May 23, 2002
Jack Covert Selects: Jack Covert Selects - A Working Stiff's Manifesto
This is another one of those books that doesnt quite fit into any conventional business book category. A Working Stiffs Manifesto is the story of one mans adventures in the job market. Armed with a military background, an English degree, and a goal to someday write the Great American Novel, Iain Levison is a hard and good worker who bounces from job to job looking for one he can stick with, one that offers respect, individuality, creativity and some freedom. Offended by micromanagement and the inane expectations and insane deadlines demanded of workers, somewhat defiant, and utterly uninterested, Levison is not the ideal employee, but the stories of his hiring and firings certainly make for interesting reading and make the reader sympathetic to his plight. He is smart enough to move up quickly among the ranks, but finds that managing and leading means reinforcing inane rules that he cant quite tolerate regurgitating. He understands that he is part of the problem: Aside from making me a liability at sales and a lot of other professions, a four-year university English degree has made me impatient at the few jobs I can get. Its filled me with a sense of entitlement. This makes it difficultwaiting for a promotion which, incidentally, I really dont want. So to half the world Im unemployable, and Im not interested in the other half. So, in taking jobs that range from hard labor, to pirating cable, to trucking cross-country, to conventional temp service work, Levison searches for the right answer while trying to pay his bills. A portion of the book tells of his time in Alaska working on the crab ships horrifying stuff that will make you appreciate your own job.
The lessons of employment are hard-learned for both Levison and the reader. One story with much impact starts when Levison takes a job with a man who owns his own computer-wiring company. The mans ladder collapses as he rants at Levisons lack of inherent ability, and he is severely injured. Shaken by the event, Levison reflects: Its ironic that this man who works so hard for his independence now has to room with his mother. Those are the choices. Thats the glamour of running your own business. Kill yourself to survive. As you can tell, this book doesnt pull punches and is not meant to delude anyone into believing that satisfying employment is an easy thing to find. However, it is entertaining and interesting reading. Levisons writing style is easy and amiable, and he tells a good story. Filled with cynical humor, the book does a good job of presenting the problems faced by a large segment of the population too educated to be satisfied being laborers, but without the drive to succeed within the confines of the pre-existing capitalist structure that is the work-a-day world.
So, is this a business book that will change the way you run your business? Maybe. Perhaps it will allow you to look at your employees with different eyes. Is this a book that, as an employee, will change the way you look at your job? Maybe. Perhaps you will realize that it could be a lot worse, or perhaps it will make you appreciate your earned vacation and the friendship of your co-workers, or maybe it will inspire you to rejoin the hunt for the perfect job. Whichever, I think this book provides plenty of fodder for self-reflection, and I think youll enjoy it as much as I did.
About Dylan Schleicher
Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.