A Guide to Dysfunctional Management and the Evil Workplace
November 23rd, 2012 by William

The Players All Played At Once

The 1865 novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was written by English author Charles Dodgson under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll. Most people have probably read the book or seen the 1951 Disney movie. The book and movie have spawned the buzzphrase; “down the rabbit hole” which has become a common metaphor in pop-culture and also the business world. Carroll’s book has also been analyzed as a metaphor for the transition from adolescence to adulthood, i.e., the inevitable loss of childhood innocence. I also believe that Carroll’s book serves as a perfect metaphor for some of the behaviors we find in modern business management.

Let me explain.

In Chapter 8 of the story, Alice reaches the Garden, which has been her goal from Chapter 1 of the story. Alice believes that reaching the Garden will end the frustration she’s built up so far, in her travels through Wonderland, having to deal with personalities like The Rabbit, the Cheshire Cat and the Mad Hatter. However once she’s there, the Garden proves to be as frustrating as the rest of Wonderland. Alice’s experiences in her quest for the Garden provide the perfect metaphor for the struggles everyone will experience on their career path to the top. For the average worker in the modern workplace the rise to the top can be nothing short of frustrating in having to deal with difficult and egocentric people.

Carroll’s use of the card suit “hearts” also has metaphoric meaning. This represents the idea that the Garden is the heart of Wonderland; the seat of power for the King and Queen of Hearts. The Garden represents the ultimate career prize; the top level of management and Alice’s frustration once she reaches the Garden represents how frustrated we become when once we reach that level and realize things are not better there, but worse.

Once in the Garden, Alice quickly discovers that the Garden provides no satisfaction, in fact it borders on a nightmare experience because the rules and practices of the characters in the Garden are just as idiotic and maddening as the rest of Wonderland.

Once in the Garden the Queen invites Alice to a game of croquet. Alice soon learns that croquet in Wonderland is quite difficult. The balls are live hedgehogs, the mallets are live flamingoes, and the hoops are the card-people, bent over so that their bodies make arches. No one is waiting their turn and the game is shear chaos.

The way Carroll describes the Queen’s croquet game provides a glimpse into the workings at the upper management level. The players in the game are all loyal sycophants to the Queen (they have to be or they’ll get their head cut off) and Alice is a newcomer to the game, just as once you reach the executive suite you are the newcomer to a game that’s fundamentally different than any other you’ll play in your career. The portrayal of the chaos of all the players playing at once represents the reality of the world of upper management where personal agendas are paramount and in play all at the same time.

Just like in management, the quarrelling and one-upmanship amongst all the players puts the Queen in a furious mood, and she went stomping about, and shouting ‘Off with his head!’ or ‘Off with her head!’ Just as in the world of the executive suite, management has only one way of settling all difficulties, great or small; metaphorically ‘Off with their head!’

Needless to say, Alice worries that the Queen’s fury will be turned against her, just as any newcomer to the executive suite will feel when seeing the reaction that the sociopaths have to any challenging situation. Despite not as yet having any dispute with the Queen; she knew that it might happen at any time. She thought, ‘what will become of me? They’re dreadfully fond of beheading people here; the great wonder is, that there’s any one left alive!’ Metaphorically speaking this represents the fact that at any time a person can fall from grace in the eyes of sociopathic management.

In the story Alice was looking about for some way of escaping the Garden, and wondering whether she could get away without being seen when she noticed the Cheshire Cat’s appearing in the air. ‘Now I shall have somebody to talk to,’ she thought. ‘How are you getting on?’ said the Cat and Alice began an account of the croquet game because she was glad she had someone she could commiserate with. ‘I don’t think they play at all fairly,’ Alice said, ‘and they all quarrel so dreadfully one can’t hear oneself speak. And they don’t seem to have any rules in particular; at least, if there are, nobody attends to them. You’ve no idea how confusing it is.’

The Queen’s Court of Cards, like people of power in real life, represents the ranks of the sycophants that surround the average sociopathic leader. In this rarified world the players rely on rank for their status and gaining rank is most often obtained by reducing the rank of others through the myriad interpersonal games that I detail in my book, Puttin’ Cologne on the Rickshaw. Carroll masterfully turns rank into a game, mocking it, depicting these ridiculous people as frightening and dangerous. Despite Alice beginning the game thinking she had nothing to fear, as she spends more time with the Queen of Hearts, she becomes increasingly anxious.

The way the croquet game was played, and Alice trying to understand their rules (or lack thereof), is central to the business metaphor. Alice is learning to get along in an arena of powerful people just like anyone entering the upper ranks of business. Alice’s problem is realizing that no one is paying any attention to the rules. This serves as the perfect metaphor for the fact that learning to “play the game” means more than learning the rules. To understand this better check out my book, Puttin’ Cologne on the Rickshaw which provides in-depth detail of the myriad “games” that play out daily in the average workplace.

Later the Cheshire Cat asks Alice: ‘How do you like the Queen?’

Alice responds: ‘Not at all, she’s so extremely likely to win that it’s hardly worth finishing the game.’

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, despite being just a children’s fantasy tale, provides much insight into the reality of the business world. To rise to the top levels of business you’ll meet many people along the way acting out their own agenda and you’ll endure much frustration. However, once you’ve obtained the prize life doesn’t get any easier. In fact it gets more complex and difficult. Alice’s final observation about the Queen represents the feeling you’ll have when you’ve finally reached the top of management and you must deal with the sociopathic behavior of those around you, and you ask yourself whether the prize was at all worth the trip.


3 Responses to “The Players All Played At Once”
  1. Anonymous says

    I would like to thank you for the efforts you have put in writing this blog. I’m hoping the same high-grade blog post from you in the future as well. In fact, your creative writing abilities has inspired me to get my own blog now. Actually the blogging is spreading its wings quickly. Your write up is a good example of it.

  2. Anonymous says

    Best wishes!Your blog is very good!

  3. Darrel Freidin says

    Excellent beat!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Reload Image