The opinion pages of the Moscow Times usually carry interesting and intelligent comment on the Russian scene today—Marilyn Murray excepted (see post 2 May: Master Class #2). So I was shocked last Wednesday to see an article that seemed to me just a long list of statements of the obvious—“6 Tips on How to Best Find (sic) an Office in Russia”, by Yuri Yudakov. I wrote to the Opinion Page Editor, Michael Bohm, to ask him whether he had decided to publish Mr Yudakov’s piece “purely on its merits as you see it, as part of an advertising deal or for some other non-journalistic reason.”
Answer came there none. So what do you think?
“There are six tips that may make finding an office easier,” the article says. Here is the list.
“1. Money: Take a look at your financial situation and determine what you can really afford….”
Now I ask you, business people of Moscow, are you really likely to consider incurring the obligation of rent for an office without deciding how much you can afford?
“2. Utilities: Make sure you understand what utilities or operating expenses you will be responsible for…”
Who among us would honestly say, “Good point, Yuri! Never thought of that.”
“3. Searching for an Office. With so many choices in the market, it’s now all about managing your time and your costs…”
Is this really news to the modern business executive?
“4. Viewing the Office. When you take a property tour, don’t just give each room a quick ‘once-over’. It’s important to really take the time to take it all in and work with the floor plan. After all this is the place you’ll be calling home for your company.”
Beyond the obviousness of what he is saying, I wonder if Mr Yudakov is not getting a little confused here. Surely taking a detailed look at every room of your possible new offices, and setting them all against a floor-plan, contradicts number 3: “managing your time”?
“5. The Area. This should be almost as important as the office itself. You must make sure you are moving into an area where you feel comfortable and have good access by car and public transport.”
|Two Darth Vaders holding |
the “spam conductor ”
Well, yes, obviously, but there is a downside. Comfort is all very well but, like convenience, it can work against you. A nice view encourages people to look out of the window, and good transport links mean people do not dread the process of going home, so tend to leave the office earlier than they would otherwise.
“6. Landlords…. This is not something you can physically measure like space.”
OMG! People are not things? Who would have thought it?
Am I being unfair to Mr Yudakov?
Not unfair, I hope, since his points are indeed all pretty obvious. But perhaps I am being a little harsh since we all forget the obvious from time to time. Full disclosure: I once made a mistake myself. The story is worth summarizing as it illustrates the pitfalls of not reading articles like Mr Yudakov’s.
I used to do the style-editing at Passport magazine, the well-known Moscow life-style glossy which is owned, with increasing reluctance, by Sir John Ortega, KOVR (www.passportmagazine.ru). Over a long dinner at NOBU, Sir John asked me for ideas of how to improve the magazine. My first point was that it needed proper offices for the editorial team. At that time, Passport was produced in a small, windowless room in the middle of a large warehouse on a vast industrial estate at the wrong end of Textilshchiki, an hour’s hellish hike from the Metro. This is the hardly ideal stimulant to the creative impulse. So where next?
My suggestion was to take the Federation Tower in Moscow City, which is large, well-located and full of windows. But that is where I came unstuck. Had I read Mr Yudakov’s piece, I could have saved myself a lot of embarrassment.
My first mistake was to under-estimate the size of the building. It looked quite small and cosy in the drawing (see picture right), and I liked the look of the spam conductor in the middle, between the two Darth Vader-like structures. Sir John is a Knight (of the Vine, in his case) and so are they, in their own way. You don’t have to have had the Queen whack your shoulder with a sword to call yourself a Knight, as Sir John well knows. I thought Passport would feel at home in these faux-chivalric surroundings.
To my surprise, the letting agent was not impressed by my pitch. He looked at me as if I was one light short of a smoke, so I added, “I’ll be moving my blog team in as well. That’s another desk we’ll need.”
That was when he started laughing. What’s all this about, I thought indignantly? You don’t laugh at the representatives of men who eat at NOBU.
“And we’ll need parking space for the editor’s car, and my bicycle,” I said.
At that point the agent stepped it up a gear and laughed so hard that his false teeth fell out. He started to give off an acrid, locker-room smell. I thought I heard him squelching as he dashed for the toilet, gripping his lower abdomen as if he had burst something.
While he was cleaning himself up and rinsing his shoes out, I ran though the rest of what I now know of as the Yudakov List. Everything checked out, except the last point: the landlord. Should I hang around and wait to discuss that with Amused of Moscow? I decided not to bother. I picked the false teeth up off the floor and slipped them into a plastic evidence bag which I handed to the receptionist on my way out.
Now that I have read the “6 Tips”, I see I was right to have ignored the last one. It is nonsense. Why does Mr Yudakov think that a landlord cannot be “physically measured like space”? There are two points here. The first is that Sergei Polonsky, the founder of Potok, the company which is building the Tower, has dimensions just like the next man—height, weight, girth, hat size, inside leg etc. All could be measured, and doubtless have been. Perhaps Mr Yudakov is not familiar with Saville Row, but I assume Mr Polonsky’s tailor will have all his “physical measurements” recorded in a little book. There is no mystery to this.
The second point is about language. I know what Mr Yudakov intended to say, of course, but as much by guesswork as by logical inference. He would be advised to be careful when using words like “space” in a context where “area”, or even “volume” would be more precise. Those are measurable quantities. But space, arguably, is not. If the Universe is, as Edwin Hubble first suggested in the 1920s, expanding, then space is in principle immeasurable. The dimensions are continually increasing, unlike Mr Polonsky’s inside leg, Passport’s sales revenue or Sir John Ortega’s love of the publishing industry.
But if Sir John were to get over his grief at the fate of Passport, he might be persuaded to buy the Moscow Times. If he did that, I might get a chance to style-edit articles like Mr Yudakov’s before they are presented to the public. I could publish my own piece, “1 Tip on How Best to Write a Mistake-Free Article in Russia”. It would be very short, simply saying: send it for checking in advance to firstname.lastname@example.org .