Binge-watching ABC’s hit-show Scandal made me critically think about the “optics” of a situation.
Olivia Pope was more concerned about taking care of “optics” than solving the problem when dealing with her clients. And her thinking rubbed off on me, an odd side-effect of being too engrossed in the show.
Before watching the last season, I wanted to collect my thoughts on Pope’s obsession with “optics” when solving her client’s problems and answer these two questions.
How can I spot “optics” as I interpret key political and business events? And how should think about “optics” as I continue to climb up the corporate ladder?
Webster defines “optics” as “the aspects of an action, policy, or decision (as in politics or business) that relate to public perceptions.” In other words, it’s a fancy word to describe how a person or organization is viewed by others. And Olivia Pope and her team go to extreme lengths to plant stories and expose them at strategic moments to shape the public opinion about their client.
Through the course of the show, I couldn’t help but to think twice about the narratives that shaped my understanding of some of the biggest political and corporate scandals that I’ve encountered, such as the Clinton Scandal and OJ Simpson’s trial.
Was it the work of a fixer like Olive Pope, who knew how to steer the national conversation or did the event play out based on actual events and facts?
I used to believe that a lot of media and our national narrative was driven by facts unearthed by journalists who dedicated their careers to report the truth. And I had tremendous respect for these fact-finding writers who dedicated themselves to such a noble profession.
And before watching Scandal, I used to think of news organizations like the ones I saw in the movie,”Spotlight” or HBO’s TV show, “Newsroom.” But after going through the Scandal experience, I can’t help but to question the type of stories that I’m exposed to as well as the sequence of how they are revealed to the public.
To be honest, I don’t pay enough attention to politics to be able to detect the work of a fixer to hone the “optics” of a situation, however, I’m beginning to see the importance of “optics” in office politics.
Office optics becomes a thing when the stakes are high, there are a lot of high profile individuals involved and there is no way to objectively measure the result of the project.
And often times, it’s those who lack the actual expertise or those who can’t contribute value that gets caught up in the “optics” and go out of their way to make it appear that they played a role, a huge role, in getting the project done.
Sure, everybody chained to corporate America play a role in “optics” in some shape or form. Some minor offenses and everyday practice include mentioning that they worked late, how they build in important feature that saved the day, how they generated key insights and steered the bought. And these minor offenses are in part, everyone’s way of making sure that they don’t go unnoticed in the aloof cubicle world.
However, there are some major offenses, such as taking credit for someone else’s work that frustrates me so much. And for most projects, even teams that you work with on a daily basis cannot accurately see who actually worked on it.
And the sad reality is that the company gives the credit to a person who toot’s his/her horn the loudest and not surprisingly, they are the type of persons who excel in “optics.”
After writing about office optics, I’m realizing how much I hate it.
I hate it not only because I get taken advantage of those who excel in office optics, but because, despite how hard I work, I haven’t mastered the art of office politics and optics, making me feel worse.
And the sad reality is that Olivia Popes of cubicle culture are the ones who continue to climb up the ranks, meaning that I’ll either have to befriend them or learn to co-exist with them without losing faith in humanity.