New Google employees (we call “Nooglers”) often ask me what makes me effective at what I do. I tell them only half-jokingly that it’s very simple: I do the Right Thing for Google and the world, and then I sit back and wait to get fired. If I don’t get fired, I’ve done the Right Thing for everyone. If I do get fired, this is the wrong employer to work for in the first place. So, either way, I win. That is my career strategy.
I discovered where I got this rebel streak from only very recently. I realized I inherited it from my dad, which was very strange to me because when I was growing up, I perceived my dad as an establishment figure, part of the very establishment I was rebelling against, so it was a severe cognitive dissonance for me to think of my dad as a rebel. But rebel he was.
My dad started his career as a child laborer (yes, one of those millions of faceless children in developing countries you read about occasionally on National Geographic), but by mid-career, he rose up the ranks to become one of the most senior military officers in all of Singapore. I recently learned that one reason he was so successful was because he was unafraid to speak the unpleasant truth to his superiors to their faces, including Defense Ministers and Prime Ministers. Near the end of his military career, one of his superiors asked him what made him so effective. My father replied, “It’s very simple. Everyday on my drive home, I would pass by HDB flats (public housing in Singapore) and I would always take an extra look at them. Why? Because after you fire me, that is where I’d live.”
Some day, when you reach my old age, spend some time talking to your father about his career, you may be pleasantly horrified to discover how much you are like your father.