GIL SCHWARTZ first knew his alter ego Stanley Bing possessed corporate cred when a colleague put a Xerox of his Esquire column in the middle of his desk with this note: "I think you'll enjoy this." At the time (the mid-'80s), Schwartz lived in fear of being uncovered as Bing, the pen name he created to vent his anger and frustration at executive existence from the underling's vantage point with the verbal judo of a stand-up comic. He thought the co-worker knew his Clark Kentsian secret. So he ambled over to the co-worker's office. "You sent this to me," he said. The guy responded, "Yeah, I thought you'd like it. It sounds like you." He replied: "Thanks. I don't really think it's all that funny, but I'm glad you thought of me."
He managed to keep the secret from 1984 until 1993, and admits a little of the fun is gone now that everyone knows about his day job as an executive VP at CBS. Since first conjuring the corporate court jester Bing, Schwartz has moved his work from Esquire to Fortune, where he writes a monthly column. He's also written a series of bestselling books, including What Would Machiavelli Do?,Throwing the Elephant: Zen and the Art of Managing Up, The Big Bing, and his latest, Sun Tzu Was A Sissy: Conquer Your Enemies,Promote Your Friends, and Wage the Real Art of War. Bing intends to continue to mine the well of history for contemporary corporate insights for his upcoming book (due out this fall, and as yet untitled) about civilization's first multinational corporation -the Roman Empire. Despite his impressive day job and his prolific writing career, Bing agreed to take a few moments to discuss critical corporate issues with us, such as how to employ anger on your rise to the top, the art of procrastination, and when to bring a whoopee cushion to the budget meeting.
Who gives a better interview, Stanley Bing or Gil Schwartz?
Bing, definitely. Schwartz has no comment on anything. And when talking about my books, it's important that people don't go to the bookstore and forget my name. There are so many books in the bookstore. To go to the bookstore as an author who's alive and not F. Scott Fitzgerald is a daunting, scary thing. So it's important we leave Gil at the door.
Which is easier, writing or managing people?
Managing people is a part of my daily life that comes up sort of without warning and without any particular invitation. So I don't have to say, "All right, I'm going to sit down and start managing people now." The hard part about writing isn't so much the writing as the sitting down. For me, once I'm actually sitting there and writing, I'm generally having a good time. I amuse myself tremendously. But the actual experience of sitting down and having to write, well, I'd rather have a needle poked into my palm. And what I do is, well, I've mastered the many subtle arts of procrastination over a lifetime of putting things off until tomorrow. And I'm really good at them. In fact, I once wrote a column on the art of procrastination, which I divided into precrastination, procrastination, and postcrastination.
Most writers talk about that in terms of being rituals.
For me, that's been difficult, because my day job has so few rituals, other than just being there. The one ritual I have established when I'm writing a book or if I have a column due that morning is that I take the train. I commute rather than drive. That gives me 45 minutes of sitting in a quiet environment where all you hear is the sneezing and coughing of other people. But unlike other writers, I don't get up at 6 and have coffee. Stephen King, I've read, gets up very early, works for five hours, and turns out 100 pages a day. I'm basically worried about a million different things a day having to do with my job, and the way I generally do it is when I'm supposed to be writing, I worry about my job, and when I worry about my job, I write.