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A Message To Garcia

I have described before our daily morning meetings at the studios at Ripponlea with ABV2 (click here for the article). The committee consisted of heads of films departments with Chairman John Cameron, Studio Manager, in charge.

On this day, the panel consisted of Kip Porteous, Head of Film, Les Hendy, Chief cameraman, Ewart Wade, Librarian, a Graphics Artist whose name I have forgotten and myself.

The conversation got round to discussing “getting things done” and the difficulty of getting people to do what they were asked.

I brought up the subject of “A Message to Garcia”, which came to the notice of the public during the Spanish-American War at the end of the 19th century.  This was in the form of an essay written in 1899 by Elbert Hubbard (pictured above)who was the editor of the Philistine magazine.

In short, William McKinley, the President of the U.S. wanted to contact the leader of the insurgents in Cuba.

He enquired as to who would be the best man to deliver a letter.  He was advised that it would be Captain Andrew Rowan.

Cover of "A Message to Garcia"

Cover of A Message to Garcia

Rowan was sent for and he appeared before the President.  The President gave him the letter and told Rowan to deliver it to Garcia in Cuba.  Apparently Rowan said nothing but turned and left with the letter.  He got into Spanish controlled Cuba via Jamaica and eventually found Garcia in the mountains.  Garcia was only too willing to co-operate with the Americans in the war with the Spanish.

What caught the attention of Elbert Hubbard was the fact that Rowan took the letter and without saying anything, went off and found Garcia.

I gave our meeting a shorter version of this story and I said that I did not think much had changed in the previous sixty years.   I thought that if anyone was asked to do something, there would always be a qualifying question.  Hubbard’s list of such questions are probably exaggerated, but here they are:

An extract from Hubberd’s essay:

Summon any one and make this request: “Please look in the encyclopaedia and make a brief memorandum for me concerning the life of Correggio”.

Will the clerk quietly say, “Yes, sir,” and go do the task?

On your life, he will not. He will look at you out of a fishy eye and ask one or more of the following questions:

Who was he?

Which encyclopaedia?

Where is the encyclopaedia?

Was I hired for that?

Don’t you mean Bismarck?

What’s the matter with Charlie doing it?

Is he dead?

Is there any hurry?

Shan’t I bring you the book and let you look it up yourself?

What do you want to know for?

And I will lay you ten to one that after you have answered the questions, and explained how to find the information, and why you want it, the clerk will go off and get one of the other clerks to help him try to find Correggio – and then come back and tell you there is no such man. Of course I may lose my bet, but according to the Law of Average, I will not.

A lively discussion ensued at Ripponlea.  Ewart Wade said that he would have no trouble with his staff.  I said, “Do you want to try it ?“.  He agreed and said “What do you want me to ask them ?”  I said, “It has to be something that cannot be disputed”, “Why don’t you ask someone to pick up a manila folder and bring it round to this office”.  He agreed and then phoned his office.

He said, “Would you bring me a manila folder, I am in John Cameron’s office”.

There was a pause and Ewart said “Don’t bother”.  Apparently the young lady at the other end said to him “Do you want it straight away ?”.

We are now in the twenty-first century, I wonder what would happen now if the exercise was repeated somewhere.

© Terence Gallacher and terencegallacher.com, 2012.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Terence Gallacher and terencegallacher.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

For other articles about the ABC click here.

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