Saturday, November 3, 2007

Sad Men

The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

Circa 1960

Pat's brother, Jim, first told us about "Mad Men" last week. And then Pat heard a positive review for it on NPR, which she has been downloading here as podcasts.

In 1960, Pat was 10 and I wasn't yet born. We watched three episodes this weekend and it reminded me of suits and ties and outfits my dad and mom wore during my earliest years; I was born in '65. And I could almost smell the lipsticks the women were wearing.

Also, I recognized the box of Carnation powdered milk and what appeared to be the Lanz nightgown on the daughter (my sisters and I wore them, too), and the girdles; I was endlessly fascinated with the snaps that hung down from them and would play with them when they came up from the laundry. By the end of the '60s, they stopped coming up from the laundry; women, including my mother, stopped wearing them.

My dad worked in the Toy industry as a toy and game designer, as I mentioned here previously, and it was as competitive as Advertising. He commuted to New York City daily from our suburban home in Stamford.

Channeling Childhood Challenges

Due to the competitive nature of the creative side of the toy business, my dad moved companies a lot, and it was less secure for us, growing up, than if he'd been in a less creative job, I think. As a child, I didn't think about supporting myself or a family when I grew up, but knew that no matter what, I didn't want to be as financially-rollercoasterish as we were during my childhood.

A month or so ago, I read a great interview in a local women's magazine about a young, Indian-American economist, who contributed to an important BRIC study recently; she spoke of being haunted by her dad's layoff from AT&T in the States during her teenage years and was happy to have more financial security in her adulthood.

Unfortunately, I cannot remember her name or the magazine's -- just that she went to Yale and recently moved to India. What I admired was how her unstable childhood inspired her to channel it for good in her career as an economist. She has been trying to help in a macro way, identifying hopeful trends, pointing to fewer people feeling what she felt in relation to money, or lack thereof.

Keeping Up Appearances

What was so poignant to me about the TV show so far, and my memories of that time, was the investment in appearances. My mom went to see Girardo to have her hair done every week, regardless of my parents' financial situation. Necessarily, my mother spent much more time with me during my childhood than my dad, and the show has been giving me a window into the pain he might have felt in the work-world of that time.

Spoiler alert: Don't continue reading if you don't want to know any of the episode plots. We saw episodes 5-7 and in one of them, one of the account execs. -- who's not even on the creative side of the agency -- gets a short story published by "The Atlantic Monthly." His colleagues are pathologically jealous. I think about how my dad must have felt whenever a colleague invented a new toy or game, rather than his having invented one. How painful that might have been!

Innovation: How Repeatable?

My dad's most popular invention was an alternate version of Yachtzee, Triple Yachtzee, which I never learned to play. In the Wikipedia article I linked to in the previous sentence, it was mentioned in the "Related Games" section toward the bottom of the article.

Would my dad have invented additional, popular games if he had lived beyond age 56? Or were most creative people lucky to have even one good invention? When he was dying of cancer, he was working on a hand-held, computerized version and my sister Kathy was helping him with the concept, which was ahead of its time.

I have a friend in IBM Research, whose invention has brought in nearly half a billion dollars of revenue to our company so far, and yet, I don't know the ratio of Researchers worldwide, who have that happen in their career even once, let alone more than once.

Innovation: A Gift However Often it Happens

Writing this entry, "Sad Men," I've become a sad woman. I don't like to be sad, as it saps my own creativity. And I need to have a creative day today: I'm working on my independent study paper toward my Masters in Organization & Leadership.

Instead of letting "Mad Men" make me a sad woman, I need to see it as a cautionary tale -- that a preoccupation with appearances and being self-destructively comparative and competitive is not a recipe for creativity.

Creativity, for me, comes from losing myself in the sheer fun of learning and thinking and writing. What a treat that I can spend the rest of the day, doing all of that by becoming focused on it.

Please, God, let today turn into a positively creative day for me in service to the paper I'm writing and its yielding useful findings.


Paul Levinson said...

I enjoyed the review. Here's a 20-minute podcast interview with Rich Sommer, who plays Harry Crane on Mad Men...

Sarah Siegel said...

I linked from your name to your blog and site; what a great background you've got. Thanks for the link to the interview. I'll share it with my partner Pat, who's retired and will have time to listen to it a bit sooner than I will. Sounds like it'll be a treat for both of us ultimately.

Anonymous said...

Hi Sarah,
I didn't know you remembered the Girardo appts., too.
Dad also invented Word Yahtzee. And I've realized lately that he may have been the very first on the block with the idea of a hand-held computerized game. I often think he'd have adored and worked with the technology that came after his death. He was always fascinated with computers.

I miss him, too, but don't really miss the buttoned-up 60s with all the rules.

Love you,

Sarah Siegel said...

We did look cute as three sisters from toddler-10, wearing matching dresses, though, didn't we? At least in that one gray, wool one with the little, red diamonds at the hem?