Michael Scott and the Economist’s Stone

I think part of the habit of blogging–and it is a habit, one that can be developed and one that can be lost–is when you have a thought, writing it down before you forget it or decide it’s dumb or get distracted by doing other things. Overthinking, but not so much you decide it’s too much effort to write it all out, not so little that you have nothing to say.

I’ve been blogging for a decade–sometimes I’m better at posting and sometimes I’m worse, but when I’m worse it’s inevitably because I’ve been saying: "I should post about that" a lot without posting. That and the sheer energy of essay writing can feel overwhelming when, say, you’re on a book tour. This is where Twitter tends to come in, for me.

Blogging is not a dying art, really. It’s just that most of the people who wanted to do it did it and are still doing it in their own sections of the internet or started and couldn’t maintain it. New bloggers go for shorter and shorter posts, but there are still new Big Bloggers that crop up. It’s just that, like any industry, the boom is over, and now it’s tough to break in.

Which is all to say that I’ve been thinking about this series of essays all night and into the morning. So I’m going to post about it instead of idly Tweeting at midnight. Because it’s a habit and you have to maintain it or it goes away. The piece is about The Office and actual management dynamics. Because the author is a genius but very bad at tagging (hey, me too, tagging is boring) and/or interlinking a series of essays, I will now pull them all together nicely for you.

The Gervais Principle: Part I
Part II: Posturetalk, Powertalk, Gametalk and Babytalk
Part III: The Curse of Development
Part IV: Wonderful Human Beings

Don’t say I never did nothing for you, because this is sheer genius-level stuff. It’s also one of those beautiful things that comes out of blogs–this isn’t long enough to be a book, and in a magazine only a certain section of people would even read it–and it’s too long for a magazine, really. But blogs give us these gems sometimes, and it blows me away.

So yes, this is about how actual offices work, actual companies, and it gives terminology to a very observable phenomenon. (Companies are run by sociopaths, managed by the clueless, and staffed by losers–not in the sense of them being social or psychological losers, but in the sense of having entered into a losing economic proposition, ie wage work, in order to obtain safety and benefits while finding life meaning elsewhere. All companies need the clueless section, but when it swells, as it inevitably does, to make up the mass of the company, the losers and the sociopaths depart for other shores, leaving a wreck behind to stutter along.) It also makes me realize why Jim is the most emotionally affecting character on the show–he is the only one who is becoming, rather than in a holding pattern. Ryan, too, I suppose, but Ryan is awful while Jim is a becoming labrador of a person. So whether he will become a player is interesting in a way that Ryan is not, because Ryan is all about being a player. Anyway.

The essay is also about how social capital is traded, a subject endlessly fascinating to me, and endlessly relevant to the blogosphere, which basically runs on social capital without personal presence/charisma to provide lighter fluid for it. Also, given the geek obsession with reputation economies, social capital in the geek world is almost on a level with actual capital at this point. Rao says all of this better than I, and it’s his riff, so just go read it.

And then come back and think about how terrifyingly applicable this is to the Borders situation.

Seen through Rao’s lens, this sad and compelling article is a textbook rundown of how a company that started out with sociopaths (founders) and losers (people willing to work low-wage jobs in order to be involved with books on some level and have that Empire Records style community, to make that bad economic but good social bargain) was eaten from the inside by the high-performing clueless until there was nothing left, not even a bargain for losers to make.

I find myself wondering how it applies to my world–which is ostensibly made up of many sociopaths (authors) working in isolation and then outsourcing all production to a (hopefully benevolent, sometimes not) company or companies (which have their own pyramids). But at cons I often feel that we are a distributed work team, and our product is science fiction and fantasy as a genre, as a whole. In which case, where do each of us fall in that joke-but-not-really-a-joke pyramid? Is it even applicable to us, given that we are independent contractors (yet also employed by huge corporations to greater and lesser extents depending on the number and depth of contracts at hand).

I suppose it’s easy for me to find this kind of analysis fascinating instead of chilling because I’m lucky enough to not work in an office environment. But how humans behave is never not interesting, and I do so love connecting television and movies to the mythic and the real.

I’m curious what you all think of it, both in terms of the text of The Office and of Real Life ™, and if you’re an author, how you think it applies to our sphere.

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