Hurd on the Street II

Alfred Hitchcock used the term the “McGuffin” to describe a plot-enabling device which drives the behavior of a film’s characters.  It’s usually mysterious like the secret government plans in “The Thirty-Nine Steps” or the meaning of Rosebud in “Citizen Kane.”  In the evolving saga of the resignation of Mark Hurd at HP, the McGuffin is surely the charges of sexual harassment that didn’t involve intimacy and that Ms. Fisher claims she never imagined would cost Mr. Hurd his job.  This McGuffin is clearly working over time.

 Since Hurd’s resignation, as Ashlee Vance writes in today’s New York Times, there has been “a string of leaks from both sides resulting in a very public imbroglio.”  Like all crises, the HP saga illustrates some key principles very effectively.  The first is, that from the corporate perspective, nothing is more important than starving the narrative of oxygen.  This means that even if you believe the story is slipping out of control, resist the  temptation to leak further details that you believe bolster your position.  It is better to get off the front page than win the argument.  The second more elusive principle is that it is crucial to stick to your storyline.  If the issue is expenses, then you need to stick with expenses.  Revelations about inappropriate web-surfing at work or undisclosed settlement negotiations muddy the waters and throw your entire rationale into question.  Whoever is leaking information from HP’s side is doing the company no service.

In some of the best films, the McGuffin is actually completely forgotten about by the end of the picture. It might be a suitable fate for this particular example of the genre.

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