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Category : Startups

Startups

Most Employees Are Stuck in the Corporate Matrix. You (Unknowingly) Could Be Too.

Corporate Matrix at work with Neo and Keeanu Reeves

Photo by Sebastian Herrmann on Unsplash


“He’s not a crackpot. He’s institutionalized.”

Until a few years ago I’d never heard the word institutionalized. My corporate compadres taught me the word. The meaning is given to those who work as employees for long enough to get stuck in the corporate matrix. Just like Matrix the movie, they don’t know they’re stuck in it.

Hero-clapping CEO speeches and talking like a fanboy about them in the tea room is just what they do. They can’t see the other side, that may be the truth their company presents to the public could be full of lies designed to make fat cats lots of money.

Now comes the strange part. I was stuck in the corporate matrix too and had no idea. Let me explain what it looks like — in case you’ve accidentally become trapped too. Then we’ll see how to escape.

(Warning: This is not another “quit your job post.”)

Miles away from your dream work (with no path to even get there)

This one hurts the most. How often do you meet someone at a job who does one type of work but wants to be doing another? A lot. We’ve all been there at least once.

The corporate matrix isn’t interested in what type of work you’d rather be doing, or that you dream of doing one day. Nope. They care about revenue. A job isn’t supposed to do the work of enabling your dream. Obviously. But the corporate matrix purposely makes career paths dark and foggy.

When employees move around it causes disruption and costs the corporate juggernaut money. They know that most people would rather be comfortable and dream of unicorns, than take a risk and move around. So they build that fact into career paths. Who knows what work you love if you don’t get to experiment with different kinds. Makes sense.

Afraid to speak up

Meetings are bliss for a lot of people. I hated them.

I didn’t want to speak the truth about my employer or mention things they could improve. Too many people above me drank some type of kool-aid that made them see roses, not the daily unhappy emails I got from customers who were legitimately ripped off (as in they didn’t get anything in return for their money — zero).

The corporate matrix silences our voice. It reminds us that if we speak too loud, we may offend someone and that could lead us to lose our job. No job equals an inability to pay rent and buy food.

So we form a new habit: to keep quiet.

This is harder than it seems. You’ve got to quietly stop yourself from being helpful. And say the opposite of what you think. After a while it crushes your voice outside of work. You end up putting the muzzle on your mouth in social situations and on social media.

Forced to follow orders

Humans aren’t meant to wake up every day and blindly follow orders. We’ve been given this powerful pink machine called a brain that’s dying to solve problems, explore our curiosity, and be creative.

I had zero creativity while stuck in the corporate matrix. My ideas got written on post-it notes during meetings called “ideation sessions” as a way to make me feel like I got to make decisions.

At the end of the meeting the post-it notes would magically disappear from plain sight in case the CEO happened to see them. They’d never be spoken of again. It’s like doing a confessional at church. You share all your sins and then apparently you’re cleansed of all your demons. The challenge in the corporate matrix is, the problems aren’t solved by a higher power.

Fake feedback/problem-solving is the oil that runs the corporate engine. You don’t actually make decisions unless you are one of the elite leaders.

Not able to rise to higher positions

Some companies have legitimate career paths. That’s rare. The corporate matrix has fake career paths. Nobody knows how to get them. They’re placed in internal job ads that are dangled in front of you as if you are a rabbit looking to bite on a big, juicy carrot.

When your career doesn’t pass through levels like a computer game, you start to feel empty. You don’t know why. Our minds love gamification.

The corporate matrix delays the gratification of a higher position for as long as possible. The insiders know the corporate ladder has no rungs on it for most. They just make you think it does. A blind monkey can see through their lies. Once you’re institutionalized it’s damn hard to see.

Underpaid

You can probably get paid a lot more money at another company. I didn’t. I stayed in the same position for way too long and became a zombie.

The corporate matrix made me believe that the pay was fair. That they magically recalibrated it every year as a goodwill gesture. Then, hey, alakazam, your pay stays the same and doesn’t adjust with inflation. And don’t worry, they know all about inflation. It’s built into their pricing models and taught in business schools all around the world.

They know. They simply choose to ignore even basic costs of living rising, while gladly slurping it up from customers through a 7-Eleven slurpee straw.

Afraid to leave

So it boils down to this. If we find ourselves stuck in the corporate matrix then why the heck don’t we leave? Fear.

Fear of the unknown. Fear of change. Fear of failure.

It’s even harder for introverts. If you’ve gone through all of the trouble to make work friends, then the thought of making fresh ones all over again at a new company is worse than the boogie monster itself.

And extroverts don’t leave because they want to hold onto their buddies. Once they go to a new company it will be hard for their old colleagues to understand them anymore.

“You mean you don’t get treated like sh*t? Get outta here, man. Stop making me feel bad about your crappy new job.”

I remained afraid to leave the corporate matrix for many years. When I took the plunge and left the system for a new company, it blew up in my face. One failed career move can triple your fear of making another move.

For some, one failed move can define the rest of their career. So we stay trapped like monkeys in a cage at a zoo.

The brutal truth that makes people’s eyes bleed

The corporate arbitrage bets on the fact the friction is too high for you to go. Businesses profit from you being stuck in this corporate matrix. If people believed in themselves they’d quit. The truth is we don’t. We think we suck when actually we’re amazing at work.

Don’t quit the corporate matrix, yet. Start with this:

Don’t give so much of a f*ck about it all

The annual revenue, profit, and EBITDA results for the market don’t matter as much. The clown in the suit called the CEO isn’t greater than Rocky Balboa.

The lip service charitable efforts won’t make the difference they say they will. The new corporate marketing plan won’t take over the internet and make Gary Vaynerchuk’s jaw drop to the floor.

Dilute the importance of the corporate circus.

Construct a plan

Come up with escape options. Plan like a civil engineer building a bridge across the Atlantic Ocean.

What are your options? Who do you know? What forms of work could you do instead? What online education could you do? A plan reduces fear. It makes the escape seem possible and pending. Each day, work on the plan and work less on your job.

Make the focus of the plan work you enjoy that you want to do more of. That might still be for an employer, just not these jokers.

Unconventional side hustles

Don’t mistake me. This is not about being cool. It’s not about the hipster movement whose motto is based on side hustles.

A side hustle is a way to experiment. It’s a way to explore after hours and see what’s out there. You can make money from a side hustle too. That money can help fund your escape plan.

What the money really does is open your mind to the limitless possibilities you have access to. Those options destroy the prison your mind is trapped in while stuck in the corporate matrix.

Maybe you don’t change your job a lot. But you can change side hustles as many times as a baby has its nappy changed. This is the missing ingredient for employees who feel stuck. They rely on their corporate overlords to provide a platform to create, experiment, and be curious. Ain’t gonna happen, pal. Their focus is revenue dripping out of their mouths.

Have brutally honest conversations

Once you see through and lift the veil and uncover the corporate matrix, your entire world looks different. The trick is then to acknowledge it. Tell new employers what you’re looking for.

Tell your boss what they need to help you with from a development perspective. Let your masters know you have options. Use the direct message button on LinkedIn so many times that the image of it is tattooed on your brain and you have dreams about it.

Final Thought

You don’t need to quit your job. You just need to be honest enough with yourself to understand many of us are stuck in the corporate matrix.

We’re institutionalized. We think a bunch of corporate mumbo jumbo matters more than it does. Escape the corporate matrix to find work you enjoy. If that’s for an employer then fine. Just don’t roll up to work each day like a robot that’s numb to reality.

Plan your escape. Let side hustles guide you. Start being brutally honest about what you want and what you stand for.


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Startups

How You (Tragically) Get Promoted at Most Companies

Typical job promotion

Photo by Anni Peng on Unsplash


Corporations sell us the snake oil of the elusive promotion to keep us motivated, and to make sure we stay away from side hustle dreams.

Most of us are smart enough to understand a job title won’t make us happy. But we want the promotion because the cost of living is skyrocketing, thanks to record-high inflation.

Tragically, the promotion path in most companies leads to some interesting behavior. Here’s what it looks like.

Engage in office politics

In every company there is hiring and firing that occurs on a daily basis. When a new person comes in you can speculate about their failure.

Sounds like this: “The last schmuck couldn’t do it. She certainly can’t.”

Then there’s the factory worker KPIs that if you fail to hit them, they could cause a Friday afternoon sacking. Speculation on this topic thrives in most companies. A good ol’ fashion sacking is like a spectator sport such as football. The chumps crowd around the office floor and gossip about who’s next. There’s always a “next.”

If you don’t engage in the office politics then you’re an outsider. Plus, the modern workplace is frustrating. Office politics is how you let off steam. Don’t lie now. It feels good, doesn’t it?

Suck up to the senior leaders

The LinkedIn dictionary calls it “kissing ass.”

This involves blowing smoke up your boss’s (or your boss’s boss’s) butt about how well they’re doing.

“Oh, ever since you became our leader progress has started to accelerate. We’re on plan to outperform this year. It’s all you.”

There’s another type of kiss-ass. I discovered it in 2020 during the start of a terrible pandemic. Suck-ups would tell our boss overly optimistic things about our company performance.

“This is going to provide us so much opportunity. There’s no growth without problems. Hey-y-y?” *Does cheesy wink on Zoom*

The truth was the pandemic screwed up a lot. Our customers started spending less money with us. Procurement marched in and chopped the guts out of our profit margins, and expected us to give them charitable gifts.

KPIs fell off a cliff. Kiss-asses kept pretending by blowing further smoke up more butts. This led to unrealistic expectations. When results time came we missed all our revenue numbers. War broke out. People got brutally fired.

Meanwhile, a good friend worked at a company that didn’t stand for this false optimism. They told their business leaders to chop expectations. They accepted zero growth for 2020 and focused on the customer. As a result they outperformed.

Throw people under the bus

Stuff will go wrong in business. The goal of any business is to solve problems. Many people forget this. When you’re surrounded by problems some of them are going to set off a nuke explosion.

It’s on the day of a cataclysmic event that people will get thrown under a bus. The more dead bodies you can pile up, the less people in your way for the next promotion. Competition is bad for promotions.

Many people think they can quietly throw people under the bus without any witnesses, then they’ll fast-track their career. The problem? If you say something that is detrimental to a person’s career, your name is going to get attached to the quote.

Senior leaders don’t remove the names from the intelligence they get from their Russian spies who commit espionage. Nope. They just tell you they do. Realistically they need evidence and a name to get employee bodies under buses.

There are no protected hidden snitches in business.

Treat your fellow colleagues like dead bodies

“I’m going to have to walk over a few dead bodies.”

A shitty boss once said that to me. A dead body to him is anyone who wasn’t alive with the awesomeness of business. Anyone who didn’t stay back, or stay up late on a Saturday night to orgasm over spreadsheets. He applied stupid levels of toxic masculinity to his middle management position. If there is one sign of this trait it’s this: wartime analogies.

He’d say to me “We need wartime leaders not peacetime leaders.” The poor guy thought he was on an Afghanistan battlefield. The truth is he was too much of a coward to participate in a real war and save civilian lives.

Business isn’t a war. Nobody has to die at work.

Build an exceptional personal brand™

Three years ago the rise of the LinkedIn guru came about. Headlines full of emojis and busy-being-awesome mottos were born. They didn’t just teach. No. They preached.

“It’s all abouttt the person-a-l brand” they’d scream from the rooftops of their condos. All day long they would say “network.” This was followed by a “tag your friends on my post to get job opportunities and network with other people.” Plenty of people didn’t understand the pyramid scheme. They offer false hope in the form of a job in return for a dump truck full of dopamine likes to re-inflate their self-esteem.

HR teams drank the kool-aid. They started running personal brand workshops. Then at performance time we got told things like “your personal brand isn’t strong enough.” You can’t measure a personal brand because none of us are companies with marketing teams like Coco-Cola.

We each have a reputation. A reputation is built on trust and getting shit done. No amount of LinkedIn fakery with a personal brand can build a reputation.


The reason leaders in business do some or all of these things is because they don’t have much else in life to look forward to other than a bunch of stupid KPIs. As they get a tiny bit of leadership power, they don’t know how to handle it. So, their power consumes them.

The best career advice I’ve been given is this: Avoid drama.

Promotions at work aren’t determined by quality results. They’re determined by who will and won’t support their boss’s career agenda — that gets them to their next promotion and helps them level-up their bank balance.

If promotions became a democratic process like elections, that required data-based evidence, a lot of this traditional business culture would disappear. Perhaps AI can fix the world of promotions and help quiet achievers to get the career opportunities they deserve. For the time being we have software like “Culture Amp” that is helping to expose insecure, egotistical leaders.

Here’s the real way to be successful in your career and outperform

There’s another path. It’s one that doesn’t involve going to work each day and feeling like an unhappy fraud that wears the grin of a smiling assassin.

Treat your colleagues well

You need people to do business. Teams solve problems not individuals — too many people forget this.

Build your colleagues up. Support their outside-of-work hobbies. Give genuine compliments when they do good work. Find out the names of their children or parents. Learn about them. Ask about their career history. Connect with them on LinkedIn and engage constructively with their posts.

Deliver for the customer

The voice of the customer ultimately defeats the voice of leaders.

When I managed one of the largest US financial institutions in the world, I let the customer tell the leaders I worked for that I should be promoted. As a result, I did get a large promotion and managed to opt out of the office politics losers’ game.

If the customer gets what they want and you’re part of the process, you’ll do mighty fine in your career.

Choose action over meetings

Roll call for meetings is ridiculous. Most could have been an email, but insecure leaders need ‘yes people’ to remind them they’re still in control.

I recommend you focus on actions not meetings. Action produces outperformance and stops you from staying back every night to do the real work, because you spent your day in back-to-back meetings with egos dressed in Gucci’s winter fashion collection.

Be kind to everyone you meet

There’s enough anger in the world. Anger drains your energy. Just be kind to people you encounter at work. I don’t mean Mother Teresa kind. I mean basic kindness: say thank you, greet people, let others be heard, speak nice things.

Build people up

A guy I used to work with is dying to quit his job. He has another job lined up. I asked him why he hasn’t quit yet?

“I want to make sure our colleague gets out of his toxic role and into a new one before I move on.”

He convinced a customer to take an unqualified person for a new role so that they could escape their terrible dictator boss. He helped train our colleague on a new skill. He introduced them to people who could support his career development. He sent him encouraging texts when the career opportunity looked like it wouldn’t happen.

What will happen? Well that person he helped will never forget that gesture. People like me that heard about it will never forget it. So he’s going to get opportunities torpedoed in his direction on a weekly basis.

Just care.

Improve yourself every day

Some people say they have 20 years experience, when in reality, they have 1 year’s experience repeated 20 times — Stephen Covey

Self-improvement involves learning new skills at work. When I worked in IT there were two types of people: those who understood cloud and refused to understand blockchain, and those who knew cloud and took courses on blockchain. The latter are now getting the big opportunities as financial services make the shift to blockchain to enable trust.

The ones who stayed in the cloud are stuck with salaries that keep trending down as the skillset is commoditized.

Learn about new tech.

Choose a job based on culture, not perks

Perks are for jerks. Perks can be taken away. They’re superficial B.S that status-chasers look for so they can tell their mates at the bar after the football “ohhh our company has got waiters on a Friday night that serve us cocktails, skewers, and kale side-salads.”

The way to be successful in your career is to choose a company that has a good culture. Don’t trust the brochures written by the HR puppets. Do and experience the culture for yourself. Message people on LinkedIn who work there and get the undercover story.

How do they treat people? Do they have Culture Amp style software to spot dictators, smiling assassins, and snitches? Do they have ping pong tables or democratic decision-making? Do they do anything for the community, or do they simply vacuum up every dollar from society and hand it out to fat cat bosses leaning back on black leather chairs?

Success at work is a team sport. Your colleagues can become friends. Culture is the enabler. Choose culture to get promoted and outperform.

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Startups

9 Things I Learned Far Too Late in My Career

Tim Denning Advice

Photo by Leo Broadbent on Unsplash


Career decisions require my head to be WD-40’d.

It’s the hardest part of a career. Do you stay or do you go? Do you hop on over to the greener grass, or stay on the pee-stained grass you’re already sitting on? Or do you go and look for a new field of dreams to work in and become an entrepreneur?

While Bezos is not my buddy, his advice on career decisions is gold.

“All of my best decisions in business and in life have been made with heart, intuition, guts, … not analysis…it turns out in life that your most important decisions are always made with instinct and intuition.”

I wish this wisdom had struck me at 26-years-old, when I left a business behind that I loved, cried myself to sleep, and eventually, rejoined the workforce. Here’s what else I learned too late in my career.

The more perks, the more jerks

HR crazies try and lure “talent” with perks. Here are a few.

  • Unlimited barista-made coffee, or ice-cold kombucha
  • Ping pong tables
  • Arcade games like Space Invaders
  • Backpacks with business logos
  • Pencil cases
  • Chef-made lunches
  • A campus rather than an office
  • T-shirts with forgettable, minimalist logo design

Perks equal jerks.

Take a walk around a tech giant’s office. It’s not uncommon to meet a bunch of adult babies wrapped in privilege they can’t see. Perks attract entitled individuals — and they’re the worst ones to work with. You’ll be dodging egos all day long at work.

HR took the perks game to new levels. But you wouldn’t take candy from a stranger leading you into a dark alley, would you? Then don’t take the bait from HR politicians who will happily fire you if a senior leader says to.

HR is there to protect “the business,” not employees. Took me ten years to figure that out.

The total hours you have to work isn’t on the job ad

The scary thing about getting a new job is not knowing how many hours you have to work. I remember this guy at work (let’s call him Jack). Jack joined all excited for his new job. The sales pitch from HR was Oscar winning.

After the two weeks of training, our company worked him to the bone. He had to be on call every day of the week. Reports had to be done on Sundays. There were never enough hours in the day to complete all the tasks given by the leadership team.

The job description he signed up for had his duties. They never mentioned anything about the fact those duties could be called upon by a large number of people at any time.

As a result, Jack worked himself to the bone for the same salary as people who did similar duties in a 40-hour week. When you take a job nobody lays out how many hours are required.

A job that pays $60,000 and can be done in a 40-hour week is a way better opportunity than a job that pays $65,000 but has endless requests that cause you to work weekends to catch up.

Find out how many hours you really have to work. Be bold about it. Otherwise, you’ll be working 7 days to do a job others get the luxury of doing in 5 days.

People quit bad bosses, not companies

A company is a fictitious entity registered by filing a piece of paper. You don’t quit a piece of paper for a new job. Nope.

People quit bad bosses, not companies. I left a boss who ignored me and couldn’t be quiet about how great it was to live on a golf course. All I could think about was golf balls hitting his windows, and the golf pants parade up and down his street every day. Then there was the way he tormented my team.

He’d create Hunger Game challenges. There’d be a winner and a loser. He couldn’t wait to see the loser put up for public execution and to watch the crowd throw fruit at the victim’s face.

The loser of one of his games created a chance for him to laugh his evil laugh, and get an erotic form of pleasure he clearly did get at home. I eventually quit that boss. On my way out a HR lady spoke to me.

“What did the company do wrong?”

She didn’t get it. A company doesn’t have feelings. It’s the people that work within a company that carries a vision forward. Those people need to be led. And no amount of excuses for assholery will do.

The challenge is we often quit bad bosses and don’t realize that’s what we’re doing. It’s not necessarily evil behavior, like I experienced, that’s the problem. A lack of attention from a boss is the most common problem I’ve seen. A boss that never allows you to step up. A boss that locks you in your work from home office like a prison and forgets about your life goals and dreams.

After a while you stop growing. You remain stagnant. You’re dying to get in motion again and be challenged. Meanwhile, boss man is scoffing down doughnuts at morning work events and completely forgetting you exist.

Nobody likes to be ignored at work, especially by our boss. We want our boss to enable us to outgrow in our career and perhaps become a leader one day. Bosses can kill career dreams, not just by acting like a fool, but by doing nothing, too.

Quit a boss that feels invisible. There are lots of good ones out there.

Take all of your holidays

I spent five years of my career never taking a single day of holidays. I bragged to other employees how good it was. I wore that zero holidays stat as a badge of honor. Eventually, I completely burned out.

One year the board of directors found out. They called me into the boardroom and insisted I take holidays immediately. I took their advice. I booked holidays for that January. On 9 am of the first day of my holidays, there was a blow up at work. The board rang me and asked me to abandon my holidays and come to work immediately.

“There’s been an incident.”

I got tired of working on the Titanic. Not long after, I left behind a business I loved to escape the insane nightmare of endless sieges.

Holidays are where your mind resets. What you learn at work makes sense when you take time off to do nothing. Then when you come back to work, the ideas that get you ahead in your career come to you with a lot less effort.

The salary is forgotten after the first paycheck

Taking a job with more money feels amazing. You think you’ve won the lottery. When it happened to me it felt good … for about a fortnight. After that, the extra zero on my bank balance became meaningless — the same way points you earn playing a Nintendo game feel lifeless. They’re just numbers.

A side hustle can make you more money than an annual bonus

Corporations try and lure their victims into the dungeon of broken dreams by dangling bonuses in front of us.

A bonus is an illusion. Read that again.

Whatever you’re told about bonuses can be completely changed. Your employer can decide a global health crisis means nobody is getting one. Or the profits can be down, so bonuses are reduced or forfeited. Or a crappy boss can decide to give your bonus to someone else they like better. According to CNBC, 1 in 3 workers in the US faced a pay cut in 2020 due to lockdowns. 

I quit working for bonuses years ago. All I want is as much time off as possible to work on my after hours side hustle. A side hustle is an experiment that can eventually make you more money than any silly little bonus can.

A side hustle can turn into freelancing. A side hustle can cause you not to need a traditional job. A side hustle can even become a business that turns into a tiny empire you didn’t know you had the power to create.

Ask if your bonus can be traded for more time.

Be wary of flashy culture presentations created by HR politicians

If a company has to talk about its culture then the slide deck is lying.

Good company cultures I’ve worked in don’t have a marketing department churning out content full of stock images with dudes in suits shaking hands and pretending to look happy while missing their kid’s baseball game.

Good company culture comes from good people.

A no asshole policy is how the best startups I’ve seen produce high-performing cultures. Letting a new person into their company is a big decision. They require different parts of the business to be part of the process. Senior leader approval isn’t enough.

“Jobs for the boys” is outlawed.

They do rigorous reference checks on the individual to find out if there are any skeletons in the closet, to ensure there aren’t any incidents where they randomly blow up like a 5-year-old at grown-ups. They’d rather hire nobody than a culture killer.

Look for humility and honesty and you’ll find kickass company culture.

A percentage of your salary can buy back time

As you climb through the ranks of your career, there are hidden opportunities to negotiate a better way of life thanks to the value you provide.

When I got my chance, I didn’t ask for more money. In fact, I didn’t put them through a used car salesman back and forth like I normally would. I did this.

“Could I trade 20% of your salary offer for one day off per week?”

The company said yes. I got to work four days instead of five. That extra day per week allowed me to work on my writing. I also built an online business. That one decision became the stepping stone to leave the corporate world behind and do my own thing full-time.

A colleague of mine negotiated differently. He’s a farmer who loves to travel around Europe. When he changed jobs he asked for eight weeks of holidays per year instead of four … and got it.

Buy back your time. Time is a better currency than money.

Beware of the Bitcoin monsters

This one is obscure. Sorry. Be careful talking about Bitcoin at work.

When I joined a new company and confessed my love for the Bitcoin god, one colleague tore me to pieces. He shared my Bitcoin secret with senior leaders and made me look like a crazy person.

He told them how I worshiped the high priest of Bitcoin, Michael Saylor, and went to Sunday crypto church, and drank holy Ethereum water while bowing down in front of the almighty bible that contains the sins of inflation.

Before I left that job, I reminded him of what he did. We both sat down and analyzed the Bitcoin price together. It went up over 100% since he called me a Bitcoin terrorist. He smiled and confessed he too had joined the secret society.

Bitcoin is a religion. Not everybody will respect your religion.


A workplace is a Hollywood movie production full of actors. Learning to see the illusions from the reality is key. Once you can see work for what it is, you can make the most of it.

Work is where we go to find our place in the world and meet friends for life. All that’s left after you hop from one job to another are the awesome people you collect. The rest is marketing.

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