Monday, July 29, 2013

Dogs Are From Mars, Cats Are From Venus

Vinod Khosla recently tweeted about why it’s such a good idea to have a dog. It’s cute, but it got me thinking, so here’s some free career advice.

For context, we had a dog when I was a kid, and I had one in college (possibly the stupidest thing I've ever done). Pets are kids that never grow up. They can never let themselves in and out, get a drink out of the fridge, or tell you what’s bothering them. Many people argue that they’re good because they teach kids about responsibility. What they really teach kids is that their parents are sniveling pushovers who will end up cleaning up after them and taking them to the vet. And will pay all the bills, which, these days, is about the same as sending a kid to boarding school. One winter day many years ago, as penance for me hitting the slopes with my sons, I came home to find that my wife and daughter had retaliated by buying a puppy. Some years later we ended up with a shelter cat, and then another. I was never a cat person, but my wife loves them and my daughter is a wannabe crazy cat lady. Vinod’s link above crystalized my thinking about how much we have in common with dogs and cats.

Dogs wag their tails at just about anything. They are happy to go for a ride, to go outside, to do tricks, to chase a ball, to get a bone, to go to the vet. They’re happy when they see you – EVERY time they see you. When they do something wrong, and are punished, they quickly forget. They are exceedingly loyal, even when they haven’t been treated very well. If they are in an accident and lose a limb, they don’t mope around the house lamenting the things they can no longer do, they get on with life and make do. When you leave, they wait in quiet anguish until you get home. Our dog recently had some surgery done under local anesthesia (which he wasn’t crazy about), yet later jumped out of the car, tail wagging, at the very same place to have his 8 staples removed (without anesthesia).

Being vertebrates is about the only way in which cats are like dogs. Cats don’t really care if you’re there or not; they will carry on with or without you. They show basically no emotion. They will look right at you and yawn when you return after a long separation. They’re picky about what they eat, the way in which they eat it, their grooming habits, where they lie down, where they go to the bathroom. They let you know when it’s ok to pet them, or when they will deign to sit on your lap. They approach new situations cautiously, only proceeding when they believe it to be safe. We once had a cat who would say “good morning” to you by showing you her rear end and then hissing at you.

I’ve observed, both over my operating career and as a search consultant, that the workforce is comprised of dogs and cats. Some employees are just happy to be at work, are real team players, will do what is asked of them, and only seek the occasional pat on the head. Others are gracing you with their presence, and need to be cajoled into doing things. They can be difficult to manage, requiring more than their share of attention, and can be fickle about what pushes their buttons. I confess that I was more of a dog in my operating life, and should have been a bit more catlike at times. I was too busy wagging my tail to know that I had to scratch and claw a bit more to get ahead. You’re not going to change your stripes, so it’s good to know which one you are. Reread the above two paragraphs and figure out if you’re a dog or a cat. I mean professionally. Balance is a good thing, and teams comprised of both can do very well. As an individual, you may want to balance your behavior between the two. For managers, it’s good to think of your team that way. At the very least, you’ll know if you’re going to be scratched or licked to death.

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