BOOKS: Be a stranger to the P45 - Drawing a 'relationship map' or acquiring knowledge vital to the firm may make you fireproof, as this book claims. But Martin Sixsmith would rather have a life

BOOKS: Be a stranger to the P45 - Drawing a 'relationship map' or acquiring knowledge vital to the firm may make you fireproof, as this book claims. But Martin Sixsmith would rather have a life - Bullet Proof: How to Make Yourself Indispensable; By Mark C

by MARTIN SIXSMITH, BBC correspondent for 15 years before startinga career in government PR in 1997
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Bullet Proof: How to Make Yourself Indispensable; By Mark C Scott; Arrow pounds 6.99

When Mark C Scott got fired (aged 30, during his first career) he didn't get angry, he wrote a book about how to avoid getting fired.

When I 'was resigned' last February by Stephen Byers (if you haven't followed the story so far it is much too late even to try to catch up now), I didn't get mad either: I got a handsome apology and a large cheque.

To that extent, I am one of Mark Scott's success stories - one of the people who fight back against unfair employers and manage to end up smelling largely of roses.

What I evidently failed to do, however, was learn the real lesson of Scott's treatise and make sure I'd made myself fireproof in the first place.

For, according to Bullet Proof, there are some pretty darned easy steps you can take to make sure you will never be faced with the sack.

These range from simple ploys - such as learning a great deal of useful facts that the business would be hard-pushed to do without - to much trickier undertakings, such as blackmailing your boss over his secret history of dressing up in women's underwear and accosting visitors in the lift. (I made that last one up, but you get the general idea.)

What Scott does particularly well is to reduce the myriad complexities of human existence to the lexicon of a dodgy marketing campaign.

In this way, an individual's self-worth is equivalent to the brand equity he can turn himself into. Values and beliefs are useful, but only as marketing tools. Personality is something to be developed, but only if it fits the requirements of a personal sales strategy that is aimed at keeping your job safe at all costs.

Scott sometimes puts forward good points. He quite correctly points out that recession and downsizing can strike any company at any time, and that the employee who has battened down his or her contractual hatches will be best placed to weather the storm. But I must admit that when Scott maps the depths to which employees must descend to avoid being sacked, I thought it might actually be better to take the P45 and get a life instead.

At one point, he exhorts us to give up frivolous pursuits - such as reading books, hobbies and other such expendable things - in order to devote our evenings to drawing up a 'relationship map' of our personal value to important people at work.

We are then instructed to spend any free time that's left evaluating, and constantly updating, the condition of each trunk road and byway on this chart of calculated emotions.

'Sure, we might have some friendships; we might have some laughs on Friday afternoon. We might even have some love affairs,' sniffs Scott with disapproval.

'But that is not a strategy,' he insists, admonishing the slacker at the back of the class who might think it's rather more important to spend his time living instead of plotting the next move in his job-survival campaign.

One feature of the book that I greatly appreciated - and one to be found in all self-help manuals - is the reduction of the most complex human processes to a defined number of steps: 'There are 28 steps to a successful personal differentiation strategy.

Mastery of the first 15 will help you secure your position. The next 13 are embellishments.' (I swear I didn't make that one up: you can find it on page seven, if you don't believe me.)

I love this cod science because it sounds so convincing: surely an author who has studied human life so extensively that he knows it takes 28 steps, not 27, really must command our trust and respect. After all, it was Pythagoras and his sect of number-worshippers who first told us that magic and the meaning of life are to be found in the mystic power of figures.

But once I had finished this book and absorbed the genuine practical wisdom that it offers, I was still left with a dilemma: is Scott taking the mickey, or is he an American?

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