Don't Be a Hack

A hack, Robert McKee says, is a writer who second-guesses his audience. When the hack sits down to work, he doesn’t ask himself what’s in his own heart. He asks what the market is looking for. The hack condescends to his audience. He thinks he’s superior to them.

The truth is, he’s scared to death of them or, more accurately, scared of being authentic in front of them, scared of writing what he really feels or believes, what he himself thinks is interesting. He’s afraid it won’t sell. So he tries to anticipate what the market (a telling word) wants, then gives it to them.

In other words, the hack writes hierarchically. He writes what he imagines will play well in the eyes of others. He does not ask himself, What do I myself want to write? What do I think is important? Instead he asks, What’s hot, what can I make a deal for?

The hack is like the politician who consults the polls before he takes a position. He’s a demagogue. He panders.

It can pay off, being a hack. Given the depraved state of American culture, a slick dude can make millions being a hack. But even if you succeed, you lose, because you’ve sold out your Muse, and your Muse is you, the best part of yourself, where your finest and only true work comes from.

Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

Turning happiness into a management tool

A large American health-care provider, Ochsner Health System, introduced a rule that workers must make eye contact and smile whenever they walk within ten feet of another person in the hospital. Pret A Manger sends in mystery shoppers to visit every outlet regularly to see if they are greeted with the requisite degree of joy. Pass the test and the entire staff gets a bonus—a powerful incentive for workers to turn themselves into happiness police. Companies have a right to ask their employees to be polite when they deal with members of the public. They do not have a right to try to regulate their workers’ psychological states and turn happiness into an instrument of corporate control.

Companies would be much better off forgetting wishy-washy goals like encouraging contentment. They should concentrate on eliminating specific annoyances, such as time-wasting meetings and pointless memos. Instead, they are likely to develop ever more sophisticated ways of measuring the emotional state of their employees. Academics are already busy creating smartphone apps that help people keep track of their moods, such as Track Your Happiness and Moodscope. It may not be long before human-resource departments start measuring workplace euphoria via apps, cameras and voice recorders.

Schumpeter in The Economist

As many followers as possible

Noelle Moseley, who consults for technology companies told me that she had recently interviewed heavy users of Instagram: young women who cultivated different personas on different social networks. Their aim was to get as many followers as possible – that was their definition of success.

Every new follow and every comment delivered an emotional hit. But a life spent chasing hits didn’t feel good. Moseley’s respondents spent all their hours thinking about how to organise their lives in order to take pictures they could post to each persona, which meant they weren’t able to enjoy whatever they were doing, which made them stressed and unhappy.

Ian Leslie writing in 1843 magazine