Look Busy

He was brilliant, energetic and imaginative and his career floundered because he lacked an essential skill. He lacked the capacity to look busy.

Invisibly in his own way, he worked hard and honed his raw talent into something that looked positively graceful—apparently easy. He was like Willie Mays except that Mays was a showman who displayed his talent with gusto. Mays purposely made things that were easy for him look hard. He wore a cap too large for him so that the cap would dramatically fly off his head as he launched himself into a diving catch.

Henry would drop his brilliant Nobel quality report on your desk and slink away. He was a junior creator and doomed to remain so in this company or any other company despite his towering talent.

It’s not that nobody saw Henry work. It’s just that when he worked he never looked like he was working. He’d whistle, stare into space, play solitaire or read a book at his desk, often a comic book. Then, he’d type for ten or fifteen minutes, send the document to the printer, stick a staple through it and toss it onto the boss’s desk. Another work of genius. Yawn.

Until yesterday. Yesterday, Henry was late for work. He was more than late. He never showed up. And for the first time, we missed him. We never realized what we’d had until that moment. The client was on the phone, nagging me (I’m Henry’s boss, a real horse’s ass), impatiently demanding that creative work.

The creative director looked busy, too busy to talk with the client. So did the head copywriter and the art director. At that desperate moment, the client laughed and thanked me. I held the phone, silently. Mystified.

I glanced out the window. Henry was in a colorful balloon, with the astounding new ad that nobody had yet seen, dangling from the basket. We cheered! The next moment, Henry smiled, waved, flipped the bird and jumped.