April 1, 2019 - Robert John Hadfield
Is It Too Much To Ask?
When It's Not Okay to Make Mistakes
I am a big fan of the band KISS. Not only do I love their music, but I am fascinated by their story, their innovative approach to the music business and their personalities. Gene Simmons, the bass player and one of the founding members (the guy with the long tongue who spits blood), is particularly fascinating to me.
Gene Simmons promotes himself as a marketing and business expert, and it’s tough to argue with him. Not only is he a founding member of one of the most iconic rock bands in history, Gene has tried his hand in many different business ventures. He started his own magazine, bought an arena football team, started a restaurant chain and began his own record label among other things. And KISS itself continues to be a money making monster. Not just the band, but the brand. KISS has over 5,000 licensed products. Everything from Hello Kitty apparel to KISS Coffins (No joke, people have actually been buried in them).
I have followed Gene’s career for decades and have listened to his personal and business philosophies throughout my adulthood. I can’t say that I agree with everything he says (or does), but I tend to respect and admire many things about him.
Which is why I was excited to finally read his book, “Me, Inc.”
The book clocks in at under 200 pages, but it actually seems even shorter. It's organized and written to be a fast read. And it's bound in faux leather giving it the feeling of the bible (which was probably no accident), including the small cloth bookmark attached to the binding.
I actually tend to respect authors of shorter books. Most non-fiction books I have read in my life are at least twice as long as they need to be. I respect someone who can get in, be pithy, and get out. A great writer has the skill to get their point across quickly, and the discipline to remove the baggage that gets in the way of the important points. Yes, that baggage is often important stuff, but when it dilutes the focal content, the detriment arguably outweighs the importance.
Many authors, especially people who write scholarly works, seem to think that bloviating makes them appear more intelligent. They fill their books with painful run-on sentences and obscure words that they shoehorn in where more common words would work. In my opinion, this is almost always an example of the emperor’s new clothes. Most people don’t dare tell someone that their writing is terrible. I think it's often because they fear looking like a fool in front of a perceived intelligentsia. Readers are intimidated and assume that the author must know something they don’t. And of course the naïve reptilian part of our brain is automatically impressed by books with heft; even though it means absolutely nothing.
But sadly, in this case, I want to make a point that goes to the other extreme.
Gene promoted the book as a tool to help you find success in life and business. The book is divided into two parts, the first part is about Gene and the things that drove him to success, and the second part is how those things apply to the reader.
When the Amazon package arrived I was excited to get started.
I opened “Me, Inc.” and began tearing through it. The first couple of chapters were short, pithy, and fun. Of course my fascination with Gene Simmons increased the entertainment value for me personally, but he really did have some important things to say. And then I got to chapter 3 and read the following paragraphs about his humble beginnings, his amazing mother and her work ethic. (I added the emphasis so you can see the issue easily).
My mother worked six days a week in a sweatshop. No minimum wage. It was the only job available to her in New York with her skill level. She would lift a winter coat off a hanger, carry it to her Singer sewing machine, sew six to eight bottoms on that coat, hang the coat back on the hanger, and move it to another section. Then she would repeat that process over and over again.
At first I thought, what? That doesn’t make any sense. Six to eight bottoms?
So I read on:
She made half a penny per button. So, if my sweet mother took down a coat, sewed six buttons on and then hung it up again, she would make a grand total of three cents per coat.
I read both paragraphs a couple of times again actually hoping I was missing something. I didn’t want it to be a mistake. But it was just too obvious. The word "bottoms" in the first paragraph was supposed to be "buttons."
It was one of those cases where neither spell check nor grammar check would have caught it, only a proofreader could. It's possible the original writer typed "bottons" or "buttoms" and it was auto-corrected to "bottoms." And then no one caught it. And if you didn't know anything about sewing, you might even think the word "bottoms" was just a term for a sewing process you didn't understand.
Whatever the case, it was a blatant error that should have never made it to print.
I read a lot of blogs, articles, and even online training courses. Periodically I see misspellings, missing spaces, incorrect punctuation, etc. and although it bothers me a bit, I tend to let it slide. In this information age I think we as a society have become more and more forgiving of those mistakes. I know I have. Our lives are expressed in the written word more than perhaps any time in history. We text, email, post, tweet, IM, etc. so we are bound to make errors every day.
When I first meet someone and we text each other, I tend to get really picky about those mistakes. I might misspell a word, miss some punctuation, or even carelessly make one of the unforgivable errors – use the wrong “there,” the wrong "to," or use “its” in place of “it’s.” If I do I panic! I try to convince myself, "the person I'm texting knows that I know the difference so just let it go." But I usually can't. So I quickly text my correction so they know that I know it was wrong. :)
For some reason, obvious mistakes in writing make the content seem less serious to me. The credibility of the content takes a hit.
I spent a few years helping develop on-line training for an international communication company. Although I was never tasked to do it, I spent a lot of time going through courses during development checking for grammar errors, misspellings, punctuation. Even today I sometimes go back and re-read one of my hastily-written blogs from a year ago and find mistakes. When I do it's embarrassing. But in our world of electronic media, the consequences of mistakes are pretty low; the edit button is always available. I make the change, upload it and no one after that will ever know.
We all write so much everyday that each of us feels the pain on some level, so we tend to be a little more forgiving.
But print is different.
About two decades ago I worked for an organization that put out a small quarterly print publication. Although I didn’t write the articles, I was responsible for the layout of the publication. I spent many hours sitting at the printing office pouring over the proofs reading each article one last time just to make sure we didn’t miss anything.
Every time we put out a new publication I was nervous. The permanency of print was frightening! Giving the final sign off on the publication each quarter was one of the toughest things I did. I remained nervous from that moment until about a week after it was printed and mailed out. At that point I figured if there had been a mistake someone would have found it. So I could finally sleep.
With all this in mind it was interesting to notice my response to the Gene Simmons book. I love reading about him, I enjoy his philosophy and his stories. But when I found this mistake, I finished the section, put the book down and didn't pick it up again. That was at least four months ago.
The insights in the book are still valid, the stories are interesting, the ideas I read were credible, but it turned me off so much I didn’t want to read it anymore.
I think there are a few important principles that led to my reaction.
- We expect more from people who can give more. There is no reason why a powerful, wealthy, social icon like Gene Simmons would have an obvious mistake like that in a book he created for wide publication.
- We tend to be less forgiving of people who make mistakes that we ourselves have overcome. The publication I worked on twenty years ago had a comparatively small audience of a few thousand people, but I poured over it tirelessly to make sure it was correct. I spent enormous energy making sure mistakes never made it into a publication. Yes it’s hard, but I did it. And I expect others who are capable to do the same.
- We tend to think that “experts” have some special power or knowledge that we don’t, so we are afraid to question them. I have to believe that someone proof read Gene’s book. It isn’t his first book after all; he must have some sort of process. Someone MUST have seen this mistake. But if the proof-reader felt intimidated by this super-successful businessman, they could have thought, “he obviously knows what he’s talking about, he’s the icon, it’s his life story, maybe I just don’t understand,” and just moved on.
- People tend to get careless and even lazy when the stakes are lowered. Gene has already made his fortune many times over, so if this book doesn’t go anywhere, it really doesn’t matter. But I imagine if he was a small-time writer and this book was his one chance to make it into the big time, he probably would have read it dozens of times. His level of care would have never allowed such a mistake.
- In a very short book like this, there is really no excuse for a mistake of this kind no matter who you are.
I may yet pick the book back up and finish it; I was enjoying it when I stopped. But even my fascination with Gene couldn’t overcome how turned off I was by the glaring sloppy mistake.
People, especially fans, are very forgiving. But I think we all want people to live up to their abilities. We tend to get turned off when it's obvious they aren't.
This principle applies to our business at Audiomover. We apply that same care to every project we work on in the studio. When we capture and process tapes we are always on the lookout for quality. Sometimes it slows us down a bit, but we are proud of our meticulous process, our attention to detail and the final results we send to clients. We hope you will give us a chance to provide a quality result for you too.