The best job i never had
My first job out of college was with Standard Oil of Ohio (aka Sohio), which was basically a subdivision of the multinational then called British Petroleum. It was interesting work. I got to crash the world’s fastest super computer at one point. I visited briefly the single building city which operated the Prudhoe Bay and housed 2000 staff (in many ways like the communes, with free libraries and cafeterias and shared vehicle fleets. But in other ways completely not – being fiercely hierarchical, institutionally sexist and industrial eco-terrorists).
My boss was a rising star. He deftly took on any corporate functions which needed attention. He started a general service manager with a dozen employees and became the director of engineering with almost 100 staff. And as he rose in the company hierarchy i got to meet Sohio’s corporate overlords, the top guys (and there were basically only men managing the oil company) from BP.
One day I met one of these top guys. He was a vice president. He was charming, he was looking for new recruits for the office in London that does support for the companies top management. We had a chat about his work and he explained it to me this way:
Our job is to come up with a good idea every day. We do analysis, look at trends, review critiques by others and commission our own. We have incredible computer resources, experts on call and real budgets. And some fraction of these good ideas need to be good enough so that the company actually decides to manifest them.
This was my dream job at the time. Working with smart people, having a mandate to think big and outside the box and do it everyday sounded like heaven. Especially if there are resources to be able to push good ideas forward. This seemed like a powerful position to be in.
Looking back i was fantastically naive about the possible influence i might have in this circumstance. And even if i had gotten the job, it would have been tremendous pressure to keep up with the expectations of the senior managers, who i am sure are largely prima donnas. But the larger problem is that when your driving motivation is greed, your great ideas are steering you the wrong way.