Thursday, October 24, 2019

Throw-out Thursday.

I don’t know where I read it, it might have been something high-falutin’ and dark by Jacob Bronowski or someone hoity-toity like that. Or I might have heard it from my legion of brilliant planner friends. Or it might just have come from a life I spent with two-feet planted on earth and listening to people tell their stories of how they make it around the sun and why.

Regardless of its provenance, I did learn (somewhere) that central to the human condition is the need to be someone. It’s the need to be acknowledged, appreciated, heard, recognized, even if it’s just from your small family circle or the slightly larger circle of your work world.

It’s why when they send someone to prison the first thing they do is make that person unrecognizable as an individual. They strip that person of a name, or unique clothing. They often barbarously barber them so even their haircut—an important part of your appearance—is undifferentiated. It’s how we institutionally un-human what had been a human.

With these thoughts in mind I began thinking about life in today’s modern holding company advertising agency. [By the way, it would be more accurate to call holding companies squeezing companies.]

I’ve always thought that agencies today should bring back something that disappeared two decades ago or three. In the book “Craeft,” by Alexander Langlands, the author speaks of the divorce of connection between hand and head and heart. 

Think of how we used to make ads. We used to have to use our hands to cut type, to correct proofs, to run down the hall with a blue. Today, we do little more than press plastic keys to create our plastic communications. 

We still do work, of course, but it is work in our heads, whereas for most of human existence, work was a full-body experience. We no longer feel work in our souls. Or anyway, a lot of the time we don’t.

To return to that, if I were running an ad agency I would do something very simple. Quaint even.

Twice a month on paydays, I would walk around the entire agency. I would see Betty standing by her desk. “Betty,” I’d say going up to her. I’d look her in the eye and I’d hand her an actual paper copy of her pay-stub. “Thank you, Betty,” I’d say. And I’d shake her hand. Then I’d see Fred, and I’d have a similar interchange with Fred. Thanks, Fred.

It would take me a couple hours a couple times a month to do this. And I’d probably get a lot of rebuke and it would generate a lot of snide laughter about me being a dinosaur.

But what’s never considered in life today are incalculable things like treating someone like they’re a human being. No one ever does a cost-benefit analysis of kindness.  

I'd bet if I did this, if I walked around the agency, addressed people as people one-at-a-time by name, I would have the lowest attrition rate in the industry. And we'd probably produce the best work, too.

In a way it reminds me of a story I heard about cake mix. Apparently in its early days, all you had to do with cake mix was add water, stir it and pop it in the oven. I don’t know how the cakes tasted, but cake mix failed in the market.

Someone smart (this was an insight before the word became devalued through overuse) figured out that to most people cooking involved not just adding water, but cracking an egg. Cracking an egg was semiotic of cooking. And so, though the composition of cake mix didn’t change, the instructions on how to use it did. People were told to crack in an egg.

That made all the difference. Now those baking with cake mix felt they were an important part of the process. I’ll repeat that. People thought they were important.

Today, in a Squeezing Company agency, even if you’re relatively high up on the totem pole, you’re not known, recognized, appreciated or thanked. As I've said many times, for 99% of employees, the only contact you have with corporate is a shrill weekly email in all caps and four colors telling you you're about to be locked out of email for time-sheet misbehavior.

In fact, when I was in a near fatal car accident some years ago, I heard nothing from the holding company wishing me well, though I had worked for them for 15 years and owned a lot of stock. Similarly when my wife had hip replacement surgery not long ago, nothing from any of the people who are "holding" me inquiring as to how she's doing.

No. I am and will always only be employee 27900. And I'm  tolerated only until they can buy the time of employee 27901 for $10,000 less.

I know some people reading this will mutter about what an asshole I am. We’re getting paid. That should be thanks and appreciation enough.

That’s ok.

Call me an asshole.

I’m only human.

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