Tuesday, January 18, 2005

I picked up Basapa's Naked Ambition from Popular yesterday to keep me company on the MRT ride home but Roy was with me so I couldn't read it on the train while he was talking to me. That would have been rude. I have read about half-way through now and for a piece of local writing (I have my biases) this corporate parable is quite readable, though not without its flaws.

I bought the book out of curiosity and also because I thought it would be useful to research possible scenarios that might play out in the script for this year's Drama Night production. We have a corporate setting this year and I hoped to gain some insights into the corporate world through Basapa's eyes.

Basapa lays bare the failings of a large multinational adhesive manufacturing corporation, the problems of which appear to be mainly due to several unsavoury characters whose selfish, unprincipled activities are running the company to the ground. It's these characters that Basapa focuses on, imbuing each with a particular animal trait.

Each chapter exposes a specific character's motivations, personality and survival mechanisms in the corporate jungle. Each character is predatory in some way and the office politics, the maneuvering, the posturing, the hunting of each other and the intimidating, browbeating, bullying and killing off of the weaker opponents add up to quite a fun story to read. If the world really was like this, and in many cases it is, companies large and small are very scary places to try survive in.

There are termites and ferrets, bees and pigeons, dogs and foxes, the mongoose and the king cobra, and a menagerie of other beasts who slug it out on a day-to-day basis to see who can rule the roost longest or who can climb/soar the highest. The competition isn't with rival companies steadily eating away at their market share but rather fellow employees and superiors and even underlings who are more of a threat to personal and immediate survival. The company is simply in trouble because the company isn't fulfilling its raison d'etre; there's too much infighting within its staff to make this important thing happen.

This book is a personal survival manual in the harsh corporate environment. You can use it to identify yourself and your habits, identify who your most immediate predators or competitors are and then work out counter-measures for yourself to ensure you're not someone else's lunch because you weren't careful. Alternatively, this book may also help the organization understand why it's having a hard time in the market and do something about it, to refocus everyone on who the real opponent is, staunch the bleeding and press on with renewed confidence before it's too late. Maybe.

These are human-animal stories, hence they are parables; yet in the telling of a story in which things happen because of some careful plan being put into action, there is also an unfair amount of things conveniently falling into place, or at least lacking in thoroughness of explanation.

Up to a point I really hate this story though I can't tell if it's because the characters are such a bunch of jerks that they all deserve to be lined up and shot or because the narration tends to be didactic with a specific moral accompanying each chapter, like the reader can't derive a personal opinion by himself. Sometimes, the moral doesn't even seem to match its chapter very well.

Anyway, now I know why I left the corporate world and, more importantly, I think I have some ideas for tomorrow's rehearsal.

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