Bruce Jones, Photographer, responded to my Post “The Politics of Fashion Photography Part 6“ with his very illuminating thoughts. I felt it was worthy of a separate post so here it is:
This is hardly unique to “fashion photography.” In my former life as a freelance corporate communications producer, I had plenty of opportunity to observe how the game is played in the executive board rooms of the Billionaire Boys Club. If you have any aspirations of climbing the management ladder of a Fortune 500 you learn the rules of communication: you don’t piss people off, even when they deserve it; you don’t bring your personal problems to work; you keep your personal opinions to yourself; you don’t gossip about somebody else’s rotten attitude in the break room; and you network network network, which means above all maintaining good relationships with the people you’re already working with.
Congress follows Robert’s Rules of Order, not because they’re a bunch of antiquated stuffed shirts, but because it provides a formula for how to vehemently disagree with somebody today in a manner that allows you to cooperate with him tomorrow.
I also worked as an actor/director in theatre for a lot of years; it’s a collaborative art form, and its pecking order varies–I’m directing you in this show; you may be directing me tomorrow. Asserting power needlessly when I have it is likely to bite me in the ass later when I don’t.
Every major institution, particularly if it involves the generation of money, is based on a management hierarchy that gets smaller in numbers at the top in inverse proportion to the amount of influence wielded by the few who occupy the big offices. And it’s pretty hard to predict today who that’s going to be tomorrow, so smart ladder climbers know that getting in a snit with a peer has little present upside and huge potential downside down the road.
Heck, even a functional family understands that it’s best to hold your tongue when you’re angry because otherwise the words that come out get sandblasted into the memories of the people you care about and can sit there for years, gunny-sacked away for ammunition in a future disagreement.
The irony is that your advice is only partially and very selectively true. Your stylist was a bitch who, in spite of her rotten attitude, now works for a company you’d like to do business with. Apparently your outburst didn’t help you, but hers apparently had no adverse affect on her career. The fashion world is full of annoying divas, both photographers and models, who can’t accommodate all of the requests they get for high-end work. Annie Leibowitz is a notorious walking disaster in her personal life, and her inability to manage her business affairs in a professional manner has her infamously in trouble with bankruptcy courts, but I just saw her starring as “famous photographer Annie Leibowitz” in a Hewlett-Packard commercial yesterday. Any one of us who follows fashion photography could name a dozen lesser-known photographers with equal or greater talent who would be far less drama (and $1000s less expense) to work with than someone with this much baggage who always runs her productions massively over budget, but I’m assuming her reputation–both the good and the bad–isn’t affecting her bookings any.
Take your pick of examples from the corporate world who have proven to be fabulously incompetent but who continue to shuffle from company to company, precisely because–not in spite of the fact that–it’s a small universe at the top, and people who hire important people like to work with known commodities. You may have failed in your last stop–as Carly Fiorina did spectacularly at HP–but the fact that HP was willing to hire you as CEO in the first place is all the resume you need to move to the next job. I hear she’s running for Congress now. Go figure.
The bottom line is that notoriety and historical achievement often trump talent, disposition, and manners when the good jobs–the ones people’s reputations depend on–are handed out. Following the common-sense networking rules of work-place decorum that you just handed out probably won’t ever HARM the average guy’s opportunities for advancement, but if your talent has gotten you a big enough name, bad behavior probably won’t hurt you either. John McCain’s reputation as a shoot-from-the-hip independent thinker didn’t exactly endear him to the rank-and-file Republican flock, but once he finally secured the nomination, EVERYBODY wanted to stand next to him for the photo op.
Yes, unkind words can come back to haunt you. Unless they don’t.