6/30/2008

Corporate Survival Guide: Substance Secretion

A critical battlefield tactic is to know something that the enemy does not. It's crucial as an element of surprise, leverage in negotiations, and having a general feeling of superiority. This is just as true in corporate life: knowing things that other people don't can make you feared, promoted, and more attractive, in a secret-agent kind of way.

Of course, the trick with knowing secret things is actually finding them out. This can be a very difficult task, depending on where you fall in the pecking order. You may not actually be invited to meetings where people are discussing important things. Important people in the corporation may not know you as anything other than that person that keeps walking by their office nodding knowingly and saying hello while mis-pronouncing their name. And you don't actually know enough about the company or core business to even know what is important.

Fortunately, it is sufficient to just pretend that you know things. By definition, a secret is something which you don't tell people (although you can and should taunt them with it, do distinguish it from something that you just didn't happen to say). The difference between actually knowing something and pretending that you do is irrelevant. If the net result was that you didn't tell someone something, then the fact that you didn't know anything about it to begin with shouldn't matter. As long as that person thinks you did; that's the key.

You should begin honing your secret-keeping skills as soon as you enter the corporation. You want to become known as someone who knows things. You also want to be seen by the really important people as someone who can keep a secret.

Until such a time as you actually have any knowledge of anything interesting, which may never happen, you need to practice your secret-broadcasting skills, which I refer to as the "I have a secret!" strategy. Keeping fictional secrets is an entire portfolio of techniques, some of which I'll describe here:

Confidential documents
It is important for people to see you handling secret papers. Of course, one piece of paper looks like another from any distance, so you'll need to emphasize that the documents are terribly important through clever and subtle acting and props.
I suggest you buy several red folders at an office supply store, and a couple of larger red portfolio cases as well. Then affix and appropriate, large label to these objects, saying things like, "Confidential!," "Secret!," "Really Important Things!," "Don't Tell Anyone!," "Destroy After Reading!," "Never Reveal Contents, on Pain of Death!" Use as large a font as you can to make the labels readable from across the room. And try to avoid embarassing misspellings.
Now, the important part: Shuffle papers in and out of these folders frequently, moving them between the folders, or taking them out and reading them and putting them back, or else emptying them from the folder into the shredder. Be sure to stand up and walk around when you're doing this to make sure that you're seen. Whip your head back and forth as you do this, on the lookout for corporate spies.

Cryptic conversations
The key to keeping fictional secrets is never revealing them. But of course you have to have people know that you know something, so dropping hints is required. Have conversations with co-workers, or complete strangers in the company, which hint at something interesting but never reveal it.
"Hey, did you hear about the... Ah, never mind. Can't say."
"Are you privy to the...?"
"Did you see the Feinster memo? Unbelievable!"
Nonverbal conversations are sometimes just as good. When you pass someone in the hall, give them a knowing look and a nod, with maybe a secret smile and a wink. Try not to look like you're having a seizure.
Finally, one-way conversations can be fantastic for creating illusion. Dial your office phone from another phone (making sure you set your office phone ringer on the loudest ring). Now, answer the phone and proceed to have half of a top-secret conversation. Speak loudly and stand up if you can.
"Hello, this is Smithers."
...
"Yes, sir, I understand."
...
"Absolutely, you can trust me. Not a word."
Now, continue standing and looking around, making sounds like, "Whew!" and "Boy!" At this point, you try to catch someone's eye, and smile while shaking your head. Ideally, someone will ask you, "What was that about?" But this is not critical, as you can always say to the larger room, "I bet you're wondering what that was about, but I can't tell you because it's a Secret!"

Apparel
It is important to dress the part of a secret-keeper. Dark sunglasses and a low-brim hat, worn at all times inside and out, are mandatory. A trenchcoat is also helpful, and can be useful for transporting and exchanging the red confidential folders discussed above. Finally, buy some handcuffs and clip yourself to your briefcase. Be sure to not lose the key, as this makes for tricky and potentially messy bathroom experiencies.


Practice all of the above techniques every 2 minutes or so, to make sure that you get maximum benefit from minimum substance.

There are many more, of course, and I'd like to tell you about them, but I can't. They're secret.
Post a Comment