Want To Succeed In IT? Be A Box Jellyfish

Want To Succeed In IT? Be A Box Jellyfish

Wimps get nowhere. You need to be a deadly predator. So go with the element of surprise and emulate the box jellyfish to advance your career.

Lifehacker’s coverage of Gartner Business Process Management Summit 2014 is presented by the Microsoft Cloud, providing flexible enterprise cloud solutions for business.

Really, I should be fair. Gartner analyst Tina Nunno advises that IT pros choose an “extreme animal” to emulate, but argues that the wolf is the ideal choice. Indeed, she wrote a book called The Wolf In CIO’s Clothing to underscore the point.

During the closing keynote at Gartner’s BPM conference in Sydney, with a central theme of how to emulate Niccolò Machiavelli in your career, she also discussed the deadliness of the box jellyfish, Australia’s secret killer for non-cautious surfers.

“I’ve just discovered one of the deadliest animals here is a jellyfish,” she said. “It never occurred to me to put an invertebrate on my model. I did not realise you people were having that problem.”

But we are, and I’m going to embrace it, whatever the consequences. Nunno’s key Machiavelli-driven thesis is that to get ahead, you have to act decisively with scant regard for whether that might piss someone else off. So stuff this wolf crap. I’m a jellyfish. I will sting you when you least expect it. Stay off my beach.

Whatever animal you select, Nunno — a charming and articulate speaker who says her Italian background means she was told stories of family revenge rather than fairy tales as a child, something she has now turned into a career — argues that the traditional co-operative approach taken by IT rarely pays dividends in corporate culture. Forget all that advice telling you to collect requirements, reflect business needs and be nice to everyone. That’s not going to get you anywhere.

“We like to believe that people will change because we’ve got right on our side: we’ve got the good data, we’ve got the business case, we’ve got the rationale.” But, as we all know, that doesn’t happen. Well-mannered behaviour is not always echoed.

Want To Succeed In IT? Be A Box Jellyfish

“I tend to believe that some of the people you work with were not nice before you met them and will not be nice after you leave. We don’t have ultimate control. Some people are just nasty.”

“Machiavelli recognised that leadership is both a privilege and a burden. When you have to make those difficult choices, it can take a piece out of you — but if you don’t make them, who will?”

The key, Nunno suggested, is not to be half-hearted. “If you’re going to be good, be really good. If you’re going to be bad, be really bad. Otherwise you won’t get full impact out of the tactic.”

Chances are other people in your organisation are already adopting these tactics. “The Prince[Machiavelli’s most famous work] is a guidebook on how to be a dictator,” Nunno said. “This is why most CEOS have read it. Let’s face it, they’re happy little aspiring dictators.” And they are the people you ultimately have to persuade.

Identifying with an animal is a simple tactic to help reveal behaviours that won’t help during this journey. “Here’s the problem with being a bunny rabbit: everything else on the food chain can eat you. We don’t partner with bunny rabbits. We partner with those who we consider strong.”

This is why the wolf is a better choice, though you have to match the identification with the behaviour. “Are you willing to bite someone’s face off? Have you done it? This really is about going to extremes.”

Want To Succeed In IT? Be A Box Jellyfish

“The challenge is if you never bite someone’s face off, people assume you can’t do it. So you have to do it, and you have to have witnesses.”

“It is a combination of art and science. You have to have a plan, but you have to know when to divert from the plan.”

“Making everyone happy is not necessarily a legitimate business goal. I’m not necessarily against it — but if I hear Pharrell’s ‘Happy’ song one more time, somebody’s going to get hurt.”

Nunno devised a quiz which you can take which identifies your extreme animal type in three Machiavellian focus areas. According to this, I’m a junior wolf in matters of power, a snake when it comes to manipulation, and a shark when it comes to warfare. Again, screw that. I’m a jellyfish. What are you?

Sign picture and beach picture from Shutterstock


  • Power: Lion
    Manipulation: Dove
    Warfare: Wolf
    Extreme Animal Profile: WOLF CIO

    Come at me sis! 😛
    I am the ultimate lifeform!

    I prefer to be a Dragon though
    Corporate IT is boring!

  • Awesome, just what the world needs – direction on how to be an Alpha A-hole in the workplace.

    If the only way to “get you anywhere” is machismo (whether you’re male or female), pettiness, aggression and threats I’ll choose the gentle path, thanks.

    The DISC personality profile model is already skewed far into the D for management and encouraging such conduct just makes the world that little bit worse for everyone but those who thrive on power and conflict.

  • This person is just giving info on how a lot of people get to the top. Its most certainly not the right way to do it but I guess it works…

    I wouldn’t adopt these policies personally as I don’t think it fosters a positive work culture. In fact I would go as far as to say that this sort of behaviour damages it. So she is entitled to her opinion but I certainly don’t agree with it.

    • +1. Unless you’re a development company, IT is there to support the business and make it more efficient. You are there to help others, and make their job easier. When I pick my replacement, I’m not going to be looking for wolf-like attributes. I’m going to be looking for somebody who wants to help.

  • I was at that presentation and I think Angus has done a good job of summarising. Whether or not you agree with her ideas, the presenter was excellent — humorous, natural and compelling. It was a great way to end the Summit.

    I believe the tone of the presentation was, sometimes you’re gonna have to deal with nasty people or dysfunctional organisations, and your “light side” tactics aren’t always going to work in those situations. So, not so much “always exhibit these behaviours” as “learn to realise when you need to use them”.

    I admit I was uncomfortable with what she said. I like to believe that conflicts, arguments and clashes can be solved with calm and reasonable conversation and cooperation. The reality is that consensus is all but impossible and you have to be aware of the ways people try to sabotage an issue or plan to get what they want. And sometimes you may need to fight fire with fire.

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