I’m usually not one for business books. I’ve never read “Seven Habits of Highly Effective Cheese”, “Who Moved My People”, “Everything You’ve Wanted To Know About Business, But Didn’t Want To Ask”, or any bios on the rich or the powerful. Just not my bag.
About this time last year, however, a former co-worker recommended the book “The Gamesman” to me. He described it as the best organizational business book he had ever read, although he claimed to have read it over 25 years ago. As we were working in a resources and requirements division, the book seemed like a solid recommendation and something I figured I would enjoy.
Written in the early 1970s by business anthropologist Michael Maccoby, “The Gamesman” explores several different personalities found in the 1970s corporate business environment. Maccoby builds on other personality studies such as “The Organization Man” and Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” and attempts to categorize workers based on their drive, corporate roles, and lives outside of the workplace.
First a disclaimer: being that this book was written in the 70s, it is very much a product of its time. There is very little talk of women and minorities and only Mexico is given an acknowledgement in the discussion of international cultures. When discussing the work place, women get the most coverage of the aforementioned groups and even then they are marginalized as secretaries and other administrative positions. They are seen as objects for powerful men to oogle or flirt with and their admiration is counted as points for a distinctive corporate personality. That aside, as a white man who has worked in predominantly white male dominant industries, I could identify with a book about the corporate personalities of other white men.
(Also, I am not sure if the person who recommended the book to me realized how The Gamesman was incredibly sexist and culturally single scope, since he too was a white male in the same white male dominant work environment. And the fact that the military and many defense contractors are so white male driven does say a lot about their business culture. This is not good or for bad, just reality.)
Through his research, interviews, and investigations, Maccoby comes up with four distinct corporate personalities:
The Craftsman is the type of person who takes pride in his craft. They are subject matter experts on one thing, often spending their entire lives working one issue or field. They are career plumbers, career writers, career engineers, or any other field where one can dedicate their lives. They care little of promotion or interaction, only that they get emotional satisfaction from being good at their niche.
The Jungle Fighter
Jungle fighters are people who scratch, claw, and play political games in an attempt to get to the top of a corporation. They play people against each other, manipulate their co-workers, and use those below them for their own personal gain. They are largely political creatures who ass-kiss when needed and throw people under the bus when needed.
The Company Man
The Company Man is the type of person who throws themselves at the will of the company because they fear the repercussions of the company. He will do any job, take any position for the betterment of the company, and side with the company on all decisions. They are submissive and do whatever it takes to not get fired.
The Gamesman is the newest type of corporate personality and was created by Maccoby. Gamesman feel the corporate environment is game they have to “win”. Money isn’t the end result unless it is part of a goal. Gamesmen want to achieve, compete, and pit themselves against their environment. They are very success-driven, often as Maccoby discovers, at the risk of alienating or losing their emotional attachments.
After writing brief chapters on the craftman, jungle fighter, and company man, Maccoby focuses more than half the book on The Gamesman. He explores the personalities of several successful managers at defense companies and other high-tech industries. What he finds is surprising and somewhat shocking. Gamesmen rely on competition. It drives them and keeps them on their toes. They have an unending drive to be the top of whatever field they decide to be in.
Unfortunately, Maccoby writes that the drive that propels many gamesmen to the top of their fields often stands in the way of their emotional well-being. Their lives revolve around work and they often lead unfulfilling family lives, sacrificing the warm embrace of home and hearth for the cold calculations of the business world.
Maccoby discusses the conflict these individuals have in depth in a chapter called “The Head and the Heart”. He proposes the idea that the corporate culture that promotes corporate “winning” and being “better” than others sadly kills the idea of true cooperation and compassion. Although Gamesmen aren’t inherently cold people, their actions and need to feel victorious sometimes make others feel degraded, especially those who don’t share their competitive will.
I don’t think it was the intent of my former co-worker to show me that I was too driven by work. I think he told me to buy The Gamesman because it would help me identify what I was up against in the conservative military defense contracting work environment we were in. But when reading The Gamesman, I found myself associating with The Gamesman personality much more than any other corporate type. And I found myself looking inside myself to see if I was as ultimately empty as the people Maccoby interviewed.
One of the people Maccoby profiled fit me almost to a tee. He was a successful worker who racked up the accolades at work, but couldn’t seem to find happiness. Although he was married, he couldn’t stay calm after work. He kept thinking his life would be better if he sought out other challenges, such as law school, medical school, or trying to find another job. He felt frustrated in his job because they wouldn’t let him “win” any more.
Overall, The Gamesman scared me more than any book I have ever read. Since I have been out of work, I’ve realized how important it is to be alive outside of the workplace. All the work and accomplishments I did at my job went right out the window the second I was laid off. They went on my resume, but they didn’t define “me”. I thought I was “winning” in the career “game”, but in reality, professional and educational accolades didn’t mean anything to me as a person. And now, as I try to figure out where my career path is going, I know money alone doesn’t equal true happiness. Money is necessary to pay the rent and I should still save for a time when I am too old to work, but money and accomplishments shouldn’t be the end-all-be-all of life. I should enjoy my work path as much as possible.
I might not know what I want to do, but I know I want to try to undo 16 years of competitive nature and act more from my heart for the first time ever. I don’t want to be a Gamesman anymore.