To varying degrees we all join a cult when we go to work. Even if we do not have to worship our bosses, we habitually wear an eager smiley face and applaud their ideas as strategies of genius.
After 25 years in the London workplace, I can say with confidence that if you erupt into derisive laughter when they are talking or become so infuriated by their rank stupidity that you are overcome with an overwhelming desire to smack them, you will be fired.
Not the smallest of the casualties of the crash is the authority of managers. Think about it. The most powerful elected managers on the planet – the presidents and prime ministers – failed to see it coming. Their private-sector counterparts in the banks and hedge funds, who must have been the most lavishly paid mangers on the planet, were just as clueless, for all their posing as masters of the universe.
The most interesting people I am interviewing at the moment are the bankers and traders, who tried to warn City managers that they were going wrong. Without exception they were treated as heretics who must be purged from the cult for their pains. One contact, who worked high up at RBS, told me this week how he warned his superiors that the bank did not have the technical back up for its highly complicated trading positions. “I was taken aside by my boss and told that ‘my attitude needed improvement’,” he said. He went on to describe how two of his colleagues produced a report, which showed how the bank did not realise the risks it was running. The report was quickly buried and “the authors disappeared before they could raise a stink.”
He is utterly disillusioned, and you can see how that disillusion has spread when you look at the near-universal contempt for Gordon Brown. Even if the PM is talking sense, and he does talk sense on occasion, a jaundiced public won’t give him a hearing.
The worst side of recessions is that they breed cynicism as people realise that the security they thought they had worked hard to achieve was an illusion. Even the inspirational Barack Obama will crash into a wall of disbelief when his honeymoon is over. The best side may be that we will become more self-confident, more willing to raise objections and point out obvious flaws. The British like to pretend that we are a freeborn, plain-speaking people, who do not tolerate nonsense. Maybe now is the time to turn our national myth into reality.