If you want your research career to progress you need to learn how to act, said author and broadcaster Oliver James in his day two keynote at the MRS Annual Conference.
Forget everything you learned at school, he said. Don’t bother to try and create “objective metrics” for achievements in your working life - your chances of success all boil down to whether your boss likes you or not.
Using the research he carried out for his upcoming book on Office Politicians, James said flattery and putting on the correct “appearance” is the way to get ahead.
James gave the example of ‘Horatio’, who worked at a financial institution. When he joined the firm, he started work on a new product but couched it in a wall of jargon that gave confused co-workers the impression he knew what he was talking about and was therefore an authority figure. That same jargon impressed the boss, and Horatio enjoyed a “meteoric rise” through the company.
“It involves a lot of acting,” James said, “and a lot of knowing which combinations of tactics to use and who to aim them at.”
The persona that you present to those around you is key, not what you may actually know. James said: “If you’re clever in office politics you can be stupid elsewhere.”
The danger is, of course, that other people will be playing the same game as you – and those people might have “sub-clinical psychopathic tendencies”, James warned. People like Stalin and Gordon Gecko are out there, he said, and studies show that they are four times more likely to work in senior management…