Vanity Projects are creative works that are, ostensibly, showcases of ability, but fail miserably to achieve their goal.
The book and subsequent HBO miniseries, ‘Band of Brothers’, was a remarkable example of rich, honest, and thought-provoking storytelling. The characters were well rounded, the recollections were vivid, and the lessons were profound.
Episode 8, titled, ‘The Last Patrol’, takes us toward the end of the war. The i’s still need to be dotted and t’s need to be crossed, but there’s an inevitability of what will happen – the Allies will win the war. The soldiers are burnt out. They’re exhausted – physically and mentally. With a clear conclusion in sight, everyone, the Germans included, simply want to avoid any risk that might prohibit them from coming home.
But, leadership has determined that a visit across the river, into enemy lines, for the chance that some additional intel that won’t change the outcome of the war, is needed. Needless to say, the soldiers aren’t thrilled. But, orders are orders. That evening, they go across the river. What do they gain? A handful of prisoners that offer nothing of tangible value. What do they lose? One of their own dies during the firefight.
You would think, a lesson would have been learned here. But, alas, leadership dictates that another patrol will take place. The soldiers are disgruntled to the point where a mutiny seems likely. But, orders are orders, right? Not this time. Their direct manager, Captain Winters meets with the men and tells them that they will not go on the patrol. They will not follow the orders of leaders in love with their own ideas who simply want to demonstrate activity, even if it provides no actual accomplishment. Nope, they won’t do it, but Captain Winters will issue a report indicating they, in fact, did go on the patrol and were unable to bring any prisoners back.
Winters, yes, defies orders. He ignores the culture of a chain of command. But, Winters lacks vanity and has the ability to see the bigger picture. Could they have executed another patrol? Yes. Might it have yielded some intel? Perhaps. But, at what cost, when the outcome was already determined?
I recently watched Christopher Nolan’s movie, ‘The Prestige.” It was one of dad’s favorite movies. Midway through the movie the following exchange takes place.
Nikola Tesla: Mr. Angier, have you considered the cost of such a machine?
Robert Angier: Price is not an object.
Nikola Tesla: Perhaps not, but have you considered the *cost*?
And that is the problem with a vanity project. It can surely be done. But, at what cost?