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Friday, April 09, 2010

Some quick thoughts after spending an afternoon hanging lights in a high school auditorium

I should just have a 'David Brooks' tag.

His editorial today about varying modes of leadership has lots of the hallmarks of Brooksiana: the on-the-fly creation of weird catch-phrases that somehow fail to stick and sort of make you feel a little sorry for him...The odd Greater Point I'm Getting At Here that comes from a series of 'well, I'm not sure that's actually so' moments...I ultimately like this one though, because he ends up going with 'The Humble Hound,' rather than 'The Lion in the Boardroom.'

The guy he is initially talking about, who says things like,

“I can talk about changing things for the better, even if I don’t know what it is we’re going to change. I’ll just say we’re going over there somewhere. And I don’t quite know what that looks like, but it’s going to be fantastic.”

is not specifically described as a delusional maniac you wish like hell wasn't your boss, but David does quickly go from there to a more introspective leadership style, which...Well, this is Brooksiana again...

"The humble hound leader thinks less about her mental strengths than about her weaknesses. She knows her performance slips when she has to handle more than one problem at a time, so she turns off her phone and e-mail while making decisions. She knows she has a bias for caution, so she writes a memo advocating the more daring option before writing another advocating the most safe. She knows she is bad at prediction...In short, she spends a lot of time on metacognition — thinking about her thinking — and then building external scaffolding devices to compensate for her weaknesses."

Okay, for starters let's assume you're a woman. In fact, let's refer to our nameless example here as a "her." He goes through a list of traits often attributed to women although generally at odds with the attendant stereotype of the ball-busting corporate cunt. The example of the Boardroom Lion is an actual person, The Humble Hound is a nameless woman.

This is why David Brooks Land is such a fun place to visit: he almost always distracts from his basic point by clumsy shit like this. It makes you stop reading his piece for content and instead start editing it.

He then (briefly) talks about being a stagehand, which is an oddly Collective Action and Teamwork thing for even a Thoughtful Conservative to be in like with:

"Being out when the applause is ringing doesn’t feel important to them. The important things are the communal work, the contribution to the whole production and the esprit de corps. The humble hound is a stagehand who happens to give more public presentations than most."

He then links to this article on actually being a stagehand. Note that 'applause not being important' thing. There's more of that. While the author, Peter J. Marks, gamely notes that it's just a stereotype that all stagehands are frustrated actors (or musicians), the fact remains that plenty of them are. They just happen to have a way more stable job in the entertainment industry.

If the point is that we're too centered and not-vain to seek the glory of the footlights and the adulation of the masses, I accept the compliment, even though it's often not true. I just decided a long time ago that I don't really want to hang around with actors. Or dancers. Or musicians.

Then too there's that thing I always come back to about stage-handery really being a refuge for lots of intellectually insecure people who want to have this one very specialized place in their life where they can lord it over other people. But really, that's any industry. I like the fact that there's a former theater critic who writes things very few people read on the Internet who is trying to impute some nobility to my profession, but it's still just a job, y'know? One I'm lucky enough to like, though.

But sometimes I still get a little misty when I watch all of us working together to build something, and the thing coming together beautifully. When we're all speaking each other's language, and having lots of laughs along the way. "The construction industry with less assholes," I've heard it called. It's the miracle of Cooperation, just like they used to tell you to about on 'Sesame Street'. Collectivist? Damn right it is.



And above all else, shit like this does indeed make me think that this would be the moment for a book that does for stagehanding what Kitchen Confidential did for restaurant kitchens, and The Immortal Class tried to do for bike messengers. Just seems like the blood's in the water.

But again, I'm unclear on what I'd call it.

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