The Company Way

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“When I joined this firm as a brash young man,
Well, I said to myself, ‘Now, brash young man,
Don’t get any ideas.’ Well, I stuck to that, and I haven’t had one in years.”

So sings Mr. Twimble, the quarter-of-a-century head of the mailroom. The quintessential “company man,” Twimble embodies the very character examined by William White in his 1956 groundbreaking book, The Organization Man. Now considered a classic in corporate sociological literature, White was responding to a distinct shift in American working culture, from the Protestant  Ethic and its focus on rugged individualism to a new type of structure that emphasized total conformity. These new types of workers, Organization Men, were encouraged to identify their success with the company’s success and had a single goal: to survive in the organization hierarchy by conforming instead of asserting their strengths. They placed their hopes for the future in the company’s hands and looked to the company as a place of security and identification:

“They are not workers, nor are they the white collar people…in the usual sense of the word. These people only work for The Organization. The ones I am talking about belong to it as well. They are the ones of our middle class who left home, spiritually as well as physically, to take the vows of organization life, and it is they who are the mind and soul of our great self-perpetuating institutions… In a system that makes such hazy terminology as “junior executive” psychologically necessary, they are of the staff as well as much as the line, and most are destined to live poised in a middle area that still awaits a satisfactory euphemism.

From the MTI  study guide for How to Succeed: Depictions of the Organization Man proliferated in Post-WWII American popular culture. In the 1950s and ’60s, television shows featured husbands who donned sports jackets and trench coats to catch the train to city office jobs, and mothers who wore fashionable dresses and jewelry to stay home and prepare dinner for the family. Television became less interested in images of rugged, self-sufficient individuals. Conformity was the underlying message of many popular shows, something that audiences were most likely aware of while watching Finch’s desperate scramble to the top of the corporate ladder–a distinct contrast to Mr. Twimble’s workplace philosophy.

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