Discovery, Egyptology, and Television

One of the things I don’t like about the History Channel is the way in which they ham up ever historical figure.  They promise hidden secrets, sordid affairs, all the juicy, gossipy details that are supposed to make history more lively.  Of course, they are treading a thin line between entertainment and fact-giving, and I understand that’s a hard line to tread, especially if you want your show to be approachable by the average person.  Discovery does a better job.  Sure, they have their own hammy miniseries, complete with heavy-handed questioning (who were these elusive peoples?  and why did they vanish?). But they also have  great shows like Mythbusters,  in which urban myths are tested in a semi-scientific way, and Cash Cab, in which people on the streets of New York get a free cab ride and the chance to win money for answering trivia questions on the way to their destination.  I mean, I would love to ride in the cash cab – it looks so much fun?  And it’s far more likely than me ever getting onto Jeopardy.

But at the same time, there is a more questionable side to the nature of their activities.   Piggybacking on the ever-mysterious, ever-wondrous image of Egypt, Discovery made a deal with the Egyptian Museum.  For exclusive rights to follow the search for Hatshepsut’s tomb, they paid for a new DNA laboratory at the museum.  On one hand, this can be seen as a fair trade – both sides got something of value.  But on the other, I have serious misgivings about funding for scientific research from the media.  We all know scientific data gets manipulated – that’s what research articles about, interpreting and reinterpreting the data.  But I worry about labs such as this one catering to television’s penchant for the dramatic.

This article gives a little more detail and exemplifies what I mean.  If Discovery is already basically showing the mummy in question as Hatshepsut, what happens when the new DNA lab they paid for discovers it’s someone else?  Is the documentary remade?  Does the Museum owe something further to Discovery?  Does it discourage or encourage future investors from television, and how does this influence archaeological research?  Most research is undramatic and small – would TV be interested?  Does it end up poeticized, just as our current image of Egypt is?  I’m not sure, but it does give me pause.

Why my boss will never win ‘Best Boss’.

There are a number of competitions out there that recognize strong leadership in the workplace. I know – I spent a few seconds scrolling through them on Google. The most famous one, the ‘best boss/worst boss’ contest, stresses how your boss is a great motivator, communicator, and leader, and how they make the office more productive and satisfying.  That’s great, as far as it goes.  But it doesn’t go very far.

I did have one interesting related post I hit upon here, having to do with creativity.   The writer in question has done this activity with  variety of types and classes of employees, which I think is something important.  1) In the workplace, people regularly separate and group themselves.  2) Inter-group association, knowledge, and cooperation is not encouraged.

Take my office, for example.  There are two lunch groups – the admin assistants, and the other office workers.  It’s not because anyone looks down on us admins – many just feel more comfortable with their own group, where they can talk casually about daily tasks.   The same thing is true across the office – individuals in one department, such as real estate, don’t know about the daily or even major actions of those in private equity.  How do we create a sense of office unity despite this?  Better yet, how do we enliven progress recognition and achievement if we don’t know what anyone outside of our own small group is doing?

My own current boss is trying to make things more overlapping and to have different groups dabble in each-othe’s work.  Of course this is great as an ideal, though we haven’t worked out what the overlap is going to look like, or who will be responsible for what.  But most importantly for a growing organization, it moves people to start to be aware of the total work environment, hopefully breaking down some of those barriers between work groups.  It will not make him a more productive or a better leader over the short term especially.  Just because of his position people are sometimes afraid to approach him, and striking up major office innovations is not going to change that.  But over the long term, I think it will do something real and good for us as a company.