My Shameless but Ethical Tactics for Quickly Rising to the Top


Being Asian, I was brought up to be modest and humble. However, I soon realized that humility and modesty will not take me to the heights I had my eyes set on. Perhaps a Western education influenced this. I also think that working in various competitive business environments has confirmed my hypothesis about myself.

Always aim for the moon. Even if you miss you will still end up among the stars…

My first job was in the software development industry where I made a small 3×3 cubical my “territory”. It was my turf and I defended it fiercely from other geeky coders who have, by the way, become very good friends over the years. My first project manager, a brilliant techi, too was working with us side by side in a slightly bigger cubical. He was inspirational as a team player but my ambitions were bolder than a slightly bigger cubical on the same row. For me, it was like adding a reasonably new body kit to an old car. The problem was that it still drove the same… I didn’t want body kits but new cars in quick succession. Granted that this comes across as being naive and vain, that was how I felt working my first proper job fresh out of University.

Shout aloud proudly about your achievements…. Not recommended for bullshitters.

Although I didn’t know it as a science back then, I soon realized that any success I achieve was based on how I marketed and presented my work; i.e. my skills and abilities. I realized that no amount of brilliant work will push me up the ladder unless I made it known to the right people at the right time. However, I also believed that bullshitting my way up will not do me any good in the long run. You can bullshit someone some of the time but you can’t bullshit everyone all the time.

I still shout aloud all my professional achievements; I just do it on LinkedIn now that’s all.

Hone in on the decision makers. Observe them while they observe you…

A few months into my job, I started to observe successful people. I later got to know this as benchmarking. Through my observations, I was able to spot the fakes from a far. I also learnt to identify the decision makers who could make things happen. More often than not, these ware the people who sat silently at a meeting taking in all of what was happening around them. Having said that, it is an art to spot these people in Asian meetings where many would just keep quiet anyway. A good rule of thumb is to target the boss of your boss. That is the person you need to impress.

Spot the “big-guns” quickly… Stop wasting your time trying to please the rest.

After somewhat mastering the skill of identifying the decision makers, I soon began mastering the skill of not wasting my time pleasing the rest. This doesn’t mean that I was unprofessional or arrogant but just that I didn’t use my aces to impress the masses. My aces were reserved for the high rollers.

It’s better to be a water boy at the big league than a hooting spectator….

Decision makers are busy people. It’s often not that they don’t see you or ignore you on purpose; it’s just that they have other more important or profitable things in front of them trying to catch their attention. So it becomes really difficult to say hi or shake their hands; sometimes, even a bit embarrassing if you are seen by your peers. In essence you feel like a water boy at a big league game. Although, you are right in front of the superstars, you appear invisible. Even then, you are ahead of your colleagues as you are closer to the action than they will ever be.

Tell the boss what he/she wants to hear in 30 seconds or less. You can tell him what you really want to say later…

While I was working as a post-grad researcher in the UK, one of my software applications had caught the eye of some venture capitalists. As I was among many they were researching, one of my tasks was to pitch my idea in thirty seconds or less. This appeared as a gargantuan task to me as I usually need around one hour to explain my idea in the typical academic fashion. Nevertheless, with a great amount of practice, I learnt to cut short the stories behind an idea to pitch it in a single breath. From the initial feedback, I soon began to tell the customer what he/she wanted to hear rather than what I wanted to tell. This tactic immediately caught their attention. I had learned to wait patiently and bump into the boss seemingly coincidentally when he was heading for the water cooler or the car. The thirty seconds or less he ignored me was enough for me to pitch the idea using all the right sound bites so that I got a ten minute appointment with him later on. This allowed me to get in the door. However, after that it was all hard work and consistent performance which kept me from getting kicked out.

No good deed goes unpunished….

Having worked in a few demanding positions, I have learned not to expect any specific gratitude from my bosses. If they do show me their gratitude by buying me a beer or giving me an extra bonus mid year, I will be thrilled. However, I have learnt not to expect these. In their eyes, success only means that you are doing the job you were given. More often than not, with great success comes all the responsibility. Sometimes it’s all pain and no gain… Even worse times exist when you are being questioned or reprimanded for things you have done in the best interest of the company. These are all part and parcel of being successful. Therefore, I see my success or failure in my own eyes. If I have achieved what I set out to achieve, I consider myself successful. If not then I try harder.Having said that, I do listen to constructive feedback but otherwise couldn’t care less what my peers thought.

Always assume that the light at the end of the tunnel is the oncoming train…

I am a pessimist. I say that with absolute pride. It is a formula which works for me. I always prepare for the worst case scenario. I’m obsessive compulsive when it comes to plan B, C, D and E. I always need to see a way out or a way of solving the problem. If I don’t see a way out, I don’t even bother trying in the first place. This allows me to choose my battles and achieve high success rates. If there is no way out of a dead-end assignment, I will try to recommend an optimist for it. After that it’s his/her problem. I don’t think I’m doing anything wrong because, at the end of the day, they will most probably see the brighter side of any failure.

Reading this post some of you might be of the impression that I’m shameless or perhaps even cunning in the way I approach success; and perhaps you are right. Perhaps it’s extremely shameless of me to mention these tactics in a professional post. Having said that, I quote Eminem who said opportunity comes once in a lifetime, yo. For a lucky few of us, opportunities will come knocking but for the rest of us we have to make our own opportunities. So I hope some of my experiences would be of some worth to some of you.

In conclusion, I’m leaving you with a verse from my school anthem. We sang this twice a day, every single day for thirteen years but it is only now that I really understand it.

Learn of books, learn of men and LEARN TO PLAY THE GAME


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s