Sunday, 5 February 2012

Twins

In deciding whether to leave my comfortable corporate VP job at Pillsbury to start over at Burger King, I asked myself one question: Will this put me in a better position to become president of a business?  I did not ask myself the wrong questions: How hard will my new job be?  What will my friends think if they see me making hamburgers in a quick service restaurant?   What will I do if this new position does not work out as planned?  As a CEO of Self, I knew that those questions were not the right ones to be asking.  (The ‘CEO of Self’, by Michael Tomasky)

The CEO of Self?  This is business management speak for the ambitious bureaucrat.  And like most of its ilk it sounds clunky and stupid, overwhelming simple minded and kitsch, to those outside the HR department and the senior management team.  Inside, in the rarefied air pockets of the company’s HQ, it is a different matter: always they have to acquire their own language, to protect them from the world outside; and their own staff.  Like most theology it contains an enormous amount of nonsense; and some little sense; the sense the bait that catches them.  But the nonsense?  Oh, a sign of priestly depth and profundity – essential materials for the management consultant, it advertises their quality.  Herman Cain, Burger King and republican candidate, is an adept at both the bureaucracy and the language game and proclaims loudly that he is a true believer; a sign for most of us that he is unreflective and pathological; like a conman telling us he is expert at fooling people.

And this is the reason some people want to vote for him... Of course, most worship his power and wealth.  Weak people who jump on a strong man’s cavalcade to acquire their charisma; in order to bully people, if only vicariously.  It is the ancient story of the demagogue who promises to overcome the eternal conflicts of the politicians, by offering a strong man who will satisfy the people’s needs (corporations, it seems, the source now of these new messiahs, by offering the magic of their commercial success).  This is the kind of thing the weak love:

… I was not afraid to take charge, make decisions, and focus on the critical things I needed to do in order to get the project moving.  Again, seeing myself as CEO of Self, I was determined not to fall into a comfort zone of letting other people, no matter how competent and well-meaning, make the decisions for me. (Translate this into political terms and we have a Supreme Leader deciding everything – odd that some Americans look to North Korean for their model of democracy.)

Herman Cain appears to be a self-centred, and hard-hearted, though not unintelligent, fool - perfect CEO material.  He is the twin of Steve Jobs, as a recent biography shows us only too clearly. 

… he told talented people that their work was shit until they came up with something good enough for him to take credit for…  Isaacson records countless instances of Jobs’s ‘binary’ thinking: people were ‘gods’ or ‘bozos’ and their ideas were ‘amazing’ or ‘shit’.[i]  These weren’t just things he said to to his employees: he said them to waitresses, hotel clerks and shop assistants.  Despite his sophisticated deal-making and relentless focus on the quality of his products, Isaacson’s biography suggests that he spent most of his life behaving like a three-year old.  (Amazing or Shit, by Mattathias Schwartz)

A selfish, arrogant and narcissistic personality, who bullied a whole corporation of people into making his billions.  There is only one difference between them.  Cain was a bureaucrat, and therefore mildly useful.  Jobs, a mere salesman, was able to camouflage his lowly status by making himself into a product, a consumer object d’art, and selling it better than anyone else.  He had more style, and was clever enough to pick up Zen rather Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway.  He was also lucky in the industry…  And so he became an internet icon, a symbol of the new creative economy, made on the back, it has to be said, of the Pentagon – both of his main products were developed by US government defence spending; it was only later they became commercial propositions; for entrepreneurs like him to sell. [ii]  Never having made anything, unlike Cain who at least learnt how to prepare burgers, Jobs is the ultimate American dream; perhaps the reason he is so popular.  You don’t have to make or create anything to be a success, is his message: other people do that.  You just sell.  That is talk…  Copy Steve Jobs and you too can convince the world that you are the most important person in it.



[i] It’s difficult to know what to make of this.  Do I detect some irony from the biographer?  Probably not.  More likely he has succumbed to the management speak; where the obvious is magically transformed into the marvellous by a simple tweak of language. 
Creativity, or at least as I understand it, involves going beyond simple dualisms.  But then Jobs is here acting like a consumer: I like this, I don’t like that; like a teenager going through the racks at Primark…  The reason for his success?  Precisely because he wasn’t creative?  Steve Jobs just another regular guy, who knew what the people wanted because he was one himself.
[ii]In fact, financiers long been shy about funding risky ventures. Henry Ford couldn’t get a dime out of them when he was revolutionizing auto production. Financiers weren’t at all interested in computers from the late 1940s through the mid-1960s—the Pentagon and Census Bureau funded the industry in its early stages. Ditto the Internet, which was initially a project of the military.”  (NPR hack apologises for Wall Street, Doug Henwood) 

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