THE SCROOGE STRATEGY
December 30, 2015 § 2 Comments
Okay, so this one will be different. Not even a passing reference to energy. It is, however, in tune with the Christmas season.
The final performance of the narration of The Christmas Carol was a delight. Staged at St. Mathews Episcopal Church, in Hillsborough, NC, it was the last in a fourteen year series. Stars Allan Gurganus and Michael Malone, authors in their day jobs, pulled off an event far exceeding the expectations raised by the just praise received in the past. The church was packed. Victorian garbed usher Stephen Burke implored for cozier close quarters in the pews to accommodate the last few. The short and sweet carols were just right for the mood setting.
The best line was from Gurganus (Scrooge) when he said “Thank you” to the audience. They were properly appreciative of his funny and obviously extemporaneous line regarding ceasing intercourse with apparitions because of a resolve for abstinence or some such mildly salacious aside. It occurred to me that a Scrooge with a sense of humor may have even more depth to him. Consequently, outlined below is different take on the whole deal.
Being rich was not enough. Scrooge wished to be firmly implanted in the minds of folks for generations. He arrived at a strategy to cultivate an enduring image of miserliness and selfishness. This was hard because he really was a good humored sort as revealed by Mr. Gurganus in a weak moment. He had to suffer privation in diet and living conditions, gruel for dinner, minimal heat and so on. Personally I think he could merely have been mean to others and not to himself. But he was a perfectionist and who am I to judge what clearly worked. Then at the absolutely right time would come a miraculous reversal, exuding generosity and empathy. What a triumph! Brilliant, but needing flawless execution with no leaks to the press.
Performance evaluations the world over are centered on expectations. Typical ones read “meets expectation”, “exceeds expectation” and so on. The brilliance of the Scrooge Strategy, as it ought to aptly be named in the business schools, was to build years of expectation to the point where these were entrenched. These days we call it building a brand. The Coca Cola Company survived the incredibly disastrous New Coke adventure due to the strength of the brand. That would not have been nearly enough had they not brought back the old formula; naming it Classic Coke reminded folks as to why they liked the brand; brilliant ladder out of a deep hole.
The Strategy requires staying power. Ordinarily another member of the family could cause the resolve to waiver. Oftentimes this is the spouse. Scrooge’s strategic plan handled that pretty early on. His sweetheart (wonderful voice of Jane Holding in the reading) accuses him of worshiping the idol of gold and that relationship withers. Had she held on, it would have tarnished the relationship, and the idol for that matter, and quite possibly severely vitiated the grand plan.
The Scrooge Strategy has several key elements. One we have already noted: set up firm expectations. A second is timing. Christmas is a time when his parsimony and lack of good cheer would most be noticeable. This then was the perfect time to strike with a miraculous change of heart. But miracles are hard to come by, unless of course one is a saint or angling to be one. Even those guys are required only to have performed a single one; nobody expects continual production. In any case, a saint he was not, nor did he know any; his carefully developed brand would preclude moving in those circles. He was forced to rely on the occult. The public is inclined to believe in the persuasive powers of apparitions. A deft stroke was to have not one but three, allowing, nay inviting, but not claiming, the three wise men comparison.
The goal of the Strategy was to be memorialized for centuries, to be performed in Hillsborough 175 years later. Simply giving away lots of money will not get that done. Recently Mark Zuckerberg committed to give away 99% of his Facebook derived wealth. A reading in Hillsborough in the year 2290 commemorating the event, not likely. Besides you will note that the Strategy called for the gifting of a (admittedly very large) bird, a handful of banknotes, half a crown to the boy and a pay raise to the accountant that he had guiltily withheld for years in pursuit of the brand. The associated frailty of Tiny Tim had been a severe test, but one has to be resolute, else it falls apart. In these moments of self-doubt he would mutter to himself with a reassuring “It is a far, far better thing that I do”*. A bloke called Charlie Dickens overheard him once and asked if he could use it. “Whatever”, said the momentarily distracted Scrooge. In moments of reflection he sometimes went off script resulting in unintended generosity. Charlie never acknowledged him in his book so the brand remained untarnished by generosity no matter how fleeting.
The Hillsborough reading on December 18, 2015 was billed as the final performance of the amazing troupe. Please, sirs, we want some more*.
*Credits, respectively, to Mr. Sidney Carton (1859) and Master Oliver Twist (1846), as spoken through Mr. Charles Dickens.