Who knew that I would be regularly comparing my job description to an old fairy tale? But I can’t help it. I have been thinking a lot about Rumpelstiltskin lately. And I’ve been envying the little guy. Because he had … straw. Precious straw.
I better explain.
I’ve started noticing that as the economy has gotten tighter and tighter, the simple business procedures have started getting more lost in very human misadventures. Miscommunication, politics, weird egoism, bizarre self-destruction — all these things have started to corrode the process. For example, here’s how something basic like a newsletter project has changed.
The new (ab)normal
What used to happen: My client would have the kind of business or organization that spun off enough data of interest either to customers or employees that there was a real need for a newsletter. So they would go through the process of hiring an firm or a freelancer. If I had won that work, their contact person would send me all the accrued info at the scheduled times, we’d go through the proofing process to make sure everything was right, and then it would go out to print or by email.
That was then. What happens now: A client doesn’t have enough actual information for a newsletter, but everyone knows that you have to have a newsletter. There’s a perception that things like newsletters represent Business As Usual, and so they are perceived to have value even if they serve no purpose. In-fighting may occur — since company funds are in short supply, some people immediately want to kill the newsletter in favor of their own project. The firm or freelancer is hired, sometimes with more fighting and drama. If I won that work, I proceed to the stage where I am actually building the first newsletter, and then the whole thing starts breaking down.
Because there really wasn’t a need for the blasted thing, there is virtually nothing to go into it. Whoever the contact person is starts to panic, or stonewall, or kick the whole matter higher up the food chain. Usually, the artist is told — with more or less indignation — to “just do it.”
This is when I started thinking of Rumpelstiltskin. I don’t know if you remember this one, but for the purposes of our allegory here, all you need to know is that he was an imp that could spin straw into gold. At the point that projects like this newsletter break down, I’m dying to tell my client, “Look, I am Rumpelstiltskin. I’m that good, and I can spin straw into gold. But …[dramatic pause for emphasis] not if you don’t have any straw.“
So what’s the point, other than a chance to complain about work and retell fairy tales. Well, hey. Blog posts have been written with a whole lot less. But if I was going to draw a larger point, I suppose it would be that we seem to be having more and more of these kinds of bubble markets — things that had an inflated value that they couldn’t support. At this juncture, when some of the profits that used to be ready-made are hard to come by or non-existent, we seem to really want those bubbles to hold out just a little bit longer. But sooner or later, just hot air isn’t enough — you need something that has real value, and it can be as lowly and commonplace as straw. But it has to be something. Just words or wishes or even ideas won’t take the place of it.
I wonder what happens then.