To those who read CFO Techniques I would like to offer my apologies for using the analogy from The King's Speech here again. It's just that the Brits, who's been living under monarchy for over 1500 years, understand this royal-duty business better than anybody. (Also, they seem to speak the same language as the Seven Kingdoms' folks.) So, in the movie, Prince Albert (Colin Firth) tells King George V (Michael Gambon), "Father, we are not a family, we are a firm." And the king replies, "We are the oldest, most successful corporation in the world and sitting on thrones is our business."
Yes, ruling a nation is a family business, and that makes a king the Chief Executive Officer of his land and his people. And in this position, just as it is in any company, he is responsible for
In fact, in George R. R. Martin's world, a king's enterprising is very entrepreneurial, very hands-on. Nothing like the make-believe leadership we see in the dangerously large governing bodies of contemporary conglomerates/countries. In the Seven Kingdoms, a true leader cannot be a mere token sitting on a throne (in King's Landing they have Joffrey for that, while Tywin rules). A ruler's job requires a lot of personal involvement and micromanagement: from weaving intricate intrigues to beheading those you condemned; from charging in front of your troops to skinning a damn large deer - the one with the executive power cannot avoid rolling up the sleeves and getting his/her hands dirty.
Most importantly, the king must take personal responsibility for doing the right thing by his nation. He'd better have his priorities straight: the crown is so heavy because the burden of authority calls for selflessness and sacrifices. Those few business owners that earned my personal respect over the years concentrated all their efforts on the prosperity and success of their companies. They were acutely aware that business is nothing if not a continuous struggle for survival.
So, what about Robb Stark? How did he do as a CEO? Not very well, I'm afraid. He was like one of those young rich boys, who inherited his father's business too early due to an untimely death - full of great potential, brilliant ideas, and... illusions. The childish sense of invincibility has not yet evaporated from his body. He thought he could break and rebuild the word any way he wanted. And so, he went and violated the millenia-old custom of building political alliances through marriages: he broke off his engagement with Lord Walder Frey's daughter. His Love was above any rules. How beautiful!
How cheeky and irresponsible! It was an unforgivable insult to House Frey. It was disrespectful to the memory of his father who made an arrangement and himself inherited Catelyn as a bride after his older brother's death. And, as far as the well-being of his land, his subjects, and his mission are concerned, it was plain reckless. In the business environment, this would be the equivalent of breaking contractual obligations with your commercial partners or violating the terms of your financing agreements. Actions of this kind result in companies loosing their reputation, market share, procurement resources, creditability, funding, and eventually going bankrupt, i.e. die.
As many young entrepreneurs, Robb Stark was a person of extremes: he was quick to break rules practically written in stone, yet many of his actions were marred by poor, hesitant decision-making. Whether due to inexperience or a lack of talent for long-term strategic thinking (his military campaign proved him to be a good tactician), he was never quite sure what was the right thing to do. It's bizarre, really: sometimes he neither followed the solid logic presented to him by his advisers, nor did he go with his own gut. The foolish execution of Lord Rickard Karstark, which resulted in a loss of a huge chunk of allied troops is an obvious example.
I've been forever writing and talking about psycho-profiling as a key management skill. One simply cannot succeed without it. Robb's inability to read people and their motivations might be the main reason for his downfall. What made him think that old Lord Frey will forgive the insult and tolerate Robb's wife being shoved into his face in his own home? How could he forget that you cannot trust anybody and must always be on alert for betrayal? If we think rationally about it, the probability of retaliation was very high.
In contrast, there is a reason why a few smart people reluctantly realize that Tyrion Lannister is King's Landing's only hope. Not only that he is sharp, brave, incisive, and fair, but he also understands that if one wants that family business of ruling kingdoms to be successful, he must be ready to forsake a thing or two, including personal happiness.
It's great to find out that I'm not the only one who saw the parallels between the demise of Robb Stark and the small-business leadership. The article below was prompted by TypePad as a related post.
| | |
There is a vast and eclectic ocean of cultural works I worship, adore, admire, enjoy, appreciate, critique, or simply consume. Some artistic thoughts deeply affect me; a few strike straight through my heart and soul.
But in all of that massive heap of diverse imaginative expression, there seem to be only two creators to whom I relate as a person, and not as an arts junkie: Woody Allen and Larry David.
I think the below excerpt explains it all:
Paul Dolman: Hey, what's it feel like to have a lot of money?
Larry David: Most days I don't even think about it. But it's better to have it than not. Money can't make you happy, but it can make you happier.
Paul Dolman: Did success help make you happy?
Larry David: Who said I was happy?
From Paul Samuel Dolman's "Hitchhiking with Larry David" (Gotham Books, 2013
OED, Vol. 11: 947
As OED's definitions go, this one is pretty straightforward: you create something, another person passes it as his own - that's wrong. It is also linguistically polite. Authors unrestricted by the structural conventions of dictionaries, can be more blunt about it. Late Alexander Lindey, a copyright attorney and author, in his 1951 Plagiarism and Originality wrote: "Plagiarism is literary - or artistic or musical - theft."
Note that OED's definition includes both ideas and their expressions. Legally, however, only actual products are protected. The United States Copyright Office clearly states:
"Copyright does not protect ideas, concepts, systems, or methods of doing something. You may express your ideas in writing or drawings and claim copyright in you description, but be aware that copyright will not protect the idea itself as revealed in written or artistic work."
To simplify: Copying Van Gogh's Sunflowers to a stroke and passing it as your own work is illegal, but producing endless still-lifes of vases with flowers in Van Gogh's style is absolutely OK. By the same token, reproducing somebody's words verbatim without giving a proper citation is plagiarism, but recasting somebody's original idea with your own words, details, and attributes cannot be legally challenged.
Generally speaking, the intention behind the exclusion of ideas from the copyright protection is founded in the possibility of several people coming up with the same thought at the same time. This indeed happens from time to time. However, more frequently than not, the law, as it stands right now, makes what I call an unpunishable plagiarism an okay thing.
Of course, it is infrequent that someone copies a painting, or steals a score from another musician's computer. Actions like that can lead to criminal and/or civil law suits. From time to time, we hear about people being expelled from schools or lose their jobs and professional creditability on account of plagiarism.
Sometimes, such allegations are unfounded and cleverly used to mar the innocent competition. The fabulous Alan Rickman, whose character in the Broadway production of Theresa Rebeck's Seminar became a victim of such a scam, moaned with all the heart-wrenching pain his ample talent was capable to deliver: "Oh, to be accused of such a thing..." For him it's the worst possible shame. A rare man!
However, when it comes to original ideas, only individual morals stand between one person's precious imaginative jewel and another person's grabby hand. Unfortunately, morality being what it is in the present time, theft of the original ideas is far more common than pickpocketing and purse snatching. As originality becomes more and more of a deficit, the stealing of it becomes more and more pervasive. I personally don't care whether it's legal or not. To me it's worse than a theft - it's an intellectual rape, a snatching of babies born in a torrent of a creative labor.
In business environments it happens every day. Those who watch NBC's popular series Grimm know that the show's core feature is to give a fairy-tale spin to contemporary life. In a second season's episode Nameless, a video game company celebrates the development of a groundbreaking code. Everyone involved in the programming of this extraordinary algorithm stands to make millions. As it turns out, however, none of the people taking credit for it had actually authored the breakthrough idea. It was appropriated by the team leader from a tech guy who came to reboot her system and offered the brilliant solution in exchange for a date. Not only that she had no qualms about accepting the praise and the rewards, she wasn't planning to keep the date promise either. She didn't even remember the guys name.
Whether in business or arts, the worst idea thieves are your peers, especially those who work with you. Trust me, I know it first-hand. One such incident occurred during my time as a high-tech CFO. We were preparing for a teleconference with our venture-capital investors. My fellow board member, the VP of Marketing, strolled into my office and asked for my opinion about the topics to be discussed. You know, at the time the Internet companies were marked by a sense of democracy and camaraderie. So, I let my guard down and laid out my thoughts. All these years later, I still remember the shock I felt, when this guy took the lead of the meeting and repeated everything I told him verbatim, without giving me any credit, of course.
It goes without saying that the world of arts and entertainment is a fucking snake pit that lives by the motto "Everybody steals." It's pretty much an every-day practice.
No matter how many musicians and fans scorned Vanilla Ice's shameless "re-phrasing" of the Queen/Bowie genius bass riff, "Ice Ice Baby" made millions, was nominated for a Grammy and won the American Music Award. It only got worse since. I happened to personally know a human equivalent of a music encyclopedia, and I constantly hear from her: "Wait a minute, I already heard this on..."
In Woody Allen's Vicky, Christina, Barcelona Penelope Cruz's character Maria Elena bluntly states that Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), a commercially successful artist, stole his entire painting style from her. First, he reluctantly acknowledges that, yes, she was "influential," and later admits that "maybe he took from her more than he likes to admit." Really? With a hint of sarcasm Maria Elena says: "It's okay. We worked side by side for many years, and you adopted my vision of the world as your own."
Speaking of movies, it's impossible to get an unknown writer's script into a decision-maker's hands. 99% of studios and production companies do not accept unsolicited (i.e. not represented by an agent) material. And even if you do get someone to read your script or to hear your pitch, the first thing you will need to do is to sign a legal document promising that you will never-ever sue that entity for stealing your idea. Why? Because, if they don't like the script but like the idea, they will most definitely steal it.
There is this tiny (in terms of viewership - $342K gross) Craig Lucas's movie called The Dying Gaul (2005). It is a feeble attempt to expose Hollywood's perversity and corruption. In spite of the presence of indy VIP's Campbell Scott, Patricia Clarkson, and Peter Sarsgaard, whose pull must be responsible for a $4 million budget, the movie is an unremarkable failure. (Let's be honest, ever since Robert Altman's The Player (1992), you really need something extraordinary up your sleeve to embark on this theme.) Yet, the film has one valuable tidbit of a real truth in it: When the main character refuses to change his script from a tragic gay love story into a heterosexual romance, the big-time producer with a $1 million check in his hand warns, "If you refuse, you will walk out of here with nothing, and I will give your story to someone else to rewrite."
But don't think that only the unknown writers fall victims to Tinseltown's shameless pilfering of ingenuity. The moment I saw a poster for Night in the Museum, I had a bizarre thought that Ben Stiller somehow managed to convince Gore Vidal to lend the movie a brilliant plot device from his novel The Smithsonian Institution (1998) . You see, it was Vidal who made the historical characters come to life, most notably Teddy Roosevelt (but not dinosaurs). Apparently, I was not the only one who noticed the uncanny similarity: the great writer himself openly spoke about it in various media. Of course, he wasn't going to attempt any legal action - he's been around the block way too many times (his first publication is dated 1946 and his oeuvre includes 14 screenplays).
Some occurrences of unpunishable plagiarism are simply ridiculous. In 2007, Joe Swanberg (another semi-known indy writer/director) made a practically unseen ($23K gross) movie called Hannah Takes the Stairs: Hannah (Greta Gerwig), a recent college graduate, is an intern and an aspiring writer, who is cruising from a relationship to relationship, trying to find her direction in life. Hmm... Wait a minute... Doesn't this Hannah live on HBO now? Wasn't she shoved into everyone's face by the hipster media for the past 18 months or so? Wasn't she supposed to be an alter ego of her "oh-so-original" creator, a "genius" on the list of "100 Most Influential People," the one whose name I promised not to mention in my posts anymore? A coincidence? Nope. If anyone did see the 2007 movie, it would be this HBO's you-know-who. After all, she is a friend and a collaborator (Nobody Walks) of Ry Russo-Young, who co-starred in Hannah Takes the Stairs.
Speaking of those Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, it is my firm opinion that the biggest scrounger in fictional writing ever is J.K. Rowling. Don't get me wrong, I love Harry Potter, but that woman sponged her material off everything she ever read (granted, she is a very well-read person). Let's not drown ourselves in the boundless sea of magical names representing wizardly attributes: Lupin = wolf (Latin); Sirius = dog (Latin via Greek); Severus = serious, strict (Latin); Dumbledore = stream of gold (a combination of "dumble" - a Nottinghamshire local for a forested stream, and French "d'Or"), etc., etc., etc., etc. Instead, I'd like to point out a few very specific items:
Actually, my list is so long, I can write another book. How about "Harry Potter Genesis, Or Did J.K. Rowling Come Up With Any Original Ideas?"
Obviously, I am very apprehensive about the usurping tendencies all around us. I know talented young people bursting with artistic ideas. Extraordinary pearls of originality simply roll off their tongues. It's painful to admit it, but instead of enjoying their creativity, I behave like a robotic warning machine: "Keep it to yourself! Don't share it with anybody! Stop dropping your pearls publicly! Why did you post that brilliant thing on fucking facebook?!" I know it makes me sound like a paranoid maniac (and it makes me feel real shitty), but what else can I do to protect them? Their artistic expressions are incredibly unique. Their verbiage is so catchy, their "friends" not only repeat it, but have the gall to claim it for themselves.
How can we possibly control this? How can we safeguard the originality? We can't: There is no legal way and most humans lost any shreds of shame a long time ago. The only way to protect your ideas is to constantly convert them into products, so that you can stake your ownership via the copyright. And even then, as examples above show, you are not secured from various brands of scavengers.
Technorati Tags: Bowie, copyright, Craig Lucas, filmmaking, Gore Vidal, Grimm, Hannah Takes the Stairs, Harry Potter, idea theft, J.K. Rowling, Javier Bardem, literature sponging, Night in the Museum, Penelope Cruz, Plagiarism, Queen, screenwriting, Vanilla Ice, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
| | |
I'll admit it: in some of my posts I take a long-winded way to get to the point (hey, usually I have my reasons). But there is no need for that in this case, so let me go straight to it: When it comes to the machinery of Life, the HBO fantasy series Games of Thrones and it's literary source, George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, are the most realistic creative products in American pop culture today.
I am not going to speculate about Mr. Martin's title for his epic's last installment, A Dream of Spring. But I agree with a very smart person who, after watching Robb and Catelyn Stark betrayed and butchered in The Rains of Castamere episode, said: "This man will not cuddle us with nice, happy story turns we so eagerly hope for."
No, he will not. The series will not cater to the general public's expectations that amid a gruesome fight for power and mere survival our "favorite" characters will remain untouched and unsullied. Moreover, the author and the show's creators will turn your emotions upside down: one minute you hate the incestual Jaime Lannister, who pushed little Bran out of the window, and the next minute you don't know what to do with your pity for his sword hand - they might as well have castrated him. And who knew that the actual castration of the despicable and ungrateful Theon would leave you so unsettled?
This is not your average mass entertainment fare, and the American audience is not quite prepared for it. This is a type of authenticity cinephiles expect from French New Wave, Italian Neorealism, Cinema Novo, and Russian movies - genres specifically designed to show the naked inhumanity and unfairness of life. (The same smart person once said, "It was a Russian comedy. I cried all the way through it.")
George Martin's stories may take place in imaginary lands, but they are populated with very real personalities, who act like people we meet every day - power-hungry egomaniacs, cruel sadists, wealth-obsessed careerists, amoral traitors, and dishonest schemers. This is a fantasy that reaches the ultimate height of mythology and becomes a metaphor for Life.
Pop culture plays a crucial role in the formation of people's mentality. And it's incredible that the popularity of the show is increasing from season to season. Over 5 million people watched their hero Rob slaughtered on June 2nd - a drop in the ocean, of course, as far as our vast nation is concerned. Still, if Game of Thrones wakes them up to the reality and they stop looking at the world through the pink glasses of "hopeful" Hollywood movies, it would be a grand artistic achievement.
Brace yourself, my fellow humans, Winter is coming.
"I don't understand... I tried to do my job, I follow the rules; and people hate me. Innocent people get hurt and other people, people who are not good, get to walk around doing whatever they want. It's not fair!"
Season 1, Episode 12
Nixon vs. Kennedy
Written by Lisa Albert, Andre & Maria Jacquemetton
C. G. Jung: The Red Book (*****)