A Modern Survival Guide Interlude
This is the Modern Survival Guide, a guidebook for interacting in the modern world. This article is an interlude, a brief aside that talks about a quick tip for modern living. This isn’t a philosophical tip or a deep discussion of human impulses; it’s just something people might want to know.
Let’s get one thing straight: this article isn’t about how to succeed at any job. That’s a whole other thing, about which many books have been written with the expenditure of much ink. Go read one of those. No, this is just about survival. And the truth is, there are only a few ways to survive at a job, where “survival” is defined as “employed.”
It has been said that you can bring products to market in three different ways: you can do it fast, cheap, or good. And you get to pick two for any given project. This description is often referred to as an “iron triangle,” and it usually looks like this:
The idea here is that you pick a vertex and whichever two qualities border it, that’s what you get. Well, the same kind of iron triangle exists for survival at a job. Except it looks like this:
Pick two. If you show up and do your job, you’re already head and shoulders above at least some of the people at your place of work. If you do your job and are brilliant, people will usually put up with your slackerness. If you show up and are brilliant, you will usually be kept around (at least for a while) to see if you can be convinced to do your job.
Note that if you have the ability to do so, you can switch vertices on the triangle from time to time to keep things interesting. This is how many people get through the work week, in fact.
Note also that this is for survival, not excellence. And the thing about survival is, it’s not guaranteed. In fact, there’s an item missing that has to go into any job survival scenario, and if we add it to the chart, the new version looks like this:
Dickish behavior does not translate to employment in a survival situation. If people can’t stand you, they will look for excuses to get rid of you. Dickish behavior is only tolerated in people who either excel so hard at their jobs that it would kill a company to fire them (for example, Steve Jobs) or in people who are so toxic that firing them would be more pain than it’s worth (also Steve Jobs). And even then you’re on thin ice (Steve Jobs got fired regardless). So don’t be dick.
People who are nice (or at least just bland) on the other hand, can survive on the triangle. You won’t be winning any awards, but you won’t be on food stamps either. And that’s all that a lot of people want out of their jobs.