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Personality and Workplace

They say, in the Army, you need to be smart, but not too smart - because then you would'nt fit in with the rest of the troops.
I think its true for every industry. You need to be as smart as the person next to you, maybe a percentage higher though. But more than that, and your chances of success are limited. I guess that's why smart people (with risk taking ability) become entrepreneurs.

In a general office environment, it is a bunch of people thrown together randomly by someone, and no matter whether you like it or not, you are supposed to like each other. Much like every other scenario in life. However, to continue to be in the 'just-about-your-intelligence-level' game, everyone underestimates everyone else. It is but natural. And hence, the collective interest level of the group is narrowed down to the shallowest of the lot. Much like the famed bottleneck. It does not do to laugh at jokes which the more important members of the team, namely boss, cannot understand, too often. Sure you can. But that does not mean it will be taken lightly after the third time. It is more likely that after the second time people will avoid having a scenario where you crack a joke that is sharper than what they/ majority of the group can understand.
The skill required thus becomes the Art of Acting Dumb. Which is the most difficult skill of them all. Anyone can be intelligent. Infact, most are. But to be intelligent enough to be dumb, now that is something I think is remarkable (and lack). When you are just about dumb enough (or not too sharp) externally but sharp internally, people trust you, people tell you stuff and include you - since you are sharp enough, you can get the work done. There are very few teams and roles in a normal organization which need you to be an individual, colourful, intelligent and unique. Most of them just want the job done, and you to be a part of the herd. (Sad but true).

It is in this environment of combined underestimation that someone slips past something that they like. From their personal lives. Sometimes its a mobile phone ring tone. Sometimes its a joke, a shared cartoon, a book name, a movie - anything. And you suddenly get a glimpse of the real person. The person behind the façade, the person in evenings, outside office. It is just below the seams, waiting to be found, but no one really wants to find out. It is risky. So people carry a part of their character in their key chains, their Friday Dressing, their phone ring tone, and keep it as a bait. Waiting for someone to snap at it.
To reach out and ask someone about ones likes and dislikes is risky. To go ahead and wax eloquent about, say, the scene in Pulp Fiction where the splatter the head of their hostage in the car and worry about the interior decor more than the human being, is risky. If the other person knows, then you are in luck. You are just as intelligent as him/her. However, otherwise you are not in the same 'range'. You are either a wierdo, or too intelligent for comfortable conversation in future.
However, to have someone to say 'yes, me too' to is much simpler. But then again, not too much. A friend in office is different from a friend. The quest in office for like minded people is just that. It may be incidental if the friendship lasts longer than office hours, but for most it is a chore outside office. People just want to be a little more comfortable than what they usually are like in office. They want someone who shares something in common.

So people wait, with their bait hanging, waiting for someone, anyone to snap at what they are baiting. Waiting for a comrade.

Sometimes the cues left by people can be misleading. Like the time I asked a colleague after her phone rang for the nth time whether it really was the tune off American Beauty. She replied with a wary 'yes' but my waxing eloquent about the movie was met with a vacant stare.
I guess she just liked the ring tone, but dint much care about the rest. And that is why people wait before picking up cues. They may be false. Its easier to leave them to be found than to go around picking them up. If people comment on my ring tone positively, at least I know what to say.


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( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
18th Feb, 2009 15:39 (UTC)
There is a middle path
It helps that in your case people at least try to play down their brightness. Here it's mostly the other way round.
I had a Cowboy Bebop wallpaper for a while when I had newly joined this company. Having wallpaper is largely pointless since the desktop is usually always covered by Loathsome NotesTM.

But one day while shutting down, a colleague spotted that and went 'Which anime is that?'
and I spent the next couple of minutes going (mentally) 'O_O!! He said anime!'

Turned out the guy was a Naruto freak. And I find it too immature.
I tend to keep my pop culture tastes buried most of the time- I can't be bothered explaining em to people who won't understand. And the rare moment that someone recognizes it, (Flyin Spaghetti Monster for eg) then I get happy :)
18th Feb, 2009 17:19 (UTC)
its a tight rope
i find myself doing this very often. At office none has a clue that i have the most eclectic of interests and tastes.. I discuss work,and at most some award show and telugu and hindi movies. But every once in a while i let slip that i saw some strange movie, or slip up and talk about being killed with a hatari hanzo sword, and then i feel the very loud sound of ignorance, and withdraw. Its true for many of my oldest friends as well, none of them do/are interested in the hazaar things that i like.. But every once a while, someone reveals, that they like U2's new song, or that they liked the beta version of windows 7. And i am like ^__^. Like the couple at work last year, who i found who are avid gamers!
19th Feb, 2009 08:59 (UTC)
Interesting perspective :)
And it brought to my mind the conversation we were having the other day…about people / colleagues being more successful. I guess it points at “Smart enough to act dumb”. Acting intelligent will help you only if your super boss is smart enough and notices you! :D

PS: I do not know what my mobile phone ring tone is. Some random tone selected from the Nokia gallery.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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