Dissolution started off as a nightmare. I was running, hard. I was so scared I thought I was going to choke. All I knew was that two men in suits were chasing me and that they were ruthless. And that they didn’t want me, not really. They were chasing a number. A body. An asset.
Now, my family is pretty much almost entirely in healthcare (I’m the black sheep. Baaaa). And I took enough biology and read enough history about World War II to know the absolutely horrifying things people have done to those they consider subhuman in the name of science. So I knew what the suits were going to do to me when they caught me. And I knew I was going to be alive for most of it.
The terror burned the idea into my brain, where it sat for years. It grew into a half-formed story, set in a dark, cyber-punkish world of mega-corporations. I wrote some scenes and then stopped. It was too big a story. Too terrible. I wasn’t ready.
Then two things happened.
1. I studied Law
I still remember reluctantly enrolling in the compulsory Corporations Law subject for my law degree. As chance (and my lazy timetabling choices) would have it, a few months later I found myself sitting in a class taught by Dr. Eric Windholz.
All you need to know about Dr. Windholz is this: he is an excellent, searing lecturer and an independently fascinating man. He is also one of those rare beings who can entirely justify his cynicism because he’s been on both sides of the fight—as general counsel for Phillip Morris and as General Manager of Strategic Programs & Support at WorkSafe Victoria. And I will never forget the chill that ran through me when he looked each of us in the eye and told us that companies were alive: that they could marry, divorce, give birth . . . and die.
That wasn’t the last of his lessons. I’d grown up the way I think most of us have, on a scale ranging from a faint distrust of corporations to full-blown hatred. Resident Evil certainly did not help. But Dr. Windholz challenged that by the simple method of asking us what a company was.
After we all invariably gave the wrong answer, his sadism relented and he told us his definition: a group of people who had decided to get together formally to pursue a common goal. That was it.
It made me realize something that should have been obvious to me, to everyone, but wasn’t: that companies aren’t inherently evil. They’re literally just a legal structure that people have used to protect themselves while they go after what they want—whether that’s mining for profits or setting up orphanages. And just that little shift in thinking is actually very empowering. Multinational corporations may seem like unstoppable behemoths if you’re looking at the legal structure. But if you blink and focus on the people smiling back from their corporate profiles, you realize that they’re just people. Probably Photoshopped people, but people nonetheless. And people can change their minds.
That’s not to say that corporate structures don’t have their own issues. Just like what happens when you get any group of people together, you risk problems such as groupthink and diffusion of responsibility. But arguably, those are issues rooted in human psychology. It’s just easier to blame branding and corporate logos than it is to take a hard look at ourselves.
. . . All right, that was probably more legal/psychological theory than you needed. Still with me? Awesome.
2. I Graduated
The second thing that happened was that I graduated into an oversaturated, highly competitive legal market. It was brutal. In the year that I applied for internships, all the major firms culled their staff. The interns that year were slaughtered. They’d worked their asses off and gone through a hideous selection process with the promise that one in three of them would get a job. When that number turned out to be a joke, well . . . hell hath no fury like a law student scorned.
As for my competition, picture one of those people who get blindingly high GPAs, already works part-time in the industry, wins competitions and still somehow finds the time to volunteer, while simultaneously being so goddamn nice that it’s impossible to hate them. Well, in my year, it wasn’t just that one guy or girl. It felt like I was surrounded by them.
So, like the neurotic, anxiety-ridden law student I was, I researched. I optimized my CV, gambled on my cover letters, and attended a lot of seminars. One of them was on the job application process, and it was taught by a scarily enthusiastic lady who had about three slides devoted to Personal Branding. For those of you who haven’t come across that ridiculously sales-y term, it’s exactly what it sounds like. It’s treating yourself as a product and trying to figure out how to “market” that to potential employers.
Needless to say, at one point in the seminar she paused dramatically and said, “You have to sell yourself.”
Dissolution was born of all of these things and more. So as you can see, I’ve got a lot of people to thank. Aside from Dr. Windholz, I have to thank the friends who stayed up with me until 2am eating shitty pancakes and helping me workshop the book title.
I have to thank everyone who read the book and gave me their honest feedback.
I have to thank my long-suffering partner for, well, everything.
I have to thank my readers, who took a chance on me (seriously, thank you).
And I have to thank the lady (sorry, I’ve forgotten your name) who took her job so damn seriously that she told us to sell ourselves.