Actually, the job is very important to the writing, because the job is very aggravating, and aggravation and pain are what produce humor.
Humor and business seem like an odd couple.
It's true. But when you think about the great humorists, work is definitely one of the things that people think about every day. There is one great TV series about it that's the only one that's really gotten what it's like to work in an office, and that's the British show The Office. But we Americans don't seem to be able to do that because we have this notion that business is separate from work. That people who work in business are not like you and me. The Apprentice continues that fallacy. That the world of the boardroom is so different, and you have to have different skills. And that's not really the case. My father was an academic. He worked as a professor at a university. They had more infighting and backstabbing about who would get a desk chair than we have about mergers and acquisitions. I think it's just about people. You know, I think about those books about moving cheese and have to think, this isn't rocket science. You try your best to build alliances, make friends, you try and care about the people you work with. One problem I try and address in my stuff is the people you work for aren't always ennobled by those same things. They're generally out to try and beat the other guy and win and not be short. That's a big thing for men in business. A lot of really successful ones are short for some reason. We don't really know why. Science is still studying the issue.
How reliable is wit as a corporate weapon?
Wit is not only a weapon, but a strategy that takes into account the ridiculousness of working with other people, how extreme they are, how odd when you work with them every day. The first time we ever experience that is in school. There's always a class clown. The moron who likes to throw paper objects at people. The kid who makes funny noises. Those people don't go away. You just put them in suits. I find that if there's no humor, life's just not worth living. Corporate life, executive life, business life isn't worth living without humor. And that's basically the problem with PowerPoint.
But in the context of corporate battles and strategies, telling jokes and trying to be funny can be a bit unreliable, don'tyou think?
It's very dangerous. But there are ways. It's actually a good column idea. Jokes are kind of the last refuge of people who aren't witty. Ever noticed that? The guy who knows all the jokes is the guy you see and say, "Uh-oh, here he comes." You don't really want a joke a lot of the time; you just want a little bit of the sense that we aren't necessarily playing with nuclear fission able material all the time. Everybody is so dead serious about the 2006 marketing plan, and the thing is, everybody knows the 2006 marketing plan will be completely out of date by 2005. People like to aggrandize business, and I think it's good to poke fun at things, but you're not going to make fun of everything unless you're really good at it and that's your role in the corporation. But very often in business what's defined as having a good sense of humor is having the good sense to laugh at other people's jokes. If you can do that, then people think you're funny. Which is an odd thing. It's like if you can listen well, people will say you're a good conversationalist. But you have to make sure that the kind of humor you're working with is congenial to the corporate culture. For example, if the chairman likes potty jokes, you're not exactly going to be telling him witticisms from The New Yorker. At the same time, if you have a sophisticated group, you may not bring the whoopee cushion to the budget meeting. On the other hand, a whoopee cushion at the budget meeting is often quite effective.
On the other side of the coin, you talk a lot in your latest book about the importance of executive warriors being able to tap into their anger. What role does rage play in the corporate world?
In my new book, I write all these unpleasant things about all these people who are angry and difficult to deal with. And it's important to be able to generate that kind of similar intensity. And people think, Oh, how nasty. How unfortunate. But the fact is, that's the way things are. The people who are very successful are not very nice people. And as you get more successful, I believe, you become a jerk. As people get more successful, they get more stressed out.They tend to become selfish, instead of the other way around. The more you have, the more you want. And the more you want, the more frustrated you get. There's no way someone who's a CEO of a company can be as happy as they want to be all the time.