Truth About Corporate Life

It hasn't changed much in the last 60 years.

The following is an excerpt from Move Fast: How Facebook Builds Software, coming out July 6.

What is it really like to be an average employee inside of a large company? One answer lies in a work of fiction: Something Happened by Joseph Heller.

In 1961, Joseph Heller captured the existential dread that employees at large corporations often feel. In Something Happened, middling employee Bob Slocum works for a large American business and finds his life slowly losing meaning. Bob is the narrator of the book, and the reader gets a constant window into his state of mind.

The title of the book refers to the fact that something happens to an employee at a large corporation: the employee wakes up one day to find their personal dreams dissolved.

This quote from Bob Slocum summarizes his state of constant, blasé hopelessness: “Something did happen to me somewhere that robbed me of confidence and courage and left me with a fear of discovery and change and a positive dread of everything unknown that may occur.”

At work, Bob spends more time deciphering the office gossip and petty internal feuds than he does building any kind of value for the company. He decides that office politics are the best means of advancing within the company. And yet his focus on office politics distracts him from doing anything of actual substance—a fact which scares him to death because it may get him fired.

In Bob Slocum’s world, employees are able to advance despite doing nothing of substance to benefit the company. Employees think only in political terms, about what will allow them to stay at the company rather than what will allow the company to grow.

A naive reader of Joseph Heller’s book Something Happened might think the book is satire. But once you have sat in the cubicles, listening to the office gossip, feeling the tedium of software maintenance work, you will know the truth: the corporate workplace of 2020 is in some ways the same as it was sixty years ago.

While you are waiting for Move Fast: How Facebook Builds Software, check out our podcast clip below for the secret of successful venture capital firms.