Any big fan of the Coen Brothers has at least heard of The Hudsucker Proxy, one of their lesser-known films from 1994. Why wasn’t it big at the box office? Because it was too cynical for the American public? Maybe. I’ll offer another answer…it was too far ahead of its time. You see, The Hudsucker Proxy was forecasting the need for development of social technology and techniques well before anyone was ready to accept the concept.
Tim Robbins plays Norville, a new mailroom worker at Hudsucker Industries, a major New York City toy maker in 1958. He has a fantastic idea and expresses it by drawing a circle on a piece of paper, showing to people and saying, “You know, for kids.” He has described the original Hula hoop, as you discover later, but he’s the wrong person to be pitching this idea to a highly hierarchical, old-school toy company. Not to mention his technique…
In fact, his idea only gets to the top because the execs are looking for an idiot to name as president to deliberately depress the company’s stock. Norville’s incoherent explanation of his idea makes him an outstanding candidate. He goes on to invent not only the hula hoop, but other circle-based toys (think: frisbee). To make it even better, he fires the equally incoherent elevator operator, Buzz, who brings a nearly identical explanation to him, under just-as-rand0m circumstances. Buzz was describing the crazy straw but Norville is now an arrogant executive himself and deaf to ideas from below.
If Hudsucker Industries had social media (let’s pretend it wasn’t set fifty years ago), Norville might have had an appropriate venue and experience in bringing in new ideas. Because Hudsucker didn’t have such a technology, his only opportunity was his very naive attempt in his only opportunity to address the top brass. The fact that his failure to communicate worked out was part of the film’s genius.
Social media alongside business process is more than just finding the best information at the right moment, but also about the provider of ideas or information learning when and how to best communicate. It has a learning curve on both sides. Those who don’t ‘practice’ and gain a social technique are in danger of pointing to a circle and saying, “You know, for kids” just at the moment the world is ready for their idea. I suspect plenty of brilliance falls by the wayside in just this fashion but it doesn’t need to be that way. In my own work, I make time to use the social media platform that we’ve adopted partly because I want to be able to use it effectively when it matters most.
In parting, I’ll leave you with this…when Norville is called an imbecile by another character in the plot, his best response is, “Now let me ask you a question: Would an imbecile come up with this?” Of course, he shows the picture of a simple circle and his moment to prove himself passes.
There is increasing incentive to develop your social technique. Give it a shot.