“Missionaries and mercenaries” has a pretty intriguing ring to it, huh? I wish I could claim credit for it, but I heard about it on this podcast with Ribbonfarm creator Venkat Rao. Apparently, entrepreneurs use this pithy phrase to make a distinction among themselves. I’ll explain in more detail shortly.
First, however, I’d like to do a bit of explanatory housekeeping. In the coming months, I’m going to make some changes to my life. Specifically, I plan to wind down the management consulting in favor of creating content (products) and offering productized-services. This may sound a little crazy to you. It would have sounded crazy (or naive) to me up until a few years ago. Why trade a high profile consulting career for… an unknown? So I want to explain myself before I lose sight of the fact that I might need to explain that to people.
On “Trading Hours for Dollars”
I’ll tell a quick story to clarify. A few years back, I’d decided to leave a CIO position in favor of consulting as a free agent (which may also sound crazy, but it worked out). As I looked to build my book of business, I was chatting with fellow Pluralsight author John Sonmez about the jump he had made away from full time employment. He said something during that conversation that I’ll never forget, when I asked him about how he finds consulting work.
“To be honest, I’m trying to get away from trading hours for dollars.”
When you listen to the podcasts I listen to, read the books I read, and talk to the people I talk to, you’ll hear this a lot. At the time, however, I had never heard anyone say that. I probably replied with something noncommittal like, “oh, that’s awesome, man.” Meanwhile, I recall thinking to myself, “I don’t even… wat?”
These days, I completely get it. Back then, I didn’t. And so I want to start bridging the gap before the curse of knowledge consumes me and I just assume that everyone shares my perspective on hourly work and the corporate condition.
Developer Hegemony launches on May 2nd, and people have been asking me what comes next. Well, among other things, I plan to pursue a line of business wherein I help support people executing their plan to achieve developer hegemony. But before I can do that, I have some mental groundwork to lay. And that brings me back to missionaries and mercenaries.
If you’ve only recently come to read my blog, understand that I mean something deeper than the dictionary definition when I talk about “opportunists.” I explain in depth in this post, but this graphic should suffice.
Most simply, opportunists are those who maneuver their way to the top of the pyramid-shaped corporations. The C-suite consists exclusively of these folks, but you’ll also find them at all levels of the organization. I think of those working their way up as “ascendant opportunists.”
But wherever you find them in the corporate hierarchy at the moment, you’ll find that all of them have ceded good faith with the organization. In other words, opportunists ascend rapidly by coming to understand the essential bankruptcy of the corporate advancement narrative. They arrive at their positions and status through the lonely recognition that the normal corporate rules are for the idealists and pragmatists around them. They chuckle internally, behind a careful poker face, at the notion that companies can have such things as “missions” and “values.”
If you really want to dive deep into the psyche of the opportunist, my book talks about this archetype and the other players in detail. For our purposes here, I want to talk about what happens to these players when they exit the game. (And make no mistake, they’re the only ones who ever do this side of retirement.) What fates await opportunists that exit pyramid-shaped corporate life?