I’ll tell you one thing you never hear. it’s this. ‘ I wish I were less charming.’ Aiming to wound, a schoolmaster wrote on my last report.’Charm alone will not get him through'.’ Meaning, I think, that an affable, genial, out-going nature was not enough to ensure survivial in a harsh world of statistical performance that even then was becoming dominated by dreary accountants and bland consultants.
In people, charm is an attractive asset (if not to my scrofulous, beetle-browed and negativist careers master). How else did the expression ‘ charm the pants off’ pass into currency ? People whose interpersonal skills are based on the reading of a P&L account are rarely said to possess such mysterious and fascinating powers of undress. ‘He could double-entry book-keep the pants off anyone’ is another thing you never, ever hear. Charm is disable and unscientific, powerful but measurable, hence disturbingly threatening to the management mentality.
We often see in the buildings or places or things, characteristics which we call ‘charm’. The french government’s guide to hotels even has a category called ‘ hotel de charme’. Clue: ivy, geraniums in pots, open fire, direct-line to peasant or historic associations. London’s tourist authority describes Covent Garden’s Lamb & Flag as a ‘charming pub’. Clue: ivy, geraniums and so on. In architecture and products, its is always easy to detect charm, if not to define it. I suspect it is something to do with the curious relationship between accident and design. Charm is often a result of the former. Put it this way: John Pawson’s superlative Novy Dvur monastery is beautiful and many other lovely things but it is not charming. It is too fine for that.
Or put it this way: a grumbling Porsche Neunelfer may be a desirable and fine car, but if performance were calibrated in charm, it would fall far behind a Morris Minor. Power is rarely charming; vulnerability always is. Dinner at Alain Ducasse in Monte Carlo? Very impressive but cold. A beer in Vienna’s Cafe Preukl where you can still smoke and the furniture has not changed since about 1959? Chaotic but intensely charming. Or gemütlich, as they say in Austro-German.
It all comes from the Greek notion of charisma – that compelling attractiveness certain people have that inspires devotion, something which sociologist Max Weber picked up and popularised in his study of The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. The very charismatic Albert Camus believed that charm gets you to a (pants off?) position of ‘yes’ without having actually asked a question.
Perhaps as a result, people are suspicious of charm. Anita Loos, for example, called pubic relations ‘fake charm’. Because it is so powerful, but also so unaccountable, charm is a powerful eapon in the battle against the bureaucratic consultant was by Alred Mckinsey, whose drab successors with their one-dimensional view of the world and bad suits still dominate government and business. McKinsey said, you can measure anything. And if you can measure it, you can manage it. Like my schoolmaster, McKinsey was 100 per cent wrong. You cannot measure beauty, love, happiness or peace. You can only measure boring things.
In business as well as perosnal life, all negotiations are based on infrastructure where, during the date or the ptich, power creeps from one side to the next. Winning is a matter of emotions, not measurement. That’s why charm alone will get you through.