As a freelance artist, my bread and butter in life has come from real work. Concrete goods produced in exchange for real money, and that is the way I want it as a matter of self-sufficiency and basic dignity. If you read on you will understand why.
I once heard a radio show where the topic was: “Who would you rather work with, someone who is charming, or someone who is accurate?” The results of that poll might surprise you, callers overwhelmingly piled on about co-workers who were ‘charming’. You smile wryly at their endless jokes and check your watch over their long lunches, but - worst of all, YOU END UP DOING THEIR WORK. They just smile and glide by.
Charm is fine, but it has a short shelf life because it tends to be a placeholder for substance. The ‘accurate’ co-worker may be a surly son-of-a-bitch but you won’t end up doing his work for him. Plus, your day is less stressful when you do not have to redo work from someone else’s careless errors.
In the late 80’s I did a lot of renderings for a real estate company who provided the visuals for sales offices during the Toronto housing boom of that era. It was a beehive of activity geared toward the openings, and all the materials had to be in place by the weekend. One odd leg of this company history featured the hiring of an art director that I am sure was a high-level favour and nothing more, because the art director was an idiot and it was clear that while sucking a six-figure salary, he was intent on doing nothing. He was the ‘charming’ co-worker. He would come around shooting spit wads at everyone, cracking jokes and making a general nuisance of himself as if to remind you that he was there… doing nothing at all. Worse, he would routinely disappear mid afternoon to a nearby strip bar to engage in a bit of suds ’n sin before heading home to his wife to complain about his tough day at work.
Of note, there was a huge miss during his stewardship. One very small aspect of his work was to get on the horn and book the necessary ad space in the real estate section of the paper for the weekend. One tiny phone call. Not a lot of responsibility. Except that one week we arrived at a Friday and found the space was not booked. The art director deflected the gaffe onto the junior art director, presumably because he considered himself above blame.
This was an interesting dilemma, because all of the work that week was premised on that ad space. Then, the owner of the company did something very ballsy which I will never forget. It would be bad form indeed to tell your client that you had screwed up his job, expecting forgiveness unless you intend to go broke fast. But the owner did something different. The only ad space still available was the most expensive, full page ads. He took a risk, called his client and told them that he had a feeling that this was a week to go big. He sold them on the idea of going with the full page ad space. We had to do a lot of re-arranging to do and everything ferried over by a courier last minute, but the week’s worth of work was saved, and his company avoided unnecessary embarrassment. I have to say, that got my respect. The lazy art director on the other hand, soon drifted off to a high post in Malaysia where he got to head up an agency. He was obviously connected although I suspect that he didn’t do any real work there either. Guess what? Nobody missed him. He was about as useful as a sack of hammers and about as popular.
Oddly, I have seen this pattern repeated many times during my career. Those people often escape, and sometimes not. BUT… they do not evade the court of public opinion. There is an unspoken verdict out there for lazy people that I hope never applies to me.
We can find a very short and succinct lesson in all of this. In life, it is necessary to DO something. When you don’t DO anything everybody knows you are a useless idiot. No amount of charm will erase this truth. Charming or accurate? I’ll take accurate any day and I am betting you would too.