There’s a scene early on in Season Three of The Office that kills me. More specifically, there’s a Michael Scott line of dialogue early on in Season Three of The Office that kills me.
Here’s the (mostly) spoiler-free, SparkNotes synopsis: Michael and Dwight are at a paper convention in Philly. Michael’s old office co-worker and bud, Jim, has recently left their Scranton branch for Stamford, CT and is also at the convention with his new boss, Josh. Jim and Josh laugh about something a local bartender in Connecticut routinely says. Michael looks at Jim and Josh, jealous and sad that Jim and Josh are laughing about something he doesn’t get. Michael wears a pained smile then says, “I love inside jokes. I’d love to be a part of one someday.”
There’s a lot going on here in very little screen time. It’s brilliantly written and brilliantly delivered by Steve Carell: Michael is perpetually a wistful child, an overly enthusiastic and under-delivering leader, a moron who craves the spotlight just as much as he fears being alone. He thinks dumb and endearing things then blindly says and acts out these dumb and endearing things. He’s often pathetic, usually insensitive, terrible with secrets (where I resonate with him the most), and always impulsive. He’s also a creative hero of mine and has been for 10 years.
Michael Scott’s creative brilliance is a loud spark that has nothing to do with talent and everything to do with a clear intuition (hearing it, abiding by it, honoring it) coupled with an improbable naiveté. He makes really bad movies. He performs really bad pranks. He dances and sings and parkours and opens his mouth when he shouldn’t. All of that—that pure instinct, that uninhibited gusto, that easily-accessed flow state—is brilliant. He’s fueled by espresso and a need to play. He’s a spastic performer, a mediocre mimic, a stubborn egoist, but mostly a free artist at heart.
When I find myself creatively stuck, I go for walks or hang out with reckless little kids—or watch Michael Scott. My good pal, Sam, and I named our rag-tag crew that races the train every month The Michael Scott Road Runners to honor Dunder Mifflin’s finest. During my senior fall of high school, I came home from school every day to find a rerun of The Office on our TV (Thanks, mom). I was stressed about college applications, and Michael’s dweebiness was nightly medicine for the soul.
With Michael, no idea is a bad idea. There’s profound (misguided) self-trust and profoundly little self-awareness. To Michael, an idea is an idea is an idea. And it’s a great idea ‘cause it’s his idea. Which is a terrible mindset for the manager of an office but a killer mindset for living a creative life.