During the seven years that Huggy Rao and I worked on Scaling Up Excellence, we got involved in some pretty unusual situations – at least for two rather staid old professors. We did everything from working with a company that was trying to improve the (terrible) customer experience in their chain of budget gas stations (I guess things were supposed to get better through magic, as they rejected any suggestion that took time or money) to the incredibly time-consuming but strangely satisfying process we went through to get a book cover design that we liked (that is fodder for another post – we went through many, many prototypes).
The sequence produced in the above picture was among the most amusing and (I confess) mot diagnostic of how difficult and picky I can be to work with AND how gracious, patient, and curious Huggy was and remains. My compulsiveness is, I think, often helpful when writing a book, as the process requires numerous iterations and constant editing. One of my favorite lines about writing comes from Aldous Huxley: "All my thoughts are second thoughts." That is me. Or, more precisely, all my thoughts are third, fourth, and fifth thoughts. I revise text so much that this compulsion led to some admittedly absurd situations. I don’t think that Huggy fully understood why he had to call me from Iceland to spend 30 minutes talking about two sentences in the draft that I didn't like, but he did so with good humor and as usual made inspired suggestions.
To return to the pictures, we already had plenty of photos of the two of us, but given how I am about pretty much everything, I insisted that we not settle for something easy or second rate or boring, that we do something interesting for the jacket photo. I immediately thought ofClaudia Goetzelmann, who, some seven years earlier, when I first started my blog Work Matters, took that weird and wonderful picture of me next to that “thinker” statue at The New Guinea Sculpture Garden at Stanford that has been at the top of this blog since the I first started (thanks to Diego Rodriguez of Metacool fame.) That crazy first above was all Claudia’s idea. Once she saw that statue, something went off in her brain and she took picture after picture of me in various odd poses with that statue.
This time, Claudia asked if, before she took the pictures, if she could scout out nearby locations. We wrongly assumed the location would actually be on the Stanford campus and would be be something rather traditional and academic – standing in front of books, teaching a room full of students, or perhaps a shot of us in serious scholarly conversation. That is not quite how Claudia’s mind works. She decided, after driving around for several hours, that the best light in the afternoon was next to the Dumbarton Bridge that connects the lower San Francisco Peninsula to the East Bay – a pretty weird location, we thought, as it was a good 20 minutes from Stanford – there were no academic trappings, just a grassy sandy marsh, the bay, and a big bridge packed with noisy smelly traffic. (Indeed, see Diego's latest post. Claudia is a spoon bender of the best kind).
Claudia also wrote and asked if she could spend 30 bucks on two picture frames as she thought that they would make for an interesting picture. I thought she was nuts, The idea of jamming our heads together in a frame did not seem becoming of two serious scholars like us, but I did not want to interfere with the creative process. When we saw them, we started laughing. Then we really started giggling when we saw that Claudia had hired a make-up artist to “touch you up.” It didn’t seem to us as if make-up would help us look any younger or prettier. But we remembered Richard Nixon shiny head and sweaty lip fiasco after he refused make-up when he debated John Kennedy on TV in the 1960s, so we both agreed to accept a bit of powder and lip goo of some kind.
Claudia was so energetic and encouraging that the experience was really fun. I think we had been laughing nonstop for an hour by the time she took the above picture – her favorite after taking perhaps 1000 pictures of us in various poses (at least 100 with us actually standing up against the bridge wall). When we arrived, we were in coats and ties – Claudia humored us and took some pictures, but soon had us remove them because they made us look too boring.
As a result of Claudia’s imagination, skill, and infectious enthusiasm, the book jacket will have a picture we love. I doubt it will help sell any books. It might even drive people away who decide that two guys in a crooked picture frame (and who look like they are about to dissolve into laughter) couldn't possibly write a rigorous and relevant book on scaling or any other business topic. But, for us, the picture feels right because it symbolizes so much about the seven year “adventure” that led to Scaling Up Excellence. We both were willing to try something weird that made us a bit uncomfortable, I pushed for a compulsive, time consuming, and arguably unnecessary solution that required trying a lot of ideas and throwing most away, Huggy was patient and bemused throughout (even when most sane people would tell me to bug off), and we had good fun.
So that is how we ended up with that crazy picture. We hope you like it.
Note: This first appeared on LinkedIN in one of my "Influencer" columns. I edited it slightly.