Study Hall

Waiting For The Talisman: On Human Nature & Things We Can Do To Improve Now

“What can I do now, with the gear and people I have, to improve things for the team, the clients, and the bottom line?”

Talisman (noun): A magical figure charged with the force which it is intended to represent.

It’s probably part of human nature that we tend to hang unreasonable expectations on something or someone that we hope will protect us, or more commonly, bring about a major change for the positive.

We think this will occur once we acquire a specific piece of gear, hire a new key person, or get a new boss. Otherwise, why would there be so many plays and movies on this subject such as Waiting for Guffman, Waiting for Godot, and Glengarry Glen Ross, to name a few.

Magical Pieces

I certainly count myself among those who have pined for some piece of gear or the next upgrade to my existing gear. I’ve thought, “If I only had those microphones (or preamps, or monitor loudspeakers, etc.), my life would be complete and/or my recordings would now be perfect.” And when it was about cameras, the focus (pun intended) was lenses.

Let’s face it, the pro audio industry – and any technical field – thrives on this desire. Without manufacturing innovation, we’d be stuck with yesterday’s gear and yesterday’s problems.

The thing, however, is that yesterday’s gear – if it was of sufficient quality – doesn’t suddenly become obsolete just because of the arrival of a newer, shinier, sexier and ostensibly better version. Sure, the new stuff can probably do things the old gear couldn’t do, otherwise why was it developed? Although sometimes one does have to wonder if it’s more of a “new packaging, same great taste” thing, when it’s actually much the same product with a new paint job.

However, most innovation we see is real and designed to address actual issues. Today the latest loudspeakers, amplifiers, consoles, microphones, preamps and even audio over IP are the best we’ve ever had.

But let’s just imagine, for a minute, that we’re running a business without the consistent profit margin to continually invest in new gear. (I know, strange concept!) So reality dictates that we must largely “deal with” the exiting gear to “make it happen.” And truth be told, this is the day-to-day for most of us anyway.

Honestly though, do our lives get a lot easier when the new mixing console arrives? Perhaps, after we get appropriate training and learn how to run it efficiently. But I argue that for every problem solved there’s likely to be at least one new problem we didn’t consider before. In other words, the overall amount of effort remains roughly constant even though the gear is continually evolving.

Certainly, we can now do things that we couldn’t before, or at least not easily. Consider, for example, the explosion of audio over IP in the past 10 years. There are some impressive networks with dozens of devices all connected and routed, with almost no analog cabling. That really is advancement.

But by the same token, now we must know how to set up these networks, how to manage all of gear involved, and how to troubleshoot problems that didn’t exist before. So, like anything else, there are tradeoffs.

Magical People

As with equipment, there are times when we’ve waited, wished for, and wanted the “new person” to somehow magically solve whatever difficult issues we’re facing: “When Susan comes on board, we’ll have a systems expert who can untangle, literally, all those cables and get the racks sorted.”

Similarly if there’s a new boss being hired or a re-organization happening, it’s along the lines of, “I’m so tired of working for Jeff – things will be great once our department is under Sylvia.”

But can’t we look back at our own careers and realize that this is rarely the case? New blood is often a good thing but there’s no magic in it. People are people: we all bring skills and talents – and baggage – to the table.

Consider the new client as well. We find ourselves hoping that this is the one that will bring a better profit, for once, and be easier to deal with, unlike all our other clients. Maybe, but probably not, right?

If we’re honest and realistic with ourselves, we’ll know deep down that the new client might be different but probably overall mostly similar to the ones we already have. Not that we shouldn’t strive for better clients, just as we strive for better equipment and employers and managers.

If Not Now, When?

An oft-quoted re-wording of Hillel the Elder’s famous maxim goes something like this: “If not me, who? If not this, what? And if not now, when?” In other words, rather than waiting for the talisman that never fully delivers and maybe never even shows up, there are likely things we can do to improve our situation right now, or at least in the near future.

If the racks have aging, tangled cables, why not break up the workload amongst those who might have a little time to chip away at it during the slow season? If we’re hoping a new boss will solve all our problems, what about acting as we hope this magical new person will act by taking charge ourselves and asking colleagues to help in a collegial way?

And when it comes to gear, are we certain we’re getting the most out of the gear already in the inventory? I’ve often found that there are functions and features that I didn’t even know existed until calling a manufacturer’s technical support department to ask why a piece of equipment doesn’t do something – “Oh, it already does that? I just need to access the correct screen and set it like this?” Oops.

So there’s another thing we can do with idle time: dust off those manuals and/or go online to check out training videos. There are so many “tips and tricks” on YouTube these days that just watching them alone could be a full-time job. I think it’s safe to say with some confidence that there are few among us who are truly getting 100 percent of the capabilities out of any specific piece of equipment.

Of course, all of this is easier said than done because we’re dealing with human nature. But rather than waiting around for the next “magical thing” to arrive, I suggest first asking ourselves, “What can I do now, with the gear and people I have, to improve things for the team, the clients, and the bottom line?” I have faith that answers will come.

In the meantime, as always the next trade show is on the horizon – just think of all that new gear!.

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