Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Mamet Management 101

I like watching David Mamet movies. He's a screenwriter and playwright and director. I noticed him back when interesting things came out of Paul Newman's mouth in The Verdict, and the dialog in almost every movie Mamet makes is first rate.

I'm not sure he's a very deep thinker, really. He wrote a book about life in general, and he has a decidedly mundane view of matters great and small. But he has a knack, obviously buttressed by a lot of work and a diligence in observation, that makes the things he has people say in a movie sound believable. We were watching an enjoyable old Thin Man movie from the thirties the other evening, and we were all japing at the stilted dialog in it. One of the characters says: "Suddenly, I went back up the stairs to retrieve my handkerchief." By gad, people don't talk like that.

It's the seeming that's important. People don't talk like they do in any movie, good or bad. The trick is to encapsulate ideas and move the story along without calling attention to the words. It's gotta seem like something someone would say.

"What one man can do, another can do."

That's from Mamet's try at an action picture: The Edge. There's a great big bear, and it's eating the characters, and they decide to kill it. They're trying to buck up their courage to kill the bear while lost and defenseless in the wilderness. One character tells the other that Indian boys used to kill bears as a rite of passage. We can do it, because other people can do it. They repeat it over and over until they're pumped with the idea.

I'm sure Mamet got that tid-bit from some zeitgeist background noise about multi-level marketing or Men's Wilderness Bonding Retreats or Tony Robbins speeches or a ghostwritten CEO's pap book. And he used it perfectly. Management books asking"How would Attila the Hun handle this?" were all the rage at the time, after all. The man-eating bear as a management problem. Funny.

Anyway, that slogan is interesting, because it doesn't apply to me, really. Who can I mimic, exactly?

I don't know of anybody that's doing what I'm doing, business-wise. I'm making this up as I go along. So there's a problem whenever you try to explain what you're doing, whether it be to a customer or a bank or your wife or your kids or whoever. People want to know which mental manila folder they keep in their head for various kinds of people you fit into. And you don't fit anywhere.

So you're out on the edge of the map. Here Be Monsters is all it says. What do you do?

You think small, is all. No, not about big things. Strategic thinking for all business is all out there on the edge of the map. Think small for the small stuff, I say.

Break your big, hairy thing into little component parts, and surely most of those component parts are things other people have done before. You can figure out how other people do things, maybe improve on them, or better yet --find a way to make them superfluous, and soon the little things falling into place allow you to make progress on the big thing, the thing not on the shelf at the library yet.

Google was started in a garage, same as Disney, same as a lot of other big important things these days. Somewhere early along the way, someone noticed that office space in garages is cheaper than in office buildings. A small thing. Paid off big.

What one man can do, another can do; all day long. I'll raise my hand when you're innovative.


Editor Theorist said...

Enjoying your blog each day - its a bit like trying to crack a code.

While we are here, in private - listen (whisper...) Don't you think Ann Althouse has _gone off_ in the past few weeks, since she got back from that very long road trip? Lost some of the subtlety and charm and genuine quirk?

No big deal, we all have our ups and downs, but I'd be interested in a second opinion - just between the two of us...

SippicanCottage said...

We aim at inscrutablility here, no question.

I know the vibe you are referring to at Althouse, but it's not her. It's the commenters. She's the same as she ever was, I think.

Bad commenting drives out good. The maniacs come because Ann has been singled out for some sort of abuse because she simply says what she thinks instead of toeing the party line. The minority party thinks absolute cadre loyalty is the only way to win. There is not even a pretense of trying to convince others. You just yell epithets until everybody else leaves.

Ann has made one miscalculation, I think. She is leaving up all the insane hater f-bomber's comments. It makes rational people much less likely to participate.

Bad comments drive out good.

Pogo said...

1. Oddly, only just now, past 45 and aging ungracefully, have I begun to accept a risk-taker's point of view. This is of course essential in any new endeavor, whether it's a big hairy business idea or taking a class in martial arts. I say cool, and good luck. The 200 or so business books I read turned out to be pretty much worthless (except for 2). "Just try it" was the most useful lesson.

2. I agree about the 'bad comments' issue on althouse. I still engage there, but find the f-bombing crowd a poisonous group that sows discord wherever it settles down. A permanent hatefest, they.

3. Your word verifications are easier than Ann's. I usually get them right, first time. Ann's sometimes have 9 letters. Nine!

Reel Fanatic said...

I have to agree that David Mamet is just about the best screenwriter working today ... My favorite of his movies, if I had to pick just one, would be Glengarry Glen Ross

SippicanCottage said...

reel f.- Glengarry is great fun. It reminds me of Brits doing Shakespeare. The words come out like a machine gun.

My brother in law is a salesman, and he tells me that the movie is immensely popular amongst his peers.

Coffee is for closers!

We're partial to The Winslow Boy around the cottage lately. All ages show.