“I can make glass tubes”

One of my favorite television writers is Aaron Sorkin (more famous for creating The West Wing), who created the short-lived Sports Night, where William H. Macy guest-starred as an expert consultant brought in by executive management.

In a “strategy session” scene, where executives are dictating mandatory changes, Macy's character calls for a break, allowing the frustrated team to leave the room before losing their composure.  He then asks executive management to take a walk with him. 

Unbeknownst to them as it is happening, while he proceeds to escort them out of the building, he recites the following:

“You guys know who Philo Farnsworth was?

He invented television.  I don't mean he invented television like Uncle Milty [Milton Berle]. 

I mean he invented the television in a little house in Provo, Utah, at a time when the idea of transmitting moving pictures through the air would be like me saying I figured out a way to beam us aboard the Starship Enterprise.

He was a visionary.  He died broke and without fanfare. 

The guy I really like though was his brother-in-law, Cliff Gardner. 

He said, ‘Philo, I know everyone thinks you're crazy, but I want to be a part of this.  I don't have your head for science, so I'm not going to be able to help much with the design and mechanics of the invention, but it sounds like you're going to need glass tubes.’

You see, Philo was inventing the Cathode Ray Tube [CRT], and even though Cliff didn't know what that meant or how it worked, he'd seen Philo's drawing, and he knew that he was going to need glass tubes.  And since television hadn't been invented yet, it's not like you could get them at the local TV repair shop.

‘I want to be a part of this,’ Cliff said. ‘I don't have your head for science.  How would it be if I were to teach myself to be a glass blower?  And I could set up a little shop in the backyard.  And I could make all the tubes you'll need for testing.’

There ought to be Congressional Medals for people like that.

[At this point, and quite understandably, executive management was very confused.]

I've looked over the notes you've been giving over the last year or so, and I have to say they exhibit an almost total lack of understanding of how to get the best from talented people.

You said before that for whatever reason, I seem to be able to exert some authority around here.

I assure you it's not because they like me.  It's because they knew two minutes after I walked in the door, I'm someone who knows how to do something.

I can help.

I can make glass tubes.

That's what they need.”

What's my point?

Sometimes—and with the very best of intentions—when we try to help others, we have a tendency to try to get them to change everything they are currently doing.  More specifically, we try to get them to do things our way.

After all, our way works great for us, surely it will work just as well for them, right?


Judy Garland once said, “Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of someone else.”

So, if you want to help others be a first-rate version of themselves, then follow Cliff Gardner's lead. 

Take a good look at the situation, realize the person you are trying to help is full of potential, and probably just needs a little help with something very minor.

Listen carefully to the person you want to help—and then—kindly let them know:

I can make glass tubes.”

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