The New York Times Magazine pieces, from time to time, fascinate me. I often find in them lessons relevant for rhetoric and writing. Take today’s essay on legendary producer Rick Rubin. Some key points raised in the piece:
- Decision Making: Columbia Records hires Rubin to lead it into a new type of decision making process: focus on the music, not the non-music ways to sell music.
- Management: Key to any enterprise. What are the methods we choose to employ in a given situation, particularly when our group needs to recognize new public demands?
- New Media: The record industry faces the challenge of online music.
These are issues relevant for many kinds of activities, but it isn’t hard to generalize to writing or writing program administration either. The cult of personality model suggested in the essay (Rubin will save Columbia) does not appeal to me, but the wisdom of crowds practice of generalizing from situations (a number of smart, if not directly representational models) does. I’m especially interested in this essay’s specific appeal to being able to recognize one’s position in a time of change. As I wrote a couple posts ago, this is no easy task when long held assumptions manage our decision making process (such as how people want to consume music or how writing should look in a first year course). The analogy is not far fetched. Our mythologies of decision making are tied to one another; they don’t always resemble one another, but their relationships are often recognizable regardless of industry (academics vs. music business).
What do we do in a time of new media? That “do” aspect of the question is troubling a number of decision making processes. No one can claim the answer, but choices are either to address the demand or ignore it.Â The multiple approaches towards the address are fascinating for what each brings to the table (and you can read the piece for Rubin’s answer to how new media will change the music industry’s focus). But more fascinating is the ignore option. It is fascinating for a number of reasons, but notably what intrigues is the conviction model: we don’t want change for change’s sake; it’s worked for us up to now; what is happing is a fad; something will eventually come along and replace what you are proposing, so why bother, and so on. Each position is even more obstinate than the one, like Rubin’s, that says, wake up and see what’s happening. These positions are even more obstinate than calls for attention because they don’t change. The call may be made in error, may propose a temporary fix, may not rectify the situation. But it does realize there is a situation, and that situations demand responses of change (“change” being a word worthy of further unpacking). The negative response – which has been the record and film industries’ positions – is to ignore, or even worse, to cling even more to the outdated model. The implications for entertainment have been financial losses; for pedagogy, well, that is a complex matter that one blog post cannot explain.