Ever wondered why there are so many 'Vice Presidents' at your workplace? Or how everyone can have a complex-sounding degree, when there are university courses on Star Trek? Do you feel like the nice suits, Power Points and corporate speak are increasingly meaningless?
According to Professor Mats Alvesson, who previously gave us the highly publicized theory on 'functional stupidity' in organizations, these are only some of the 'illusion tricks' we deploy in our post-affluent Western society.
Our contemporary culture is one of grandiosity and narcissism, he argues, triggered by our move away from consuming basic necessities to 'positional' goods – those which compel us to compare ourselves to others.
This has thrust us into an arms race of consumption, branding and status; which in turn has inflated our job titles and rhetoric. It has told us everyone needs a CV-boosting degree, regardless of what you learn. And it has created a world full of "imageologists", concerned with surface over actual substance.
But once we have perfected our glossy image, is there really a place in the sun for everyone? The recipe 'Boost your CV – get the dream job' won't work for more than a minority. Perhaps the most intriguing question Alvesson forces us to confront is: are we setting up an entire generation for disappointment? Access to the trappings of success (an advanced degree, a flashy smartphone and the latest fashion) won't necessarily mean everyone can get ahead. In fact, what are we hiding behind the empty hype and self-promotion?
As the Western world goes through a protracted economic upheaval, our window dressing risks being exposed for what it is – a way to hide our shortcomings.
Alvesson leads us through a refreshingly honest and entertaining account of how we are no longer simply "keeping up with the Joneses", but rather running at breakneck speed in a global zero-sum game where we constantly risk getting left behind.
Professor Mats Alvesson is a tell-it-like-it is commentator who switches between academic research and how to play 'b*llshit bingo' at work effortlessly. He is currently in London launching his book, The Triumph of Emptiness, and is available for media appearances. He is a Professor of Business Administration at Lund University, Sweden and at University of Queensland, Brisbane.
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