Almost everyone is familiar with Google, Inc.'s famous motto, "Don't
be evil". That said, how do you feel about the company where you
work? Are they being evil or just stupid? Sometimes it can be very
difficult to know exactly, but the answer can mean very different results
for your career.
First, whenever I am evaluating the actions
of any company, or any person for that matter, I always apply the following
wisdom from Napoleon, "Never
ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity." What
may look evil initially might just be an example of extreme stupidity
or, even more likely, extreme ignorance. While it might seem evil to
you, and you can imagine all sorts of evil machinations, it is important
to notice the difference. Your response to each of these scenarios
is quite different and responding inappropriately could mean more difficulties
in your career at the time when you are trying to simplify it.
The most basic difference between evil and stupid is that I believe
it is possible, and easier, to fix stupidity than evil. Even the
stupidest companies have the ability to learn and move from stupidity
It might not be an easy path, but there is a hint of hope there.
If you see your company doing something stupid, you can take some
action to correct it, no matter how low your position. You can effect
change on stupidity from the ground up. Again, it will be a slow
process, but hopefully one that will gain momentum as it grows.
Evil, on the other hand, is pernicious, corrupting and corrosive.
One executive, one manager, one co-worker who is engaged in evil,
that is an individual taking advantage of the company or an entire
company taking advantage of its customers, will go to extreme lengths
to both hide its evilness and perpetuate it. Whereas stupidity can
often lead to illogical thinking, evil can lead companies and people
to go completely non-linear. This is what leads to companies like
HP believing it is ok to spy on their own employees and attempt to
them. Evil eats up a company from the inside and you either join
the evil or run from it. There is no way to stay pure while in contact
So, how does this effect your work and your career. Well, it should
be fairly obvious. If your company is stupid, there is still hope.
You can make changes in even the stupidest companies, if you really
believe in their product, service or message. Your decision to remain
with the company is based on your belief that you can continue to do
good work there, even if there are some problems.
Of course, if your company is evil, then
you are also evil...or, at least, on your way to evilness. Every time
you reinforce an abusive
policy, overcharge a customer, engage in "bait and switch" tactics
or whatever other evil behaviors your company exhibits, you, personally
are becoming more and more evil. The evil starts to wrap you up in
its web. You might think, "Oh, well, its only one customer," but
the proverbial slippery slope is there, waiting to take you into its
embrace. It is nearly impossible to avoid the evil when it is all around
you. In most cases, the evil stems from the very top of the organization.
As the saying goes, "The fish rots from the head down." If
senior executives are engaged in evil behavior then everyone else feels
the sting. Ask the employees of Enron how much evil from above can
effect their careers and I am sure you will get an earful.
So, in most cases, the best way, and perhaps the only way, of avoiding
becoming evil yourself, is to avoid it at all costs. Do all you can
to see if your company is evil or stupid, but once you decide it
falls on the evil side of the equation, get out. Otherwise, your
career will suffer. It might not happen today or tomorrow, but evil
is repaid in full eventually and you don't want to be the one cashing
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