The most important, least important thing there is.
Don Draper, Blowing Smoke
Is there anything more frustrating than not being allowed to work?
Blowing Smoke is a great snapshot of the American panorama of work in a time of crisis. It has almost a full cast of misfits, for once: movers, aces, naysayers, sages, protectors, and burnouts. A few characters are offstage: the deadwood, the window dressing, and of course, the rainmakers.
At Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, there is still no sign of rain. But here’s what we can see:
Fire a Mover and he will thank you for the opportunity. I see Don, Pete and Peggy hiring Little Danny back one day, when they can see their way clear. They recognize in him the same values they hold themselves: the drive not just to work, but to do better, and receive the reward for it. Which is, of course, more work.
An Ace can be the one card you need to win, or it can be wild. It depends on what else you have in the deck. If your Ace is a winner, one is good. Two would be better, but one is better than most places get.
A wild card can go either way. But even a wild card will leave when told to go, and she doesn’t like long goodbyes. No, she will not meet you for a drink after she has cleared out her things. Chances are you won’t see her again, unless you run into her in an unexpected place. Will she recognize you? Who knows?
Naysayers see the worst coming, long before anyone else does. In a way, you could say they are always looking right at it. They will never be as well prepared for anything else. Their world is blue, blue and gray, and part of them will never be content until those around them see the landscape in those same gloomy shades.
Stagnant. Decaying. Chaotic. Bad. These are some of the Naysayers’ favorite words.
The Sage is a rare creature, harder to find than the Mover. Sages seek Movers because the industry of the Mover wakes something up inside them. Vision can do nothing without hard work; but when someone with vision meets a kindred spirit with the energy to build, things start to happen.
Movers find out who they are when they meet Sages.
Protectors do what they do for honorable reasons. They protect people (companies, children, men who remind them of children), boxes of stuff left in their charge; sometimes, incendiary information. This duty is far from a simple one — especially when those they protect occasionally struggle against their protection. I will protect this man, this woman, this family, this firm. Whether it wants me to or not.
Burnouts are the most heartbreaking characters in the American panorama. They were once something else — Movers, Sages, Protectors — but something made them let that part go, and it may not return. Substance abuse can rob a Mover of industry or a Sage of light, for a while; but when age takes away whatever that essential part was, as it may have done with Bert Cooper, it is gone for good.
There is no place in America where all of these people could otherwise meet, get to know each other, and learn the opposing experiences of competence and challenge, than the workplace. There is no equivalent, in public or private life; nothing we can buy, nothing we can give one another, is quite the same. Work continues to be the only journey we truly take together.
In the lovely words of Don Draper, the creative crucible of work is the most important, least important thing there is.