A while back Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas achieved a quiet milestone. He has gone five entire terms as a Supreme without asking a question.
Just to put this in perspective, no previous Supreme level judge had gone one entire session without asking a question.
Hello darkness my old friend, I’m come to talk with you again, indeed.
(For those a lot younger than me, meaning almost everyone, that is a line from the Simon & Garfunkel song, “Sounds of Silence.”)
To me, this harkens back to a much simpler time. When many of us could take the Fifth Amendment at work and not only keep our jobs, we could leverage our silence into regular promotions. When Casper the Friendly Ghost wasn’t just a cartoon, but a workplace lifestyle.
People got ahead not by taking chances, but just showing up. Leave it up to the Japanese to perfectly sum it up in a catch phrase, “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.” Or “Deru kugi wa utareru” if you enjoy quoting things in their original language.
After our second recession in a decade, silence is the antithesis of how to get ahead today. No, these days speaking out and up is the way to go.
Don’t get me wrong, the corporate immune system is still trained to go after anything that threatens the status quo. That will never change. But there are more people in management positions who realize that playing it safe and trying to sit on a lead in today’s turbulent marketplace is often the riskiest thing you can do.
I suggest that we all tip our hat to the old-school Supreme. Even though most of us can’t go silent anymore, we can appreciate his trip down memory lane. Way to keep the stiff upper lip, and lower one too Clarence.
About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via firstname.lastname@example.org.