I wanted to read this book because I think, the subject phenomenon it covers describes exactly the state of affairs that event professionals are in.
Invisibles is a book that talks about professionals of behind-the-scenes crafts. It delves into the work of elite individuals like Radiohead’s guitar technician, P. Diddy’s perfumer, the United Nations’ English-to-French interpreter, and others whose job functions are described by author David Zweig as an “invisible”. For these people, the better they do their job, the more invisible their roles become.
It’s interesting because in thinking of it, any or at least most jobs in the world can effectively function as either an invisible or a glamorous ordeal. At least in theory, most of the connections we make in a consumerist society is towards a brand or a product. Why is it that founders of tech companies, for example, are seen as the glamorous pioneers of the future, whereas those working in these so called “invisible” fields get no acknowledgement nor even recognition from society?
The argument presented in the book is that there is a certain fundamental philosophy that attracts certain people to certain kinds of jobs. Philosophy, personality, set of values in life, whatever you wanna call it. Certain people shy away from the spotlight, and they choose certain jobs that enable them to contribute meaningfully to the world while remaining in the shadows where they are most comfortable. As this argument goes, the reward is in the process towards a job well done, in the pursuit of perfection at an art, rather than some extrinsic recognition.
And all that is fine I guess. There certainly is much to be said about the dignity there is in being able to do something well, and being the only one who knows it. My only counter to that though — and this applies perhaps on a case by case basis but in my mind certainly does for the Events Industry — is whether attention and seeking to not be invisible should be pursued if it actually means being able to do your job even better.
Most of the things we call “work” in today’s world comes down to our ability to influence the world around us. Nobody’s inventing water. Everything humanly invented, whether products or services or brands or services or philosophies or anything at all that has proven to benefit the world, has to rely on other human beings to buy into it. A $180 million painting can be worth nothing if people didn’t buy into what it represents. We need to be able to influence others into seeing the world our way if we are to create any value to them. It’s like hypnosis: it doesn’t work if the subject doesn’t play along.
Back to invisible work. My only objection if I were to have but one, is what if being invisible was hindering the world’s ability to appreciate the kind of work you do, and what if that lack of appreciation hinders your work from achieving the full potential? As a humanity, there are unfortunately only a few role models each of us know as individuals, or only a few formats of things we can relate to that can inspire us, and most are media or entertainment related. What if to embody invisibility is in fact as detrimental to your craft as it is to embody a sensationally shallow image, only on the other extreme end of the same spectrum?
I don’t know if every job in the world can benefit from being more visible than it already is. But right now, seeing the world through the lens of Event Management, I would say the events industry certainly would be one that will benefit. Like most experiences in life, you can really only make the most of it if you go in with the right kind of mindset, and in most cases, that mindset is one that can be learned and communicated. Ever appreciate a movie more after you’ve seen the hour-long behind the scenes? Or appreciate a song more after you’ve learned and pondered the lyrics? Attendees at events can gain a lot more from the experience if their mindset isn’t just to go for the free food and open bar. It’s not a matter of a misunderstood individual event, it’s a matter of the paradoxical invisibility of this entire format of experience called an event that I believe prevents our field from reaching its full potential in the world. Like I said earlier, if the world’s mindset toward paintings was only that they’re things used to decorate walls, then you can bet that the world wouldn’t be paying the millions of dollars they do for these things.
I don’t know all the answers, but I do have some ideas of the problems.
See you at the next exploration!