Many years ago, when I worked at AT&T, I attended one of the many seminars or training opportunities AT&T was wont to provide. The myriad training groups at AT&T offered a wide range of professional development and charm school classes, the latter having more to do people skills and management style. During this class, the instructor told the following charming parable to illustrate the somewhat subversive tactics a professional might use to keep control of a project despite management attempts to help. The message is to not give someone else a decision to make, unless you already know the outcome. I’m sure Scott Adams could summarize it in four panels.
The Hairy Hand
Our probably apocryphal tale begins when an AT&T vice president moves his entire organization to a new building in NJ. It is a typical AT&T building of the 1980s, with an airy, inviting atrium surrounded by four stories of offices and conference rooms. The VP, with management’s excruciating attention to detail, especially when showcasing his building, decided that a two-story wall in the atrium needed a mural to enhance the feeling of welcome for visiting AT&T and customer VIPs. After much research by his staff, and requisite meetings, he hired an accomplished local artist to execute his vision of a mural. The artist, after carefully listening to the VPs vision of a summer street scene from a typical Jersey Shore town, created some concept sketches and got approval to start work.
From the day our artist and his assistant unpacked their brushes and laid their first drop cloth, they knew they could expect an afternoon visit from the VP. He would spend up to ½ hour each day observing the artist’s progress, and inevitably conclude by offering up a few suggestions about content, style or color. After enduring this daily visitation for a week, the artist approached the VP.
“Look,” said the artist, “we really appreciate the time you are taking from your busy schedule, and we’re honored by the importance you seem to be placing on our work. However, it is really disconcerting, and frankly disruptive to the artistic process for us to have you, and the other employees who have taken an interest in our work, looking over our shoulders. I’m sure you would find it equally unsettling to have a large audience in your office all day long. I’ll tell you what. Let us put up a tarp so we can work in privacy, and before we unveil it next month, we’ll give you a private showing. Then you can look at our completed work, and we can take all your well considered suggestions for changes and enhancements at one time.” Reluctantly seeing the wisdom of this approach, the VP agreed with this course.
The following month, as promised, the artist led the VP behind the tarp to show him the finished work. The artist and his assistant had been very productive carrying out their craft away from prying eyes. “I am duly impressed,” praised the VP. “The effect is just what I’d hoped for, and you’ve done an excellent job melding your work with the surrounding atrium. Just one thing,” he said focusing on one man strolling past a café in a corner of the mural. “Isn’t the back of that man’s hand rather hairy?” “Hmmm,” considered the artist. “I think you’re right sir. I’ll correct that before tomorrow’s unveiling.”
Once the happy VP left the atrium, the assistant addressed the artist. “Sam, he’s right. That man’s hand is quite hairy. It’s not at all like you to paint something like that, let alone not correct it!” “Well,” intoned the artist, “once I’d told him that I’d take his suggestions before we showed the work to his employees, I wasn’t about to take the chance that he’d ask me to change any part of this painting that represents my artistic vision or hard work. It is a great lesson to learn—remember to always leave them with a hairy hand.”
August 28, 2009