Aren't baby boomers sick of all this keep working, never retire nonsense that makes headlines as someone waxes poetic about the American work ethic or indulges in a little fear-mongering about inflation eroding our savings?
Come to think of it, what about everyone else? Generation Y, Generation X, Generation Me, Generation You: Who doesn't want to slow down, smell the roses, and sip the rosé while cashing a regular paycheck?
Enter Stanley Bing. Bing, the not-so-secret pseudonym of a media executive, has penned Executricks: Or How to Retire While You're Still Working. U.S. News asked Bing to elaborate on his tricks for a fake retirement. Excerpts:
No one seems interested in actually retiring anymore. Why should they retire while they're still working?
It's going to be awfully hard for any of us to actually retire because of the economy. The differences between genuine retirement and retirement while still employed are significant. They almost always default to the benefit of the faux retiree. You're paid, so you're not on a fixed income. You basically can eat wherever you want, as long as you can think of a legitimate business reason to do so. You can drink with friends—as far as friendship goes in the business world. You can take a nap in your office instead of face down in the oatmeal. There are just a lot of things that make a fake or false retirement infinitely superior to a real one.
In the book, I quote George Bernard Shaw who says: "A perpetual holiday is a good working definition of hell." You know, how many more walks can you take? There are reasons to keep the old career in the air for as long as possible.
You say people should use their BlackBerry devices to advantage. Shouldn't people be shutting them down?
The BlackBerry and all cellular communications, in fact, give us the freedom to be nowhere. You could, quite literally, spend the day in bed eating bonbons and be a very successful telecommuter. I know quite a few executives who are working around the clock simply because they're at home, or they're at a hotel in Las Vegas.
So what are the main "Executricks?"
The core concepts include delegation, absence—which is conferred by the BlackBerry and the cell phone. Then, abuse of status: You're using things available to you because of your status, but at the same time, it does emulate retirement: golfing, having nice long meals, nobody knowing where you are for a while. Those are all things retired people do. You can do them, too, if you live like an executive.
Then there's decisiveness even when confused, which means that people who take a long time to decide are always working, whereas people who actually make a decision and then create a delegation to handle the implications have just telescoped months of process into a nanosecond. You know, 'Should we build that thing?' 'Yes. Now go do it.' That's a lot better than having 18 meetings and 14 evaluations. Let other people do that stuff. If you're really an executive then you don't mind being brought up to speed, as it were.
So do they make you a lousy (if relaxed) leader?
No, you could be a very good leader. Ronald Reagan was viewed as a very good leader. The business community certainly thought he was. The famous cover story on Fortune was: "What Managers Can Learn From Manager Reagan." It was all about—he's this fantastic delegator. Isn't that great?
Are there limits to what should be delegated?
You shouldn't delegate the actual decisions and the accountability for what you do as business manager. If you're the boss, you can delegate the work associated with a project or an idea. My people will tell you that I do it every day. I'm constantly delegating stuff that's obnoxious.
But when my boss says, "Who came up with that idea?" or "How come we did it that way?" I really try not to point to my subordinate and say, "He did." That's the thing that designates a boss. It isn't that you do more work or that you lift the heaviest weights. You come up with the ideas that shape the strategy and you then take accountability for it. Both of those can be done when you're on a beach.
How high up does someone need to be to make use of these tricks?
You could be just an entry-level grunt. If you have a door, you can be an executive. You can take naps. You can close your door and have private meetings. You need a door. Personal space is what executives are all about. That's why the really big ones have their own bathrooms.
Certainly, junior salespeople go golfing all the time. In fact, if you don't golf, you may be ostracized.
Won't people who take your advice earn the reputation of being sort of odd?
Who's the oddest person in any organization? The boss. People in management are just different. They dress different. Their egos and their ambitions and their perceptions of themselves differentiate them from the pack. That's what renders them management level. This is called "Executricks." You're learning the way executives lead their lives, not how grunts lead their lives. And if you're a little unconventional in an organizational sense and still do good work, you've just gained a level of freedom that other people don't have. That includes the freedom to work over a meal.
I could never work for Bloomberg, because everybody's in a cubicle. And everybody's always talking about what a great thing that is: "My goodness, we have snacks! And we're in a cubicle!" Well, great. What are you, in fourth grade? You know what, I'll have a snack. I'll go out and get my own snack. Bring it back to my office, close the door, and eat it.
Google uses free food and similar tricks, and it's the most popular employer among M.B.A.'s and undergrads.
The people I know that work for Google work their a—es off. They travel constantly. They are salespeople and they are nose to the grindstone. However, Sergey and Larry—they work hard, too, but they don't punch a clock.
They've mastered Executricks?
They have. A lot of people in Silicon Valley have mastered those things. First of all, they dress like they're in college. None of them wear ties, they're all so relaxed you could practically zone out. They work hard, they just work on their own tempo.
So do you have to give up the rat race and the competition?
It's about producing value when you're required to, and the rest of the time, managing things so that you create some space for yourself—mental space, physical space. I tell a story in the book about a guy who's surfing and he's on the phone talking to his MIS [management information systems] people in Hong Kong. Well, why not?
If your employees read the book, would they say it sounds like you?
Yeah, unfortunately I think I've given away a lot of my management secrets. Now people are saying things like, "Do it yourself."