Belle of Liberty

Letting Freedom Ring

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Nose to the Fake Grindstone

It’s a golden rule of blogging that unless your company is paying you to write a blog for them, you never mix business with personal blogging. In this day and age of privacy issues, it’s an unwise blogger who refers to their job even obliquely.

My company’s communications are scrubbed so squeaky clean you could run your finger along them, listening to that squeaking sound. I have no problem with being appropriate, but I do mind the crushing of imagination.

That’s one of the reasons I haven’t moved beyond the position I first took on ten years ago this month. I love writing. I never, ever mind writing about the activities in my market area or its employees.

But I do find myself wistfully wishing for more. And yet, I know it’s not going to happen. I would love to be working on social media communications, on a regional level, not corporate. I’m not “politically” connected, though, and have never been much of a boot-kisser.

Thus, I sealed my own fate.  My experience has been, if there's something you really want to do, that you have a passion for, the surest way to make sure it never happens is to tell your superiors that that's what you'd like to do.

I’ve been assigned to write an article about business education, something in which a particular vice president is interested. If there’s one thing I know how to do, it’s write – and take pictures. And recognize the bigger picture.

Yet, I’m stymied by this corporate, nose to the grindstone mentality. I’ve been tasked with explaining, in this article, why business acumen is important. I can explain it perfectly, in a way my readers will understand and appreciate, and yet I won’t be allowed to do so.

What comes to mind is the episode of the old Star Trek series where Captain Kirk is brought to an alien planet to do battle with some creature called a “Gorn.” Neither he nor this Gorn are given any weapons with which to fight. The aliens tell them both, “You’re on your own.”

“What I wouldn’t give to have a good phaser in my hand,” the frustrated Kirk laments in soliloquy. The answer is all around him (as he later discovers), but he can’t see it. All he sees is a barren landscape of rock and sand.

Eventually, Kirk figures out that the materials are present to create gunpowder and he defeats his enemy.

The scenario for the importance of business education is right there in that dusty, alien scene, disguised in the form of a silly science fiction television show, with its fake boulders, rubber-suited aliens, and rube Goldberg weapons.

My editors and our executives will not be able to see the lesson in all this for those fake boulders that the Gorn uses to menace Kirk. They won’t see the lesson-within-a-lesson when the good captain realizes the materials he needs are right there in the dust.

Our company’s future leaders await in humble guise, sorting mail, settling claims, inspecting property damage. From the seeming dust of lower level positions, with education they’ll rise up to solve the company’s future problems.

If the current leadership can recognize them, that is. Without a proper education program, they wouldn’t be able to develop these employees’ potential and prepare them for distant battles with competitor Gorns.

Luckily, our company has an excellent business education program and it’s my job to promote it.

My lead will be too “imaginative” for them, though. They will suffer no nonsense. My editor will very quickly remove this “distraction” from the article, until the story is reduced to the dust from which it sprang.

(I shouldn’t really say that, because I did some of the “student” interviews yesterday. The Class of 2010 has it all together.)

Nothing but the grist would remain, the husk of a very dry, uninteresting lead they’ve probably read before and won’t bother to read again. Nor am I particularly motivated to give them an interesting lead they'll only reject. Give them what they want. That’s the long-standing homily.

Meanwhile, my more savvy co-workers will give leadership the dry dust they crave and be well-rewarded with future plumb assignments and lucrative bonuses for writing nothing more than advertising copy.

Hey, it’s a living. And another clichéd platitude. I’ll shrug and go home. The next morning, I’ll awake either to the scratchy static of my clock radio (the daily wake up call from the Coast to Coast crazies) or my cat barfing on my rug to get even with me for not rising earlier to feed him.

Whichever comes first. Those are negative things to get a rise out of you in the morning to be sure (Coast to Coast can be funny at times, but rather grim with its end-of-the-world diatribes).

What does get me up in the morning is my blog here. It may not pay the bills. I may not have many readers and I’ll never get a raise for writing it. But it’s all mine.

My own professional development, ironically, is sadly lacking. I’d sooner my bosses pulled out my fingernails than send me to a night class.

Even if I took classes, got an MBA, what would that degree avail me, if, like our leaders and our editors, I became so “focused” I couldn’t see the dynamite for the fake boulders? For better or worse, my job isn’t to process insurance claims day in and day out.

My abilities would be wasted forcing my nose to the grindstone, trying to prove I can “focus”, trying to be “serious”. My other job, as a company photographer, has taught me, oddly enough, not to focus but to see the bigger picture.

It’s not enough, indeed, to take pretty pictures but to understand their import, and I do. Far better than I’ve been given credit for. As a photographer, my job is to hone my technical accuracy, to focus on the details.

As a photographer, it’s my job to make sure that my pictures tell a story. As a writer, it’s my job to make sure my words paint a picture. As long as that picture doesn’t include Gorns or fake boulders. Nothing imaginative, that would make the lead stand out.

My editors have urged me not to include unnecessary details in articles. But in a photograph the details are everything.

I have three lenses on my camera: a medium range lens, a wide angle, and a telephoto. Turns out the medium range takes exactly the ordinary photos you would expect. Nothing extraordinary about them.

It’s the telephoto lens that brings far distant objects into view and the wide angle that permits a broader focus that allow the most creativity and generally make for the best pictures. When my equipment was stolen (it was my property, because our department managers couldn’t understand the necessity of these “extraneous” lenses), the editors complained bitterly about the lack of creativity in my photos.

I was finally able to replace those two essential lenses, and my photographs are back to their old, superior quality. The editors are happier now, and so am I. It’s another lesson in not limiting yourself, only focusing on the basics, pressing your creativity to the grindstone until it’s worn away.

They would never listen to me, not even my kindly present manager. They didn’t listen when I told them we needed to purchase these lenses. It was one of my co-workers who finally convinced them. But they may yet rescind the order to purchase them. Financially, these are hard times and the economic landscape is barren.

Like the camera, the blog is all mine and I’m not sorry to possess either of them. That I suppose is the true advantage of liberty and freedom. I wouldn’t trade my freedom for all the letters of recommendation in the world.

In their quest to find out everything about their employees they were afraid to ask, perhaps my company will stumble across my blog and learn what they don’t know about me and in their ignorance, never bothered to look into, discover the potential they’ve overlooked.

So, spy away, company. Invade my privacy. I beg of you. Please!! Maybe you’ll LEARN something!!!

God knows, every other way has failed. Meanwhile, it’s back to my magazine story on business education and how to make it as dry and uninteresting as the Planet Gorn.


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