Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Posts Tagged ‘Earth

The Answer you Want versus The Answer you Get

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Jian Ghomeshi recently interviewed Milton Glaser, an ad man who has taken on the task of bringing the warming of the earth into public consciousness with a jarring image that implies the earth is dying.  It shows the green of the earth being overtaken by black.  During the course of the interview, Ghomeshi asks Glaser why he decided to take on this challenge.

As a listener and an interviewer, I hear this question and I automatically assume both a reason for the question and anticipate an answer.  The reason, namely, since Mr. Glaser is 85, might Ghomeshi be asking him if he is taking on the cause because he is of advanced years and wants to do something both big, and something that deeply affects his and all of our lives in an intimate way before the end of his own life?

And the answer I assume is, yes, that is true because … and then Mr. Glaser would talk about the changes he’s seen, or how he himself was never sold on the idea of an earth that’s getting hotter but as he’s grown older, he gradually become aware of a truth he can’t ignore.  Or maybe he’d say something like he’s at an age where he doesn’t really care about how people in general or people in advertising in particular might react to his methods.

Perhaps I wrongly assume the question and the answer, but I still assume them.

And then, he says something completely different.  He says, “Yikes” in a way that implies he hadn’t really thought about why he decided to take on this work.  And as both a listener and an interviewer, I’m disappointed and I think, “How could you not think about what drove you do this?”  Worse, I think “How could you not answer the way I though you would?”

That’s pretty terrible, I know.

The thing about interviews and interviewing is they don’t always line up.  You hear a set of questions that seems to point to an answer like bowling pins to a strike.  But then, you get something completely different and you’re thrown.

But then again, maybe not.  Maybe you are living in the moment and appreciate the answer because you weren’t thinking you were smarter that the person actually answering the question.  Or maybe you had the thought but you pushed it out of your mind as ridiculously pretentious.

When you talk to a lot of people, you hear a lot of answers.  And when you’re coming up with questions, sometimes, you have a bias.  There is a certain thing you want to hear and when you don’t hear it, as an interviewer, sometimes you ask the same question again because you’re thinking, “OK, I’m going to lay this out for you and please say what I’m expecting.”  When it doesn’t happen, as an interviewer it can be frustrating because you might think the answer in your head is better than the answer in your guest’s head.

But it’s not true.  It never is.  And it never will be.

Bad listener/interviewer.  Bad.

Not Light on Depth

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In the middle of editing this most recent interview, I had to stop to write this post.  I’ve done a few dozen interviews now, and I’m starting to notice a pattern. Many of the people I talk to, whether they’re famous or up and coming, are surprised that I actually know something about who they are or what they do.  And that surprises me.  And for the people reading this post or listening to my interviews, it should surprise you.  Why?  Because if you’re interested in what I have to say, or what they have to say, it means. you expect me to be able to tell you something, and something not pat or cliche’ish, but something unusual, valuable, useful or unique.  And that’s stuff I can only get from taking the time to do the research.  It’s what gives the conversation credibility to convey.  And apparently, a lot of frustrated interviewees are interviewed by a lot of interviewers that don’t do that.

Russell Hitchcock of Air Supply said his partner Graham Russell has gotten up in the middle of lazy interviews and left because the interviewer started out with a question like, “So, what kind of music do you guy perform?”  Haitian V said essentially the same thing.  He told me he expected to be pissed off at me  because he expected that I was like other interviews he’d done where the interviewer hadn’t taken the time to learn anything about him, his life or his work.

I just wonder where else this happens in society and culture.  I remember that scene in “Armageddon” where the Jason Issacs character is trying to discredit a bad opinion from another presidential advisor on how to save the Earth from the asteroid collision, and says, “As the presidents’ chief scientific advisor, we were at MIT together.  And, in a situation like this, you – you really don’t wanna take the advice from a man who got a C minus in astrophysics.”

Just makes me wonder sometimes how may other C minus students are there out there running things.  I can certainly think of a few.  But my interviews will never be light on depth.