November 1997
s m u g
smoking jacket
by Jack Smith

Just another Idea Man

I hate to write. I am overcome with a feeling of self-consciousness every time I read over anything I have ever written. The question I always ask myself is, "Is that more than the reader needed to know?" Did the reader really need to know that I peed my pants in 4th grade math class after drinking 10 Yoo Hoos? See. There I go again. I usually get over that feeling after a few cursory reads of the draft number one and any self revelatory items - except any reference to the babysitter fantasies I had as an adolescent - nearly always make the cut. The most bothersome part about writing, though, is that it is work and no one wants to do that. I don't care what the socialists say. I'm no worker. I'm an idea man.

We all like to think that we're an "idea man," folks worthy of spending our days in a hot tub generating money making or artistic concepts. (The gender of idea man is male because it is the height of boyish folly that each of believes that we actually deserve a life like this.)

The god of idea men is artist Jeff Koons, a guy who comes up with the idea for an artwork but doesn't have to muss his $2000 suit by actually executing it except, of course, when it entails marrying a porn star. It's genius. Unfortunately, someone has to make the casts for the stainless steel bunnies and the Buster Keaton on a donkey sculptures. Hey, don't look at me to do any detail work, I'm an idea man, too.

For aspiring idea men, there's nothing worse than having an idea man for a boss. It's a hellish situation and one that I was unaccustomed to until several years ago when the media content company I was working for at the time was purchased by a mega conglomerate. The regional general manager, the person I reported to, had many "thoughts" about how to improve our products. While he was a fantastic sales person, he had absolutely no business being in charge of creative types and even less business offering any analysis or perspective as to how the media worked.

After blowing much sunshine up our collective asses about how his company was great to work for, insurance, 401K, blah, blah, blah, one of the staff asked how he came to be in the media. The first sentence of his reply blew his credibility with the product people and sent a chill through the room, "Four years ago, I was selling cardboard boxes."

He further buried himself by talking about his recently completed MBA (from an adult education night school), his rise through the sales ranks, and his "fascination with the product side this past year." Later budget meetings turned into filibusters during which he climbed upon his (cardboard) soapbox to pontificate about the changes we needed to make to fix our unbroken and highly profitable product. Many of his propositions for change revealed his complete lack of understanding of even the most basic principles of the inner workings of media. I quickly came to the point where I was willing to offer him two dollars out of my own pocket for every thought he kept to himself.

After all money planning was done, I was told that Mr. Box's changes were to be implemented. There would be no discussion. And I was the person responsible for the implementation of these details. My days as an idea man in that company were over.

This whole shift in the balance of power became a sore spot with me. After all, I'd spent years working in the industry, studying and working to develop the knowledge, intuition and credibility to become an Idea Man, capital I, capital M. I'd done all my busy work and was now reaping the benefits of my hard labor. I felt entitled. Now, all that was over. The joy for me has always been in the concept, the abstraction, the intent, strategy, and development of the idea. it was then I started to notice that everyone had jumped on the bandwagon and claimed that's where his or her happiness lies as well. It's gotten to the point where everyone wants to come up with the concept but no one wants to make it happen. While inaction is a type of action, it's not the type of action that gets the bridges built.

Ours is the first generation where the concept has been deemed more important than the deed. Few of our parents and grandparents went to college. Many began work at a blue collar job straight out of high school. Great value and esteem was placed in your job and in most of those jobs you actually did something. You made *things*. Working an assembly line making a car is far more concrete than sitting at an editing deck and creating a television commercial for that car.

In this century we've seen the rise and fall of the blue collar worker. Union's gained unprecedented power in the post war economy but their members became overpaid and eventually began to be eliminated by cheaper information. Peter Drucker has pointed out that knowledge can replace capital and labour. However, knowledge cannot completely eliminate them. My father still works a blue collar union job for the railroad. Their plant has 25% of the workers they had when he began there in the mid 60s and this plant still has the same output. He still has a job only by virtue of his seniority.

So, the question then becomes, "Who is left to make the stuff?" There are only a handful of capable people left. These chosen few are quickly turning into idea men as well. The solution to this dilemma is to place less value in concepts we know are meaningless without their conceiver posessing the ability or inclination to execute them. As for how to do it, I have a few ideas about that as well. Just don't ask me to implement any of them.



in the junk drawer:

October 1997

September 1997
August 1997
July 1997
June 1997
May 1997
April 1997
March 1997
February 1997
January 1997

and such
and such

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