The Five Stages of Brief
The Five Stages of Grief is a model by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross which describes the grieving process as a set of five stages. Although it has been criticized for its linearity I think it at least helps add structure to a phenomenon so amorphous and sad.
Equally sad, if not sadder, is the abuse folks in the service industry have to put up with. No, I’m not talking of a guy wearing a headset getting yelled at by a redneck from Wazoo, AL at 3 in the morning (Indian Standard Time). I mean those of us who have to suffer briefs. No, I’m not talking of whoever or whatever has to wash your undies. I mean those printed, typed, written, scrawled, assumed, sometimes existing notionally, communiques from amped-up, enthusiastic, well-meaning slave-drivers called “clients”.
To summarize the problem with briefs, I offer you the following sentence:
Briefs, frequently aren’t.
But blogs aren’t for writing summaries, so allow me to propose an adapted Kubler-Ross-San model called Five Stages of Brief. It describes the five stages of a client-servicing flunkey’s reactions during the life cycle of a brief-driven project.
Described in the original model as a temporary defense, it is the first reaction when summoned to an office or a conference-call for a “new project”. At the first mention of brief, even experienced professionals react thus “No, this time it will be great. Why not?” That thought can then be appended by one or more of the following
<Client> is fantastic!/My relationship with <Client> has evolved/We have developed better mutual understanding/<Client> trusts me, of course
and end with “No, this project won’t be like the other scope-creepfests that started as a wall lizard and became Godzilla, devouring my personal time and shaking the edifices of my confidence.”
Feelings of rage displace the initial feelings of denial, says Kubler-Ross (or the wiki, to be more accurate).
As the brief undergoes its first 2-3 alterations, usually halfway through a particularly tedious set of datapulls or hideous powerpoint slides with 15,347 graphical objects on them, all to be laid out exactly corresponding to specifications finely tuned according to the phases of the moon, the NASDAQ closing from three days ago or the number of times the guy across the client’s street said “Howdy”.
“WHY DOES THIS HAPPEN TO ME? There are less talented people out there lounging away, depleting oxygen. Why can’t they get stuck with this shit?”
Straightforward. You call the client and bargain for your life. Talks break down faster than India and Pakistan’s foreign ministers can throw a dossier at each other. No quarter shall be given. Some clients understand the frustration and challenges but find it really inconvenient, nay, superhuman to give a fuck. And since you made the mistake of calling them anyway, why shouldn’t the lion bite down on a tasty morsel if the thing practically walked up to it, opened its jaws with a crowbar and thrust itself inside?
MOARRRR CHANGES TO BRIFF!
The baby’s wailing, the wife’s staring daggers. Food has been served in a cold, metallic bowl on the pantry floor. Conversation is being ignored, snide remarks screech silently through the air like a game of Angry Birds on mute. In the middle of this barrage sits a helpless, pathetic human being, cowering in front of his laptop, attempting to make sense of the newest version of the brief – by now as lumpy, hideous and convoluted as a Michael Bay sequel. One feels like Amol Palekar, trapped between lower middle-class circumstances, a decidedly uncool bush-shirt and the unglamorous trappings of Eastmancolor rendering everything a pale yellow. That is depression. A weight that descends heavy and fast, like Bappi Lahiri finally locating a couple of chairs for himself.
By now the brief is so unrecognizable that if it casually strolled into its mother’s house she wouldn’t be able to recognize it till it tore away its bush-shirt and displayed a religious tattoo to the accompaniment of wildly swinging temple bells in the distance, an effusive and happy flute solo, lots of jangling sitars and a woman staring agog with tears in her eyes.
But you’re in too deep to give a fuck about consequences anymore. It’s like eating biryani from a common plate. When you started eating you worry about getting the most flavorful pieces of meat, but with all those hands massacring any sense of order in the preparation you put your right hand in you put your right hand out you put your right hand in and shakeitallabout and do the boogie woogie and turn yourself around and THAT’S WHAT IT’S ALL ABOUT!
On the appointed day (i.e. any day n+1 days after the original deadline) you submit the finished product. I use finished here more in the “lifeless” sense of the word. A few interminable hours pass as you wait for the call. Your adrenal glands are shot, your liquor cabinet is empty. It’s 3 in the morning and the client’s big presentation is tomorrow. The phone rings and there’s a terse bark at the other end, the briefest of greetings.
Then the rain rain rain came down down down in rushing, rising rivulets.
It’s late and this phone is burning my ears. Anyone got a headset?