“People say I am the best boss.”
The starting premise of The Office is that Michael Scott
is pretty much the worst boss ever.
He’s incompetent, inappropriate, and downright offensive,
with the attention span of a toddler and a feeble grasp on reality.
Yet, shockingly, Michael’s tactics produce consistently strong returns
for the Scranton branch of Dunder Mifflin Paper Company.
“Utica, Albany, all the other branches are struggling...
but your branch is reporting strong numbers.
Look, you're not our most traditional guy,
but clearly something you are doing...is right.”
Michael doesn’t even actually know the secret to his success.
“David, here it is.
Don't ever, for any reason, do anything, to anyone,
for any reason, ever, no matter what...
no matter where...”
So we’re going to try to evaluate Michael’s work performance for him.
What is Michael doing right as a boss,
in spite of everything that appears so wrong about him?
“Sometimes you have to just be the boss of dancing.”
“I think that pretty much sums it up.
I found it at Spencer Gifts.”
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“If a baby were president, there would be no taxes,
there would be no war.
There would be no... government, and... things could get terrible.”
Being a boss is peak adulting - you’re basically parenting
a bunch of other adults.
But The Office shows us what happens if your boss is an overgrown kid.
“Babies are drawn to me, and I think it’s because they see me
as one of them.”
There are three things especially that align Michael with a kid:
1) his love of play and creativity,
2) his total lack of impulse control,
and 3) his urgent desire for love and approval.
A lot of office time gets taken up by Michael’s childlike need for play.
“Sittin’ in my office with a plate of grilled bacon.
Call my man Dwight just to see what was shakin’.”
For him, every meeting is a performance, and he wants it to be
a life-changing experience for his audience.
“People expect a lot from these meetings.
Laughter, sudden twists, surprise endings.”
Michael also has unconscious creativity in his use of language,
much like a kid does.
“I’m not superstitious.
But I’m, I’m… just a little stitious.”
“Tell him to call me ASAP as possible.”
“Occasionally I’ll hit somebody with my car.
So sue me.”
And Michael’s use of language becomes a mirror of him as a person --
everything he says is wrong, yet something strangely
right and delightful emerges from the creativity of his error.
“It just seems awfully mean.
But sometimes, the ends justify the mean.”
The common perception around The Office is that Michael’s playful antics
are a massive waste of time.
Holly later discusses the corporate term for this kind of behavior
“It’s called time theft, and it’s the same as taking money
from the company.”
but the show implies that the release we get from playing and goofing around,
taking breaks from the drudgery, may actually be good for
our focus and productivity.
We’ve all been to boring meetings that might benefit from a little
Michael Scott pizzazz.
His emphasis on creativity represents an important realignment of values
in the workplace.
“The fundamentals of business.
Because you’re mental if you don’t have a good time.”
As much as the employees love to complain about Michael
“Michael, you are the reason I drink.”
“What I hate about you, you really suck as a boss.”
the two times he actually leaves, the office is suddenly
a less warm and happy place.
“Michael’s like the movie on a plane.
It’s not great, but it’s something to watch.
And when it’s over you’re like, how much time is left on this flight?”
Toby’s words capture what is so special about Michael’s presence --
he creates an open, fun atmosphere that understands the magic power
of giving play a role in the workplace.
The workplace demands that we control
our emotions and instincts.
But the child Michael has an almost pathological lack of impulse control.
“Come on, guys, get out of here.”
WHERE ARE THE TURTLES?!
WHERE ARE THEY?”
His totally unfiltered, uninhibited nature
“Sometimes I’ll start a sentence and I don’t even know where it’s going.”
means his team frequently has to babysit him.
“Yeah, and when Michael gets a broken heart,
this whole place comes to a halt.
So we’re just trying to get out in front of this.”
You want some ice cream?”
But this responsibility to look after the boss
can bring out the best in the Scranton employees.
“You know what, why don’t you guys deal with it?
But you need to decide, otherwise I’m taking the bonus.”
Because everyone sees him as an incompetent, impulsive child,
they rise to the occasion to fill the absence
where their manager should be, and do their best work.
All of the other bosses who come into Michael’s seat
seem to be a lot smarter, more logical and more professional,
but as managers they mainly get in the way of employees
doing their jobs well.
“Until we get a new receptionist, I want Kevin on the phones.”
“Also, there’s been way too much wasting time.
So Stanley, I want you on top of that.
I want you to be my productivity tsar.
The Office actually implies numerous times that the ideal boss would be no boss at all.
“Why don’t we just leave that position vacant?
Truth be told, I think I thrive under a lack of accountability.”
Actually, apart from under Michael’s leadership,
another period of stellar performance for the branch
is the 3 months when Andy abandons his post as manager
for the Bahamas.
“The branch exceeded its targets in the past quarter.”
“A quarter’s three months.
That’s how long you’ve been gone.”
Michael is the next best thing to no boss at all.
His lack of directed, adult-like management creates a sort of vacuum or absence
that lets people get on with their work.
At least, no one’s actively micromanaging them
to make their business worse --
which is exactly what Andy does the moment he returns from the Bahamas.
“It appears my employee offered you a price that he was not authorized to.”
“There is an option in the contract that allows me to back out
within thirty days of signing, so…
I would like to exercise that option.”
Michael’s desperation to be loved is something of a fatal flaw.
“Would I rather be feared or loved?
I want them to fear how much they love me.”
But underneath that is a deep desire to turn his coworkers into his friends,
“I’m a friend first and a boss second… and probably an entertainer third.”
We’re taught that being professional means having boundaries with coworkers.
Over time, though, we start to wonder if viewing his coworkers as family
is another “wrong” thing he’s actually doing right as a boss.
Michael’s love for his employees is a refreshing change from
the corporate bottom line.
“Let's see Josh replace these people.
You think Stanleys grow on trees?
Well, they don’t.
You think the world is crawling with Phyllises, and Kevins?”
Most corporations probably wouldn’t see such value
in a Phyllis or a Stanley or a Kevin…
Dwight almost definitely
would have been fired numerous times under any other boss.
“We have cause to fire you.”
“Can you shove it down?
Instead… shove down, please.
Instead, what I think we should do
is strip you of your title as safety officer.”
And as much as his employees look dubiously on his sentimentality,
Michael turns them into a tight-knit family over time.
“I feel like all my kids grew up, and then they married each other.
It's every parent's dream.”
Rather than spending all this time with our coworkers being slaves
to professional barriers, why not follow Michael Scott’s example
of treating the people you work with like a family?
Not just seeing their productivity and results,
but valuing Phyllis simply for being Phyllis.
“Make friends first, make sales second,
make love third, in no particular order.”
“Oscar Martinez, my accountant, is now godfather to my son.
Angela Schrute, my former accountant, is now my wife.
My top salesman Jim Halpert was best man at my wedding.
And office administrator Pamela Beesly Halpert
is my best friend.”
There’s also a fourth childlike thing that Michael does right as a boss.
And that’s believing in his crazy dreams.
Michael Scott is essentially a modern version of Don Quixote.
Published in the early 1600s, Miguel de Cervantes’ masterpiece
Don Quixote is the story of a nobleman who decides that he’s a knight
in an era when chivalry has faded out of existence --
so everyone around him thinks he’s gone crazy.
Don Quixote is famous for charging at windmills
that he thinks are giants,
just as Michael is always going about his everyday adventures
with over-the-top grandiosity.
“We are going to reclaim our gift baskets!!”
Don Quixote is fixated on the romance of the past.
Likewise, Michael is the leader of a small regional paper company in a digital age.
“Sir, as a company that primarily distributes paper,
how have you adapted your business model to function
in an increasingly paperless world?”
“Real business is done on paper.
Write that down.”
And while everyone knows that the paper business is headed
towards obliteration, Michael doesn’t see it that way.
“You're starting your own paper company.
“'Cause I know paper.
I know everything there is to know about paper.”
“Do you know that the industry is in decline?”
God, I practically invented decline.”
Don Quixote gets inspired by reading too many stories.
And Michael is just as suggestible.
He’s on the phone.
You’re not going to Paris.”
“Michael just rented The Devil Wears Prada.”
Dwight is Michael’s Sancho Panza, the faithful sidekick who obediently follows
Don Quixote into every misguided crusade.
And Holly is Michael’s Dulcinea, the farm girl Quixote falls for
and reimagines as a great lady.
“She’s the love of my life.
What you and Jim have times a hundred.”
Others may see more of the common “farm girl” in Holly
“I don’t get it.
I’m sorry, I just…
I don’t get it.”
but to Michael she is perfection
“Holly is the best thing that has happened to this company since World War II.”
It’s Michael’s dogged faith that he and Holly are meant to be
“Holly and I are like Romeo and Juliet and this office is like the dragon
that kept them apart.”
that ultimately wins her over.
And his happy ending with her tells us to keep trusting in our
most outlandish dreams.
We know that before Michael was promoted to manager,
he was an excellent salesman.
His unshakable faith in what he's selling
makes him really good at convincing others to believe.
So Michael’s optimistic refusal to face facts
at first appears to be his insanity --
but eventually it’s revealed to be his superpower.
“I understand nothing.”
Maybe what a company in a doomed industry truly needs
is a hopelessly romantic leader who won’t admit defeat
or bow down to brutal reality.
“You have no idea how high I can fly.”
At first viewers might look down on Michael and Dwight,
and the more “deluded” characters in The Office.
But as the series goes on, we come to pity more the characters
who don’t have a delusion, or a weird, passionate escape.
The employees see their work as existentially pointless
“I’m boring myself just talking about this.”
and they view their office as a prison.
“What was prison like?”
We do the same thing every day.
But at least we get outdoors time.”
“You got outdoors time?
Michael, why don't we get outdoors time?”
And this raises the question - is it really crazy to love working
at small branch of a failing paper company, or is it even crazier to feel like
a prisoner of a dead-end job and do nothing to change your situation?
Listen to this Don Quixote quote - does it not perfectly encapsulate
the philosophy of Michael Scott?
“When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies?
Perhaps to be practical is madness.
To surrender dreams — this may be madness.
Too much sanity may be madness — and maddest of all:
to see life as it is, and not as it should be!”
“An office is a place to… live life to the fullest, to the max, to...
An office is a place where dreams come true.”
As the American update to Ricky Gervais’ David Brent in the UK Office,
Steve Carell’s Michael starts out in Brent’s mold --
as the incorrect, cringeworthy nightmare boss.
“Is there something besides ‘Mexican’ that you prefer?
Something less offensive?”
But in the black comedy style of many British shows,
Brent never learns anything or improves as a person.
While Michael goes the American path of growing into a beloved,
even inspirational character.
“Never, ever, ever give up.”
If you look closer, though, Michael actually doesn’t improve
or change all that much.
“Mmm, si senor.”
It's not offensive during a roast.”
“Pam Beesly, office hottie.
She will do you.
“I would never say this to her face, but she's a wonderful person
and a gifted artist.
“What...why wouldn't you say that to her face?”
But, over time, the story puts more emphasis
on the character’s redeeming qualities.
The David Brent-like characteristics are balanced by a personality
that is truly loving and heartfelt.
And this basically makes him the antidote to a lot of what’s wrong
with the corporate world today.
“Remember when people used to say ‘boss’ when they were describing something
that was really cool?
But now, boss is just slang for ‘jerk in charge.’”
So maybe, Michael teaches us, the world’s best boss is someone who:
distracts his employees so they don’t work too hard,
makes play a priority, brings out the best
in those underneath him, values his employees as people,
and dares to dream the impossible dream.
“What a great boss you turned out to be.
Best boss I ever had.”
This is Tanner Christiansen.
Tanner is a creative strategist, the author of The Creativity Challenge,
and he’s worked as a product designer at Facebook.
We saw that Michael’s creative play helps his office be more productive.
But if you want to make your own creative dreams a reality,
you should check out Tanner’s class on Productivity for Creatives
only on Skillshare.
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