We live in a world where if you aren’t constantly grabbing the brass ring of attention, then you don’t exist. We see this in business, politics, academia, show business , sports, and media.
And in my corner of the Internet there are countless of bloggers who seem more interested in branding themselves via social media than writing compelling, informative or entertaining posts. They have nothing to say and say it all the time.
In our “Look at me!” culture, we loathe the idea of being invisible. We think of an invisible person as a mindless drone, slaving away at a nothing job, wasting the best years of his or her life in some sterile cubicle, “working for the man.”
But for writer David Zweig, there are countless people working very important jobs requiring various talents, skills and experience. We don’t know their names, but they are quite impressive and important. And Zweig gives them their due in his wonderfully detailed and enlightening book, Invisibles: The Power of the Anonymous Work in an Age of Relentless Self-Promotion.
Invisibles are found in all kinds of industries like entertainment, architecture, engineering, graphics and design, diplomacy, media, cosmetics and fragrances, and medicine. Their work is vital, interesting and often benefit society. And instead of seeking fame and fortune, invisibles just keep on doing their work.
According to Zweig, invisibles share three significant traits: Ambivalence toward recognition, a meticulousness approach to work, and relishing responsibility in all its forms.
Invisibles are often quite well-regarded in their various professions and many of them have won notable awards for their work. However, to invisibles it’s the work that is truly rewarding.
Invisibles are meticulous about what they do; they remain focused on excellency, constant improvement and doing a task to the best of their abilities.
Invisibles don’t shy away from responsibility; they thrive on it. They know countless people rely on their labor so they are committed to getting things done right.
Zweig devotes several chapters to these invisibles and I found myself fascinated. When you spritz on your favorite fragrance do you think about the time and effort that went into making the fragrance smell the way it does? David Apel is a fragrance designer, also known as a “nose,” and he has created some of the most famous and best-selling fragrances on the market.
Jim Harding is a “wayfinder.” What’s a wayfinder you wonder? Well, if you’ve been through an airport you’re probably familiar with Mr. Harding’s type of work. Mr. Harding designs the “cues,” which include signage that help us navigate through places like airport terminals. Mr. Harding’s work includes choosing certain graphics and typefaces that lessen our confusion. As someone who gets confused going from the couch to the fridge, thank you Mr. Harding.
Guilia Wilkins Ary is fluent in several skills and works as an interpreter at the UN. Ms. Wilkins Ary hears a certain language, interprets that language in her head, and then speaks a completely new language while continuing to listen and interpret the original language. Ms. Wilkins Ary’s amazing skills are vital to diplomacy and maintaining peace amongst nations.
Robert Elswit is an Oscar-winning cinematographer for the movie “There Will Be Blood.” He has also worked on such as like “Michael Clayton,” “Good Night, and Good Luck,” “Syriana,” and “The Bourne Legacy.” You may not know his name, but you if you’ve seen these movies, you know his work. Mr. Elswit is responsible for giving a film a certain “look” through lighting, diffusion filters, camera lens choices, camera movements and other special effects.
Do you wonder how skyscrapers stay standing? It is people like Dennis Poon who guarantee the structural reliability of tall buildings so countless people can work on even the highest office floor and not worry about the building tumbling over even in the mightiest of winds.
And then there is Pete Clements, who goes by the nickname Plank. Plank is a technician for the rock band Radiohead. He makes sure the drum kit, guitars, amps and other effects are in working order when Radiohead performs. During one concert, lead singer Thom Yorke may use up to 12 guitars. Plank tunes these guitars before and during a concert. If a guitar isn’t tuned properly, well, it might lead to many disappointed Radiohead fans.
Zweig’s praise for the invisibles comes from a legitimate place. Zweig once worked as a fact check for Conde Nast. Fact checkers do just that, check facts to make sure an article’s data, quotes and other bits of information are truthful before a publication goes to print. Fact checkers probably stave off plenty of libel suits but for the most part they are, yes, invisible in the multi-media world.
In addition to profiling several Invisibles, Zweig also covers the very American idea of self-promotion and living in a world where our Facebook profiles and our Tweets define us more than our actual work and output. There is nothing wrong with a bit of self-promotion in moderation, but some people get so wrapped up in the idea of being a “brand,” their work suffers and this can harm their careers, not enhance them.
Invisibles is a vital book that reminds us of the importance of hard work, talent and skill, responsibility and experience, and should especially be read by people who think they are solely defined by their Facebook profiles, Twitter feeds, and Pinterest boards. Now stop posting your selfies on Instagram and get back to work.