Story time 13: creativity on the far margin of capitalism

Hollar_iii_1"Isn’t a good thing that capitalism tilted in our direction?"

What I meant was, ordinarily corporate America wouldn’t find much of interest in the three of us: a lapsed Cambridge physicist, a Canadian anthropologist, and a transplanted Trinidadian dramatist, as we sat in a fashionable bar in an unsavory part of London in the late 1990s. But here we were, all working as consultants on a brand concept for a Dutch company.

Everyone nodded their agreement, and the Trinidadian blinked hard as if he had just been found out and then he started to giggle.

It would be fair enough to put our employment down to the excesses of the boom. But actually, two of the three of us are still making a living in the consulting world. (I think the physicist lapsed back.) And this means we were not climate specific.

And this raises the question: why should three such unlikely characters have anything to offer the consulting, especially when so far off their native patch?

Just between you and me, I wondered whether the physicist might be running a con. He had all the externals: the spiky, peroxide hair cut, the groovy, dust bin wardrobe, the loft space in the east end, sewing machines still stacked by the freight elevator. But he was, as nearly as I could tell, an idea free zone. He did not play well with others. He was unforthcoming, inward dwelling, trapping in some gravitation field or other. He was good at saying, "no" to ideas, and as every brand builder knows, "nothing comes of no." The Cambridge pedigree and physics background encouraged some clients to suppose "the guy’s a total genius." But this sort of thing sustains your credibility only for so long and by the time the drinks arrived, I was dubious.

The Trinidadian, on the other hand, was magnificently trout like. One minute, he was there. Then next, he was gone. And just when you wondering whether he might have left to join the physicist in his no-zone, he would come crashing back into the conversation, all idea, no hook. He had picked it clean, leaving behind distraction, confusion, and all the red herrings that count as bait these days.

Myself, I prefer the Svaha moments. (Svaha is the Swahili word for the interval between thunder and lightening.) Ironically, these make better theatre than the Trinidadian’s moment of illumination. Someone in the group starts to vibrate. You know that they have been visited by a revelation. But they don’t know what it is. In the meantime, during this Svaha, they engage in all kinds of behaviors to will the idea into being. They rock in their seats, they put their hands up, they clear their throats, they start stuttering and spluttering, and just when you think you’d better call 911, they say it. And everyone, except of course the Cambridge physicists, exclaims, exalts, exhales. The thing is done.

But, hey, if your preference is Trinidadian discretion, slipping away unnoticed and coming back with something perfect formed, good on ya, mate. Capitalism is not particular. It asks only that someone go looking for the perfect ideas that are the stuff of profit geysers, market dominance, corporate self regard and happy share holders. Capitalism doesn’t care if the person who comes back with the idea for the Razr is a Trinidadian playwright, just so long as someone does.

1 thought on “Story time 13: creativity on the far margin of capitalism

  1. Matt

    “And this raises the question: why should three such unlikely characters have anything to offer the consulting, especially when so far off their native patch?”

    If all your consultant can do is whistle the tunes you already know, it’s not consulting, but graft. If you want someone to reinforce your existing prejudices, talk to your FTEs…they’re cheaper, and at any given moment most of them are going to be goofing off anyway, so the marginal cost of collecting _their_ opinions is actually zero. If you’re going to get worthless advice, it might as well be free.

    On the other hand, the purpose of consultants is to provide what it sounds like your trio provided quite well.

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