How to fabricate a ‘sustainable persona’ in business
FORTUNE — “I don’t think business journalism should be serious,” says Stanley Bing, perhaps the least serious business journalist I know, as we settle into our comfy chairs recently at a fancy San Francisco dining club over a late-afternoon drink.
Bing, the Fortune columnist, humorist, author, and alter-ego for a real-life business executive with a real name, is sharing his philosophy on life and business with me to promote his new book, The Curriculum, which Harper Collins will publish April 15. If you’re amused by Bing’s Fortune columns, you’re going to love this book, a hardcover, thick-paper-stock, impressive-looking, completely make-believe set of rules on how to conduct oneself in business.
Or is it?
Because the more you listen to Bing talk, whether or not you’re consuming alcohol simultaneously, the more sense he makes. He covers, for example, the critical subject of “how not to look stupid,” which includes guidance on “sagacious nodding” and “selective questioning.” He gives advice on what to wear and how to smell. He imparts wisdom on what we all want to know in his chapter on “feigning financial literacy.” His “master curriculum” includes lessons on how to do meetings, managing boredom, and, in his words, “important stuff” like town-car management.
Bing teaches his reader not so much how to read a spreadsheet as the most convincing way to give the impression of understanding one. He counsels two approaches. One involves shouting, “What the fuck is that?” which is certain to cow the presenter. The second is to point at a specific cell and say, “I don’t understand how you got this,” which is guaranteed to send the presenter into a delirium of explanation.
Sharing a drink with Stanley Bing reminds me of when, as a child, I watched Johnny Carson interview great comedians like Buddy Hackett or Don Rickles. Carson rarely got in a word, and his efforts to keep a straight face always failed. So it is with Bing, who explained to me that all the data in his book comes from his National Association for Serious Studies, which he has incorporated. “It’s all proprietary, so I can’t share it,” he deadpans, with the timing of a Borscht Belt comic. “But I assure it all adheres to the highest standards of Internet journalism.”
And who’s to quibble with him, what with all the crap serious people pass off as wisdom? He presents his research as the opposite of what happens at the Hoover Institution, made up of “all these high-quality people who make bogus conclusions. I have bogus people who reach perfectly justified conclusions.” Like any intentionally or unintentionally bogus presentation, The Curriculum has infographics. Lots of them. One shows where drinking happens in the sales cycle and its effect. It’s positive.
Perhaps most importantly, Bing teaches the average business reader how to fabricate a “sustainable persona.” “If you don’t retain your genuine persona outside of work, you’ll go insane,” he says. “Or you’ll be a mogul, because they don’t have real personas.” So you know, Bing knows a thing or two about moguls. This book isn’t for them. “I’m assuming my audience is relatively normal people,” he says. About this, he is dead serious.