How the waste & idiocy of corporate office culture gave me the confidence to run my company

Cubicles in a now-defunct co-working space in ...

Cubicles in a now-defunct co-working space in Portland, Oregon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Believe it or not, I used to have a day job. I’ve worked for several companies you’ve definitely heard of and done the cubicle thing.  In a way, what I think of as corporate America office culture drove me to where I am today because I just couldn’t take that world after a few years of it.

I was floored by all the waste.

They wasted materials all the time. Paper, supplies, ink, food, it was ridiculous and, frankly, uncomfortable. One day they lay someone off because they claim there’s no money and then the next they spent a thousand dollars on a brunch meeting where we ended up giving the food away to other departments because no one ate it. Someone accidentally sends a 300 page document to the 30 cents a copy color printer, realizes their error, throws all that single sided paper out and then puts in a supplies request for a dozen pads of paper because “they like to have scrap paper to jot notes to themselves.” This kind of stuff was everywhere. 

I could never understand how they didn’t see that maybe being a little less stupid with how they spent money would result in more profit. How they could easily make a few small changes to save money and not have to lay people off. They were so set in their ways no one was capable of seeing the big picture anymore. The head had NO idea what the feet were doing.

The other thing that drove me batty was the waste of time. I found the endless loop of meetings to plan meetings to be absolutely maddening because nothing ever got done. I am not exaggerating when I say that most people only did about 1 to 2 hours of work a day. The rest of the time was spent chatting on IM, the phone or at meetings, where most of that time was spent goofing off and eating overpriced food. They could have easily let go a quarter of the staff, give the people who remained enough work to actually keep them busy all day and the company would have run just fine. Better, even.

I know I’m a bit of a workaholic but I just couldn’t take this culture. I actually spent most of my time asking were they sure there wasn’t more work I could do? and being told no. I was always organizing random things, making up my own work because just sitting there doing nothing after I finished my work for the day seemed so stupid. (I did so much double dipping back then, it’s a little depressing. I was doing eBay, Lulu and Priced Nostalgia work, writing books and plays, even doing freelance web design gigs while on the clock for my day job because they simply didn’t have enough work for me to do.) I used to feel guilty until I noticed that was what everyone else was doing with the rest of their day once they’d finished what work they had… it was almost expected.

I realized very quickly that I could probably accomplish more in a single day working by myself to my full potential than an entire floor of a company like this could do in a week. I’m not saying this as an abstract. This was a very literal realization I had that finally gave me the confidence to make my company my full time gig. So what if it was just me? If I worked an 8 hour day, I’d be doing the work of 4 to 8 people on corporate America time. Think of how much more I could accomplish!

Suddenly, it didn’t feel so David and Goliath. When I adjusted for all the ways I wouldn’t waste time or resources, what was stopping me from doing as much as this huge company even though I was just this wee little business starting out with one person? It was weirdly inspiring to know that the big companies, the ones us smaller businesses aspire to be, had all these people and resources but were running things like idiots. Well, heck, then all it would take to be successful was to be slightly less idiotic. I could certainly do that!

What gave you that final push to go into business for yourself either part or full time?

Selling online since 1997, Hillary is the author of Beyond Amazon, eBay, and Etsy and The Trading Assistant’s Assistant. She is also a niche blogger, fiction writer and bestselling playwright when you aren’t looking. You can connect with Hillary via social media using any of these links:

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1 Comment Posted in About Me and Site News, Customer Service & Bettering your Business, Editorials and Opinion Pieces
  • SpaceVegetable

    I so hear you on this. I work primarily as a contractor, which helps to remove some of the negatives of working in Cubicle World — since I’m not a real employee of the company so as an outsider, I can roll my eyes or snigger at their ridiculous practices. Being able to experience a wide variety of companies has given me great insight and exposure to all the ways to waste time and stuff. Almost all of the largest companies suffer the worst from time wasting meetings and lack of innovation. They get so bloated and inefficient, that innovative ideas get lost in the shuffle and the innovators get frustrated and move on, leaving the mediocre behind.

    One clear exception to that was Amazon. The way they structure the company has a lot of small, fairly autonomous groups, so they’re able to foster innovation without losing the efficiencies of a larger company. It was fascinating, especially in contrast to the other large companies I’ve worked for. I’ve double-dipped more than once at some of the big guys – especially defense companies. Corporate America has nothing on the government when it comes to waste!

    I’m still doing my business part time, since I believe in the concept of multiple income streams. As a contractor, you never know when there will be down time between gigs, so having something to help cover the bases in terms of income is important. I’d love to do it full time, but it’s not financially feasible just yet. Someday….

The Whine Seller