The Ultimate 12-Step in Business

A Spy in the House of Work

The headline was right there in the Times, after the amusing piece on urban myths and before the formal obituaries: “The New Economy Is Dead.” I leaned back in my cool Aeron chair and stared at my cool Apple flat-panel display sitting on my cool Steelcase desk at the cool offices of Well, I thought, that pretty much makes it official: Game over. It had to happen sometime. Nothing lasts forever. And, hey, the new economy had a damn good run. Sure, it died young. But then so did Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, and Paul McCartney.


What made things a little weirder here was the part of the story about the new economy’s successor: “The new economy is survived by its father, the old economy.” Whoa! Talk about backlash! Everything old is new again. And yet most people I know don’t have a clue about the old economy. Sensing a business opportunity, we at have crafted the following tutorial: The Ultimate 12-Step Program in Business: 12 Steps Back to the Old Economy.

1. Nothing says “Organization Man” like gray flannel suits. Don’t forget the fedora. Do forget Casual Fridays. And try to forget that you ever looked cool. Remember: Business is no longer cool.

2. Swear off lattes. Who knew from lattes in 1956? We recommend Folgers, black, gulped out of a green ceramic mug.

3. Rediscover Liquid Paper, and use it. (But not to paint your nails. In the old economy, this signals dementia, not creative genius.)

4. If you’re the CEO, relocate your company to a faceless glass skyscraper that screams “Ayn Rand.” Avoid walls made of exposed brick and interior designers who use the word “workspace.”

5. Learn to use a Dictaphone. (Memo to self: Find out what a Dictaphone is. Second memo to self: Find out what a memo is.)


6. Creativity? Not desirable. Emphasize punctuality, a love of the tedious, and the ability to click heels together. Allow no thinking outside the box — and the box within which thinking is allowed is really small. And wipe that smile off your face.

7. Clean off your desk, and jettison the toys. Deep-six the Etch A Sketch. Toss out the naked, armless Barbie that was meant to be an ironic comment on something related to women in the workplace. And get rid of the women in the workplace. Except for the stenographers. Women can be stenographers.

8. Find out what a stenographer is.

9. Cancel your Hotmail account. Get rid of all email, for that matter. And lose the BlackBerry. Buy an expensive-looking fountain pen, then train yourself to straighten your cuffs in a self-important manner before settling down to write. Take out a subscription to Playboy.

10. Light up something unfiltered. Practice smoking anywhere. No more huddling downstairs on the sidewalk like a felon every time you want a cigarette. Feel good about this now, since in about 10 years, you’ll be dead of lung cancer.

11. Call your boss “Mister,” and call the stenographer “Miss.” Then call the stenographer from your rotary-dial phone, and ask her to meet you at the Boom-Boom Room for a three-martini lunch. Get used to the fact that no one thinks you’re hip for being in business. In fact, journalists will write that you’re an invisible cog on a nameless wheel in a huge, faceless bureaucracy. Of course, they’re right — but don’t take it personally. It’s just the old economy talking.


12. Go home every day on the 5:23 train. Take pleasure in the thought of doing this every Monday through Friday for the next 40 years. Kiss your wife at the station. Don’t panic. In case of despair, ask her to pass the Valium.

This is the latest episode in The Spy’s continuing saga, “Working Behind Enemy Lines.” You can find the entire Spy chronicles on the Web (