Thursday, September 17, 2009

The plumber theory

Before a meeting the other day, I was discussing with my client's intern the amount of changes he'd had to make to a piece he was asked to copy edit. We were joking that the person who wrote the piece (notice I didn't say "writer") must live by the credo "why say in one word what you can say in 20" when another colleague wandered over.

He was smirking as he sat down at the conference table. "Your conversation reminded me of something I call 'the plumber theory'," he said. When we asked him what that meant, he explained it like this:
"The first thing any plumber does upon entering your house is badmouth the work of the previous plumber. This same thing can be applied to all professions--you'll probably never hear somebody say, 'Wow, the guy who did this before me really knew what he was doing!'"
I know I'm guilty of this . . . how 'bout you?


Jennifer Shirk said...

Ya know, that's so true! And I'm a little guilty of that, too.

Angie Ledbetter said...

Wow, what a great story to use to remind ourselves not to bad mouth. Thanks for sharing.

Dean at Pro Copy Tips said...

Guilty as charged. But I only do it when it's true.

I've found that in my line of work (freelance business copywriting), that I can score points by mentioning what's good about a piece I'm asked to redo ... especially if the client or someone else at the business wrote it!

Amie said...

I guess I should point out that I try to keep my criticisms to myself unless I know I can speak freely.

Dean, business copy is my bread and butter too--it's definitely important to know who did the work before you decide to "constructively criticize" it!!

lwidmer said...

Ouch! That's painful!

I know I've been sucked into those same discussions, but I try like hell not to go there. I had taken a business course once and the instructor said if we learned nothing else, we should go away from that class understanding that our reputation was the key to our success. He taught us how to respond when someone was trashing another professional (and when someone was trashing us). Always deflect. Always find an alternative "Well, he's an okay guy. I'm sure it's simply a matter of personalities not matching", etc.

But damn, that's tough to do. I had to in one case where a guy who did work for me (and never invoiced me) came back a year later bitching about what a, well, bitch I was because I never paid him. Sadly, the dude was supposed to bill a business group that had hired him to do work for us workshop attendees. He made himself look like a complete idiot, but I never told him so. I simply lost his contact info and refused to pass his name to those asking for a good designer. He was good, but he was a lousy business person and a reactionist.

Building Materials Supplies said...

The plumber theory

Thanks for sharing