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October 8, 2019

1 Dinner Pic. 11 Emotions.

You find all sorts of things when you pack up an office. Like a photobook from a company I once worked for. It was printed to memorialize the company’s leadership team as our company was in the closing phase of acquisition. Half a dozen years is a long time in tech, and it adds up to lots of memories.

As I flipped through the pages, I saw photo after photo of people at dinners, events, and outings. There were memorable emails, a really funny top ten list (most of them were mine), quotes from executives…. And each meant something valuable to me.

But what would they mean to you?

To you, who weren’t there at the events, dinners, and outings? You, who don’t know the people, or the challenges or drama or anxieties or fears or joys that were roiling as a photo was snapped?

Communications can invoke powerful feelings. And trivialize them.

The picture above was taken from the photobook; it pictures a group of company leaders at a dinner offsite. It was at some cool destination city, and the restaurant looks fairly posh. It appears the group has just been seated and begun the first of what would certainly become several bottles of wine.

You can interpret a photograph in so many ways with such divergent feelings. For example…
  • Envy. I want to be an executive. To live the good life. Fancy dinners. Travel. It must be great!
  • Fondness. That was such an awesome trip. The prank our CEO pulled with the hair gel was brilliant.
  • Disgust. Look at those fat cats. They’re milking the cream, living off the sweat and tears of working slobs like me.
  • Inspiration. What a great leader she is. Every day at the office was about learning and achieving – things I never knew I could do. Great times.
  • Disdain. Jeepers, there’s so and so. What a bonehead. Always a stick up his backside and never a clue.
  • Contentment. I remember that dinner. At that point, we knew the job was done. We all had a great time just relaxing and blowing off steam.
  • Regret. If I have to go to one more of those blasted dinners, I swear I’ll explode. Rich food and travel anxiety are terrible companions.
  • Contempt. That was the worst leadership team I’ve ever been shackled to. What a bunch of self-serving, whining, no-good pricks. Glad I’m out of there.
  • Sentiment. Such good times. I really enjoyed working there. And he was such a great leader, too. Sigh. Good times indeed.
  • Joy. Oh, I’d forgotten all about that dinner! How could I? Man, that team really knew how to party. We were out ‘til 2.00 am.? Later?
  • Sadness. It's over. We weren't a perfect company, but we had some great people. I'm sorry to see it all go.
Which is the “right” emotion? All of them? None of them? Everyone’s experience is a different window into scenes that share the same realities. Every interpretation is valid in at least one sense — although many have more to say about the interpreter than the moment in time.

Now, imagine that this photo is a marketing message and you're the marketer. What do you want your audience to feel? What message should they take on board?

Our company’s leaders work brilliantly together and invest in building great, productive relationships!

That’s a nice message. Although of my 11 responses, none of them quite nail it.
Messages are symbols that allow us to convey complex truth in a simple, digestible way. I know the people at that table. I know how hard they worked together. I understood something of the sharp clashes and differences between that made their jobs so difficult. They were plagued by concerns over a product that needed more when time was running short. It was a challenging time. They were exhausted and were holding themselves together with baling wire. Yet — they did it. And we racked up a successful acquisition.

A simple photo. A complex moment.

The real story is the one the photo evokes. It's the one inside me.

I'm packing up my office because my long-suffering wife and I are moving to another, smaller home. It's a mundane yet disrupting event in our lives. And our feelings about it are mixed, and changing every day as we consider all that it means to us, friends, neighbors, family....

I'm a writer of some skill. But I don't have the words to convey accurately to you how I feel at this moment. Instead, I'll share this: another memento from my office.

A vintage Ronco Veg-o-matic

Well, it's my story, not yours. A story that hearkens back to my first corporate job as a sales promotional copywriter. Perhaps it's worth telling some day.

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