A Cat’s Survival Guide to the Corporate World

ImageI have great respect for my cat, Martinique, a Bengal tiger mix. She came to me as a rescue kitten after being tossed around from one animal shelter to another at a tender age of 6 months. I suspect that she had been abandoned by her mother as a baby and must have roamed the wilds of southern Michigan before being spotted by a rescuer. The shelter told me at the time of adoption that she had a lesion near her right ear, probably caused by a bite from another animal.

She has been with me for close to a year and half now (she turns two in June). In this time she has taught me a thing or two about survival, adaptability and building relationships. No, I am not crazy. If you had ever owned a dog or a cat, you will understand what I am saying.

Marty would have had a great career in any corporate environment, in fact I think she is CEO material. Here is why.

She is Smart… and She Hides it Well

Lesson no.1 for survival. In the corporate wild, it is not enough if you are smart, but you should be able to camouflage as average and sometimes even dumb. Or, risk making your peers insecure and turn against you. 

Marty is ultra smart. For hours, she would sit in her usual meditative posture, feet tucked under her fluffy body, eyes half-closed and to all appearances seem to be in a state of stupor, or deep trance. Neither me nor the unsuspecting dog were aware that she knew how to prise open the refrigerator to get at the dog food, mimic bird sounds and trick them into believing she was one of them, wriggle her paws under doors to pull them open, climb to the tallest branch of a tree (and climb down!) and seem to always know which kitchen drawer held the dog’s treats and hers.

Know Your Place in the Food Chain

Lesson no. 2 for survival. It never pays to call your boss stupid, even if you are provoked beyond reason… and even if it is true.

Marty knows that the dog is three times her size and is sometimes just a blundering fool. But she would play along, acknowledge the dog’s territorial rights and stay meek. She reserves her claws and hissing for someone closer to her size.

Several years back when I was tracking the then fledgling Wi-Fi industry, a boss of mine said that the technology would die in a few years and be displaced by 3G. I remember arguing vigorously with him, pointing out that 3G (at that time and even now in many countries) was way too expensive which would restrict adoption. Wi-Fi would become cheaper and pervasive. I was right. But I ended up angering him and paid a heavy price in terms of career progression for a short while.

Learn Cat Composure

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Lesson no. 3 for survival. Don’t lose your cool. 

I call Marty the cool cat. She remains unruffled under the most trying of circumstances. The dog regularly chases her, growls at her and goes ballistic even when she is somewhere near the periphery of the dog’s food. Marty reacts to all this craziness with the utmost calm, finds the most ingenuous hiding places and has learnt to sprint to the tallest rail in the house in under 10 seconds.

I have seen the best minds in business make a fool of themselves by shouting at a colleague in group meetings, swearing and being very vocal with their anger. Despite their skills and position in the hierarchy, these people short circuit their careers and end up making a lot of enemies at work.

Trust is Developed, Not Acquired Overnight

Lesson no. 4 for survival. Be it your boss or your peers, trust is developed over a period of time. If someone says they trust you on your very first meeting, don’t believe them. Neither should you trust on instinct. Many of us forget that trust is a nurtured attribute, and pay a dear price for the lapse.

For Marty, trust does not come instinctively. I had to earn it over a period of 18 months. I had a blemish-free record with her, er.. almost, until I brought in another kitten into the household a few months back. She hated me for a while and showed it in her usual subtle ways. The point is, I had to struggle to win it back. It is not any different in the workplace. I had to work hard at winning trust, and even harder retaining it.

P.S: I apologize to my sweet dog Lily for calling her a blundering fool. I shall soon redeem myself by doing a ‘dog lessons’ post. You and Marty are equally precious and have taught me life lessons that I cherish.