How To Succeed In Business

October 20, 2016

A satire on how to move up fast and quickly within a business organization, How to Succeed is a fast-paced and raucous comedy with outlandish potshots at the working world of the 1960’s. While there are many anachronisms, the standard still remains, which is in the existence of the corporate ladder that so many people try to maneuver. And, as a bitter pill to swallow, how often times merit is displaced when an open position can be filled by any potential suitor. It is to say, then, that the act of management is less about skill, prowess, even intelligence. It is about knowing how to get along with people, and, as the play hilariously reveals to be still true today, getting along with the right kind of people.


No longer is the landscape of 1962 and of today built by the blood, sweat, and tears of the enterprising man seeking to master his own fate, to create the ends to his destiny. Rather, it is far, far easier for men to attempt to strategically maneuver through the business world, acting inside complex, eternally moving machines of production, without actually possibly knowing the vastness of each section and seeing the forest for the trees. They simply try and time themselves to best fit; to ideally collect the largest possible paycheck with the minimalist responsibility; and that involves the absorption of the cultural nuances of the key decisionmakers; of essentially becoming sycophants; for there is no down-side to towing the line. Such a stark reality, of the modern corporation turning the skillset for production into favoring political diplomacy rather than ingenuity and innovativeness, and which the entire play harpoons with an effortless javelin throw, inevitably leads to the declining investment into production; the lack of talented decision-makers, ambitious to invent and create a new world, are cultural pariahs in such a manifested age of production. To rise up to make such decisions for the restless inventors requires tact and obsequiousness, which, as is necessary for making entrepreneurialism, is a lacking characteristic of such ambition. To go against the grain, to invent what has never been, is quintessentially maverick.


In any event, the hilarity of the script is in representing this farcical dramatic reality of the modern day business world. While clearly not all corporate cultures exist as such, it is scary to consider that it is generally true. And again, we must consider the other facets at play in how being from a similar alma matter is more meritorious for a promotion than actual aptitude within such a climate. Decisions are made at so many intricate levels, and the ownership of them is so diffuse, that the organization simply needs a cog in place to keep the wheels churning. Talent, that rare blend of vision with cunning to execute day-in and day-out, is not necessary in management.
The organization’s masters are functionally employees too, and hence have no vital affiliation with the long-term success of the business. True, it would be ideal for a legacy to be created, and that may be what inspires many business men to lead the large corporation. But at the end of the day, as the musical concludes, they too try to mitigate their own level of responsibilities. So there is nothing in their self-interest to try and rock the boat; in such a means for material prosperity, audacity does not rise to the top, but instead, following the status quo, ingratiating the bureaucracy, is the quote “company way”.

And this speaks to just the male gender’s experience of this world. The females too, even in the 60’s, while still carrying imaginations of ending their working careers, have strategies in mind for making this so. They aspire to meet up-and-coming bachelors who can feed and clothe them, and their inevitable children – ultimately a remedy for the women of the world to survive comfortably and luxuriantly (that is the hope anyways) without having to climb the same rungs as the men do. This quote “game” is the most disparate difference between the present and the past. Women now are expected to compete in the same corporate ladder as men, while also still carrying the anxiety of having to land a man; yet now, because of the mobility, it is hard to find as many superiorly ambitious men than decades ago, when most such ambitious woman were content with not becoming more materially independent and had therefore the liberty to find a larger pool of men that would provide greater attractiveness in their ability to offer comfort as acting as a provider.

How to Succeed, in final, is a comedic display of the tragic circumstances of the contemporary way to make ends meet as optimally as possible. Know-how in getting things done takes a back seat to knowing how to get ahead.


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