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.