Drawing conclusions

August 1, 2008

Johnson’s World by Steve Johnson

Barbara Carlson and her husband, Bob, sit in near me on Sunday at Southminster Presbyterian Church. Sometimes Barb hits me with her cane to get my attention. During the quietest parts of the service, she has been known to show me pictures of her cat.

“Have you seen my pussycat?” she asks in a somewhat too-loud voice. Her favorite picture is one of her cat in the dishwasher…but I digress. I have never seen any pictures of her children, but I've seen several of the cat.

I didn't know Barb was an artist until one day she presented me with my likeness drawn on a paper napkin.

I showed the napkin to my wife.

“Looks like you need more sleep,” was all she said. Thanks, honey.

Barbara's drawing is a caricature. She could not create subtle shadings and fine lines with a finepoint marker on a paper napkin. Our former pastor wrote her sermons at stoplights on her way to church, so the service was too short for Barb to render a detailed portrait.

A good artist like Barb can produce a caricature in minutes by zooming in on only the essential features of a subject's face. Look again at my drawing. Tired puppydog eyes, scruffy beard…she has captured the basic Steve Johnson look.

Your turn

Have you ever had your caricature drawn by a street artist, or at a fair or amusement park? You might not have been flattered by the results, but I'll bet your friends and family all agreed that the drawing was accurate.

What if Barb showed up on your doorstep to draw a caricature of your establishment? What details would her keen eye hone in on?

I daresay that her two-minute caricature of many print companies would scarcely resemble the promotional brochure, the Yellow Pages ad, or the corporate website.

How about a sketch of papers flying everywhere? Perhaps ink stains on things, or trash bins bulging with waste. Would your presses be pictured as creaking and groaning?

A good caricature would include your people. Imagine how easy it would be to satirize the crabby bindery foreman with the cigarette or toothpick hanging from his mouth, or the haughty sneer of the arrogant receptionist.

How would you like your prospective clients to see a caricature of that pot-bellied sales rep returning after a four-martini lunch? Oops, your prospects and clients do see that grim picture, up close and personal!

The outsider's perspective

I did not realize Barb was sketching me in church. Had I known, I would have sat up a bit straighter. I would have buttoned my suit and made sure my tie was evenly knotted. I might even have combed my hair. I certainly would have assumed a greater air of wisdom and spirituality.

None of my preparations would have mattered, though. Barb the artist was not looking at neckties, or even posture. She zoomed right in on my tired, droopy eyes, and those are hard to disguise.

Do you perform a quick sweep-up before a plant tour or a press check? Do you really think your visiting customers are dazzled by the newly emptied wastebaskets? Mark my words, they spot the same glaring defects that any good caricature artist would pick up.

I recall reading a true story about a man who turned orange from a combination of jaundice and too much carotene, or something. The orange man went to see a new doctor about an unrelated complaint. The doctor was stunned to see a bright orange man, and asked him about his unusual skin color.

“What unusual skin color?” the man asked. He had no idea that he had slowly turned orange over time. When the doctor stepped out to the waiting room to ask the man's wife about his coloring, he received the same response from her. The wife had not noticed her husband's orange color.

So it is with many of us and the seemingly obvious defects in our organizations. Perhaps we truly do not notice the litter in parking lot because we've seen it so often. Maybe we've convinced ourselves that pressmen leering at a miniskirted designer during a press OK is amusing, rather than offensive.

It takes effort and courage to look objectively at that which is familiar, and even more so to look at that which is important.

Now put down this magazine and take a long, hard look at your own organization. Or I'll send Barb over to hit you with her cane.