging yet approachable. The first example of this is when he lays out his People-First Values argument and the counter being the Rule of Self-Preservation. Both those sections dig into some deep reflections on the human condition that could get complex fast yet he dissects these concepts into easily digestible pieces and even throws in a few tables (in true scientist form) to make the concepts even easier to follow.
The example stories are also well written, a joy to read and bring home the concepts from various angles. My personal favorite is in Part 2: Living With Corporate Idolatry where Dr. Marcus narrates a parable about Who to Trust — the Scorpion, the Fox or the Wolf.
I’m partially drawn to this section because it gives some good advice on how to deal with workplace situations and the nature of politics at work. I find his framework a great guide to follow so that we don’t get used or abused at work. In fact, the model also lends itself nicely to predicting the level of corporate idolatry (company worship) present at a company.
Busting Your Corporate Idol may seem like heresy to the hard charging, work 16 hours-a-day MBA crowd but Dr. Marcus is on to something. Just like the pioneers into green business, sustainability, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and business ethics, Dr. Marcus boldly throws the gauntlet down for all of us to rethink our personal bottom lines so that we may challenge our blind allegiances to the corporation and instead foster a deeper sense of what it means to have a life that’s in balance. I encourage all of you to pick up a copy of Busting Your Corporate Idol and start reconciling your personal bottom line before it gets out of balance.