Friday, September 28, 2012

Friday Mad Science: The Refs Win!

The New York Times football blog, The Fifth Down, wrote this week that the NFL failed with its lockout of the referees’ union because it undervalued competence in the workplace, and that that’s a failing that’s epidemic in Corporate America.  Personally, I couldn’t agree more.  Corporate America wants to treat its workers like Bill Belichick treats his players—as fully replaceable interchangeable parts.  Because if we define a job strictly in terms of tasks—and therefore required qualifications for those tasks—then we can establish a market rate for those specific qualifications and hire the lowest bidder regardless of quality.  Running a business then becomes a question of putting in place the right procedures and business model rather than finding and managing the right mix of talented people. 

Ed Hochuli is by far the most famous NFL referee.
This is a file picture from Wikipedia.
Which is fine if you’re an HR professional in charge of minimizing payroll and explaining your hiring practices to your legal department.  It’s a little tougher if you’re an actual manager in charge of getting the job done regardless of the unexpected challenges experienced in the real workplace. 

In the real world, I’ve found that it’s nice to have a few smart people who can do things beyond what their resumes advertise.

Maybe it’s just me, but I see a nearly direct link from the flawed philosophy that argues that we can replace talented and experienced referees adjudicating a byzantine billion dollar sports empire with nobodies off the street and the fact that right now we’re seeing riots in factories in China.  In both cases, what’s missing is value for talent.  Because right now, it seems like the whole world wants to shift its entire industrial base to China because, bottom line, there are a billion Chinese, and half of them would like to do literally anything so long as it’ll get ‘em out of the rural subsistence farming Hell that’s been their only choice for the last umpteen generations.  And that’s fine.  The riots, however, prove that even heretofore subsistence farmers can only be pushed so far, and after that, even they no longer want to be exploited, and that’s despite the obvious fact that they didn’t appreciate the nature of the exploitation when they signed up for it in the first place—back when all they wanted was a one-way ticket out of the rice paddy.

I should say also that, having lived in rural Korea, I can appreciate why folks would want to leave that lifestyle for virtually anything.  That looked like a brutal, back-breaking lifestyle, believe me.

With all of that said, I’m not sure what there is to be done about this.  I mean, I recognize that even folks in other countries have a right to try to make the best living that they can, and I’m not trying to take that away from them.  I am especially not arguing in favor of the Foxconn approach, which appears to involve hiring riot police in order to force their laborers back to work by any means necessary. 

I will, however, say that I was pleased to see the NFL’s ref’s win.  It makes me happy when talent triumphs over the industrial theory of interchangeability, and it makes me think that somehow, there will always be a market for smart people, even if sometimes it takes awhile for the HR departments of the world to realize exactly what the real value of those few smart people really ought to be.

The NYT also had an article this week that I think explains everything about the current election, saying:

“Mr. Obama has widened his lead over Mr. Romney and is outperforming him on nearly every major campaign issue, even though about half [the electorate] said they were disappointed in Mr. Obama’s presidency.”

I can’t speak for the electorate, but personally, I know that that’s exactly how I feel.  I don’t love the President by any means nor am I overly enthusiastic about very many aspects of his presidency.  But given the alternative, he looks like the clearly superior choice.  I continue to wish that the GOP had nominated John Huntsman, but they didn’t, and as I wrote last week, given the current debacle, we at least have the silver lining of a forthcoming debate about the future of the Republican party.  That’s a debate to which I’m looking forward.

If you’re wondering, Vegas currently has the odds at 4-to-1 in favor of the President winning re-election.

I never got a chance to go see the new Dredd 3D last weekend, and given that the film made only $6.3M at the box office, I’m guessing now that I never will. 

Question: When was the last time a movie with decent buzz opened that poorly?


It’s a relentlessly positive article, but they talk a little about how the company got itself into bankruptcy and how Avi Arad managed to turn them around by successfully licensing some of their more popular properties, specifically the X-Men and Spider-Man, out to film studios, who in turn made the properties into decent films.  Honestly, the only thing I thought that the Slate piece missed was the perception of the company after immediately Avi Arad left.  Which is to say that Arad was the guy at Marvel who had all the connections in Hollywood, and there was thought that he personally—with those connections—was more profitable than was Marvel as a company. 

Arad left at about the same time that Marvel was establishing its revolving line of credit and going into the business of making movies for itself, and at the time that move was justifiably perceived as a huge risk.  At that point, the company had already licensed out Spider-Man and the X-Men, and those movies were done and out there.  Meanwhile, Daredevil flopped, the Fantastic Four underwhelmed, and the Hulk was made twice—including once with obvious A-List actor Edward Norton—and no one seemed to know quite what to think about it.  Meanwhile, Captain America was the only obvious Name Brand still in Marvel’s stable, and while that was promising, it was maybe not quite promising enough.  On top of that, folks wondered in general just how much further this whole comic book movie thing could possibly go.  I mean, there has to be an oversaturation point out there somewhere, no?

Regardless, I remember clearly that when Arad left Marvel, the company’s stock price dropped like a stone.  I remember that because I wrote about in Friday Mad Science, back when this column was hosted onPaperbackReader

If you’re wondering, I said at the time that I thought Marvel was an obvious buy.

With that said, it’s also true that although I like Iron Man as much as the next guy—in fact, Iron Man #200 is my favorite single issue comic of all time—I remember being both surprised and skeptical when I heard that his movie was the first one that Marvel was gonna do on its own dime.   Surprised because Iron Man had always been a B-Lister in the Marvel Universe back when I was growing up.  Skeptical because, I mean, come on, “no flights, no tights” is a mantra in live action superhero storytelling for a reason.  Iron Man looked to fly right in the face of the prevailing thought, no pun intended.

Iron Man #200 formed the basis for the last
act of the first Iron Man movie.
Anyway, we all know what happened, so I’m not gonna bother re-hashing it any more.  I’ll just say that it wasn’t a no-brainer like folks want to pretend it was now.  Marvel’s success took guts, brains, and talent, and I hope that it shows once and for all that if you want something done right, really, you need to hire the best guy (or girl) to do the job and then make sure that it gets done the right way. 

Truth is, there’s no substitute for talent, execution, and dedication to craft.  Corporate America can pretend that there is, but all they’re really doing is settling for less for less than optimal results.

‘Nuff said.

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