Don't just do something, stand there

Many moons ago I worked on a recording of an arts programme for BBC World Service. It was one of a series in which people read a short piece about their lives that had special significance for them and afforded a particular insight. As I was setting up the studio I got talking to the contributor. He was very knowledgable about the topic he was about to talk about, was articulate and compelling even in conversation, and had real presence. When he went into the studio for the read through, normally just a warm up and a chance for me to take levels etc., I decided to start a tape recording just in case.

He proceeded to read his piece brilliantly without a pause or fluff and the story was gripping. When he finished I turned to the producer, feeling pleased with myself for my intuitive foresight, and said "That was excellent, luckily I had a tape running and we got it first take." "No" she said, "I wasn't happy with it. I think it could do with improving. I will go in and talk things through with him."

So she went into the studio, sat down and proceeded to pull the thing apart line by line, giving instructions that confused the hell out of me, and presumably him. We were then made to record three more takes with him fluffing his way through them, getting progressively worse, and giving her more and more excuse to "give him a few more pointers". I then had to spend the best part of an hour hacking together the multiple takes under her instructions and ending up with a result that, to use a technical radio term, was shit.

But she felt pleased with herself. She had done her job. She had done something rather than nothing and this was good thing. Later in my BBC career I would see the same happen when senior managers were promoted to new posts. Not one of them ever looked around and said "This all looks fine I will leave it alone". They had to be seen to do something. They got more brownie points for fucking things up than they would for leaving things alone. Doing nothing was not an option.

Sometimes, perhaps even more often than not, as a manager more can be achieved by just standing there than can by doing something.