Sunday, April 13, 2014

Cadillac Man

The first day of my MBA program, lo these many years ago, I took a battery of personality tests. I don’t recall exactly what the categories were, or precisely what the results meant. I just recall that all my colleagues were blue and green kinds of men and women, and I was a yellow and red guy.

An academic advisor told me a few days later, “You probably shouldn’t continue with this program. These tests don’t lie. It’s not a question of intelligence. It’s a question of personality type, and your personality type indicates that you’re probably not cut out to be a business manager.”

Truer words were never spoken. I knew it before the tests. I certainly knew it after the tests. I continued anyway, and achieved pretty close to a 4.0 GPA, because I’m that kind of a guy, too. It really wasn’t that difficult, and when I put my mind to it, calculating various profitability ratios was just simple math. As they told me, it wasn’t a question of intelligence. It was a question of … what?

I’d like to tell you that the answer to that $64,000,000 question was “humanity,” simply existing as a living, breathing, thinking, and above all feeling human being on planet Earth, but that would probably just be the yellow and red parts of my personality talking. But that’s what those yellow and red categories measured. Emotional intelligence. Compassion. Empathy. I was off the charts, and in corporate America, it’s all about the charts, preferably pie and bar graph.

I have watched the commercial linked below a few dozen times. It fascinates me, and my reaction to it fascinates me. Because it is marketing, I assume that its implicit goal is to sell cars. It’s a car commercial, after all. See commercial, buy a Cadillac. That’s the Pavlovian consumerist response. But my yellow and red guy reaction is extreme. Not only does it not make me want to buy a Cadillac, it makes me want to proselytize the world, or at least my Facebook friends, and tell everyone that it would be in the best interests of humanity, world peace, God, country, kittens, puppies, all that you and I hold dear, not to buy a Cadillac. I hate this commercial, and I loathe the smug, arrogant son of a bitch who pitches the Cadillacs.

Actually, I know what it is. I have worked with this guy, and for this guy, too often in my 30+ years in corporate America. I can’t take it anymore. I don’t see red. I see blue and green. I see a number cruncher. I see a clown who doesn’t have a clue how to relate to human beings, including his wife or kids, because he’s too busy crunching the numbers that will buy the next expensive luxury car. I see a guy who lives for work instead of who works to live. And he is as alien to me as Godzilla. I can’t even begin to relate.

To be fair, I do realize that there is a continuum here on which all human beings fall. Very few people are pure, unalloyed number crunchers, ruthless automatons climbing one robotic step at a time up the corporate ladder. I know plenty of accountants who crunch numbers all day, and many of them are three-dimensional, fully realized human beings who have a variety of interests, who love their families, etc. And few people are the off-the-charts romantic dreamers and poets that my Yellow and Red Guy test scores would seem to indicate. While you’re babbling about computer nodes, I’m off writing Ode to a Node in my head. This is not normal, either.

But that Cadillac guy? He gives me the willies. He creeps me right out. He raises the hairs on the back of my poetic neck.

Forbes Magazine published an article several years ago that discussed the findings of sociologist Jon Ronson, who contends that the incidence of sociopathy and psychopathy is about four times higher in CEOs than it is in the population at large. Make of that what you will. Ronson would call it science. The chief psychological factor that distinguishes sociopaths and psychopaths from the rest of “normal” society is a lack of empathy.

Every day thousands of people are unceremoniously dumped on the street, the victims of number crunching. They are told, inevitably, that it’s nothing personal. And who knew? For at least some of the people making the decisions, it really isn’t. I deeply, intuitively, non-scientifically suspect that the character played by Cadillac guy is one of their ranks. This is why I can’t stand him.

This is why I would be a lousy manager. This is why I’m a lousy corporate American. Numbers are not people. Never will be. And it is people who are ultimately impacted by the numbers, every single time. You can count on it.

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