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Sunday, September 1, 2019

Invisibles:- comprehensive books summary

Invisibles: The Power of Anonymous Work in an Age of Relentless Self-Promotion
Invisibles: The Power of Anonymous Work in an Age of Relentless Self-Promotion


Andy Johns is a name in music that is relatively unknown but Johns is responsible for engineering some of the greatest records by Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, and Van Halen. Johns passed away in April 2013  without a story in any major news outlet and his work is still largely unnoticed but obviously extremely important to the success of these bands. This is not to say it’s a shame he wasn’t recognized or gloried earlier in his life or at the end, but to put a magnified glass on professionals similar to Johns who experience fulfillment from work that isn’t recognized. Which is odd in a society that screams “LOOK AT ME, LOOK AT WHAT IVE DONE!”

Over the course of the book, David Zweig, the author, goes behind the scenes with exclusive access into the lives and professions of people like Johns, or Zweig’s own stint in fact checking, to see what they all have in common. Zweig claims there are three traits that organically came to light when he was interviewing potential Invisibles. The traits are Ambivalence toward recognition, meticulousness, and savoring of responsibility (Zweig 2014, p.6). The Invisibles interviewed for this book do not work in mundane jobs; they are highly skilled people who are very critical to whatever field or project they are a part of. They are highly respected by they’re co-workers and most of the time don’t even know it. Usually the Invisibles could have pursued other careers, maybe one with more recognition, but choose to stay in their current position or follow whatever it is they were passionate about. The individual Invisibles are not exclusive but just the opposite of current cultures idea on what a successful, satisfied person entails. Although they are not always recognized for their jobs and most of the time under appreciated, they all have lasting gratification in common. Perfection=Invisibility.

Ambivalence to Recognition

Jim Harding is in his fifties, has a Nashville accent, and is in the way finding business. This section starts off with Zweig and Harding meeting at the Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson airport to tour the recently completed Maynard H. Jackson Jr. International Terminal. Harding works for the design firm Gresham, Smith, and Partners where he leads their environmental graphic design group. This group works on creating way finding systems for large complex environments, such as an airport terminal. Harding and his firm are responsible for creating the signs that get people where they need to go through the airports. Harding got into way finding when the field was relatively new, as it still is, when he was in college working for an architectural sign company that had only two partners and he was the only employee. Being the only employee allowed him to learn a little bit about everything when it comes to way finding. Once he graduate college he joined the firm he is still with today. Harding is quoted saying “ultimately” “ if we do our job well, way finding enhances the customer experience without them knowing why or how”(Zweig 2014, p.19). This is contrary to the popular idea of having our work seen. A measure of success is how much it is noticed and you’re credited for it, while in Harding’s case, he lives in the state of his work being seen by the masses but hopefully not pointed out. Harding gets genuine satisfaction out of this.

Daniel Paisner, like Harding, rarely has his name on his work but that doesn’t take away from his satisfaction. Paisner is a ghostwriter and has done work for many top celebrities and politicians. Paisner loves writing for the sake of writing and is glad he can do it for a living, but doesn’t need the fame. His goal, he says, is to sit on a plane and see someone reading his book without him or her knowing whom he is and not say anything the entire flight. Ambivalence towards recognition is not something we see on a day-to-day basis, in fact quite the opposite. This type of attitude is not one of purposely wanting to stay in the shadows and never being noticed for whatever type of work they complete, rather it shows the person is not driven by recognition but the work itself.

Devotion to Meticulousness

Meticulousness is a trait that is directly tied to successful leadership. In the book, Zweig references a study done by Timothy Judge who is a Notre Dame business professor that concluded conscientiousness (defined as being cautious, deliberate is a core trait throughout successful business people).The study involved twenty-six independent studies and found that over all consciousness was the most consistent predictor of leadership effectiveness (Zweig 2014, p. 52).

Dave Apel is the Invisible interviewed in this section. Apel is in the creative perfumery business. He studied environmental chemistry in college hoping to work for the EPA or DEP. He took a job with a company called Givaudan and was tasked with bulk-compounding fragrances in a lab instead. He then started crafting his own fragrances to take home. Apel gained a mentor while working with Givaudan and the tiny details of creating these fragrances. Apel's mentor moved on to become a creative perfumist and it was then the idea popped into Apel’s head that maybe that’s what he should do. Eventually he became a perfumist and was tasked with the job of creating Sean Combs (P.Diddy) personal branded cologne while competing with other firms to gain Diddys contract. Apel met with Combs to determine what the scent should be and Combs said Mediterranean. Apel then created a plethora of scents over and over again for Combs until he was satisfied. Finally after listening to Combs’ wants and going through his lab of raw materials, Apel nailed the smell. Escape for Men became the name of the cologne and was known to be the record breaking, number-one-selling fragrance in men’s stores. Apel then worked on five move fragrances for Combs.

Although Sean Combs did not sit in a lab and actually create the fragrances, his name will be on the bottle and Apel’s name will not. His meticulousness in finding the right scent is what gained him success and fulfillment. Apel is completely charged by the creative process.

Savoring Responsibility
Responsibility can be either a blessing or a curse. For Daniel Poon, a chief engineer at a global engineering firm who creates sky-scrapers (by 2020 he will have had hand in 10 out of the 20 tallest buildings in the world), responsibility is an integral part, if not the most important part, of his job. Ultimately, Poon in accountable for anything that happens structurally with these buildings, which is a load of responsibility. Poon, out of all the Invisibles interviewed so far, has the greatest responsibility and it could be argued he holds the highest position out of the group. This is no coincidence. Cameron Anderson a professor from UC Burkley has researched this connection (Zweig 2014, p. 71).

Flow and the Power of Expertise with Effort
Being in the zone is something that most athletes can relate to. Experiencing a flow state and being in the zone are interchangeable terms to describe the same feeling. We don’t often think about flowing while working but it happens often to Invisibles. Mihaly Csikszentmihayli says flow is when” the ego falls away, time flies, and every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one” (Zweig 2014,p.98).

Giula Wilkins Ary is an interpreter for the UN. This is a very hard job to land and one needs to be fluent in three languages and go through a rigorous application, interview and exam process. Giula was offered the job immediately after passing her exam but declined. She was offered the job again in Nairobi but once again declined and finally accepted a job offer in New York in 2007. Not only do you have to interpret what the speaker is saying to the needed language, but also you have to do it in real-time. That mean these interpreters need to understand and process the speakers native tongue while simultaneously figuring out how to relay the message in another language. Obviously this can be extremely mentally tasking. Wilkins Ary says there are times she experiences the flow state and never wants to stop. The only way she can do this is by learning everything about the speakers at any given UN conference, the abbreviations and code words from different countries, what the countries policy is on a given topic, what might cause controversy, and the list goes on. The point is that yes, Wilkins Ary is a phenomenal interpreter, but to gain the flow state she must do all the work to be able to get there.

Zweig states that in today’s society pretty good is becoming a shared value (Zweig 2014, p. 100). To gain access into the wonder mental experience of flow state, pretty good isn’t going to cut it. One must put in all the work involved like Wilkins Ary or any one of the other Invisibles to reach this state. As a society, we’ve become pretty good at a lot of things, but not exponentially great. We only see the short end of the stick when it comes to getting into a job field “what is the minimum I can do to get in”. The Invisibles have the opposite idea, “what all do I have to learn about the craft to become excellent at it”.

Fame, Success, and the Myth of Self-Promotion
For every 10 million videos on YouTube, one goes viral. Historian Warren Susman has a theory that we have shifted from a Culture of Character to a Culture of Personality. We live in an environment now where everyone feels they constantly need to perform because they are in some sort of limelight. Whether that limelight be Facebook, Instagram, or whatever social media outlet you pick, people are becoming entranced in their “profile.”

This section of the book is dedicated to questioning the idea of self-branding and promotion. We are being told now that it is crucial to be seen in a positive light on social media and to sell ourselves to our potential employers, but is this always accurate advice?

Let’s take a look at Neal Pollack, the up and coming author in the early 2000s. Pollack gains a ton of attention with his book, The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature, that he lands a huge publishing deal. He does a ton of interviews and getting a ton of attention, he lands a few more deals. Most of the deals didn’t sell very many books but that didn’t matter because Pollack was creating a buzz. Eventually his head got so big he tried to pitch Alternadad (one of his books that didn’t do so well) as a movie and then even a whole multimedia empire. What happened? The whole thing busted and Pollack was over selling himself and trying to cash in instead of doing what got him there in the first place, writing. Pollack said ”I spent a lot of years trying to turn myself into a brand because they told us self-branding is a way to success” “But that’s not true”(Zweig 2014 p.119).

Zweig goes on to say he is not against self-promotion or branding, but the over promotion and constant need to create hype or buzz that our culture tells us to do. Don’t let self-promotion get in the way of creating substance.

Mastery of Craft in Service to a “Front Man”
Remember the name Plank I mentioned at the beginning? His actual name is Pete Clements and for the past 20 years he has been the guitar tech along with many other things for the globally known band Radiohead. Zweig follows Plank through a typical workday when they on tour. Plank is not only the guitar tech but maintains and manages all of the band equipment on and off tour, designs the cases for the guitar, conducts the set ups and break downs, and ultimately holds the most responsibility out of several dozen respected touring employees. Plank is the only salaried year-round off tour employee who assist the band in the studio, doing administrative work as well as maintain the storage of equipment, yet listening to Zweig describe his demeanor you wouldn’t think so. He doesn’t act as so bi shot yelling orders around to local crews and people under him, often he actively takes part in the entire process from setting up to breaking down and in the middle he’s changing out the guitars and settings for Thom Yorke, the bands front man.

Plank embodies every trait described in this book that relates to Invisibles. He is meticulous, ambivalent to recognition, and savors responsibility. Plank is humble and collaborates extremely well with everyone around. He has been with a globally known band for 20 years yet no one knows his name. Plank likes to melt into the background with the crew and fans. Zweig asked him how he thought the crew viewed him obviously knowing his privileged position; his reply was “ I hadn’t thought about that, really”(Zweig 2014 p. 169). That is someone who works solely for satisfaction after knowing he did everything he could to make the concert run smoothly.

It’s hard to navigate in today’s world through constant distraction. Some people tell you to “SELF-PROMOTE!” that’s the way to success. Other people say find something that will make you rich, or famous. Invisibles has given us another a whole other concept to think about. That concept is doing the work because we enjoy it. It doesn’t matter if anyone knows you did or if they ever actually see it, what matters is at the end of the day did you go home satisfied and fulfilled with your work? Did you get into the flow state? Were you the real reason someone was able to entertain millions? Did you create a fragrance for the scent itself?

At the end of the day we, as a society, need to stop a see what direction majority of us are going in. Sure its ok to dream about being a huge actor, athlete, or business man, but its also ok to dream of being a nuclear physicist who studies and creates theories all day.

This book is great for everyone and anyone looking to find satisfaction in their life and career. Managers and employees can take away valuable lessons from what Zweig has to offer in Invisibles: The Power of Anonymous Work in the Age of Relentless Self-Promotion.

Biography of the writer

David Zweig
David Zweig is a writer, lecturer and musician based in New York. His latest book, Invisibles, is about the power of embracing anonymous work in a culture obsessed with praise and recognition.
He has released two critically acclaimed albums, All Now With Wings and Keep Going. Both albums charted on college radio playlists and garnered accolades for Zweig, with the press calling him a "symphonic pop prodigy."

Zweig's debut novel, Swimming Inside The Sun, a modernist bildungsroman about identity and self-consciousness, was released fall 2009. It quickly gained notice with a rave review from Kirkus calling it a "terrific debut from a talented writer."

Zweig has been invited to lecture at universities, academic conferences, and corporations around the U.S. and the world. As a freelance journalist, his pieces have appeared in a variety of publications, including The Atlantic, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal.

you can buy his book here

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