Dylan Jones: If you ask me

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The Independent Online

If you ask me, committees tend to be groups of people who individually can do nothing but as a group tend to decide that nothing can be done. In fact, in some dictionaries, you'll find the definition of a committee is a body that keeps minutes and wastes hours.

However, the more time I've spent on them, the more I've got to understand how the system works, and how to get your own way. To get your own way when you're voting, for example, the best thing to do is to keep your counsel, and to look as amenable and as flexible as possible. It's a lot like playing poker or bridge, and I've learnt that you need to appear as the one person in the room who hasn't been able to make up their mind. Looking a bit dim always helps, and when you're judging something that involves you reading or watching something, it can often help to look as though you were far too busy to have done either. This won't help your self-esteem, but might help you get what you want.

All very smart, you might think, although in my experience what tends to happen is that I rush into the room with my "choice" written on my forehead, as though I can't bear the thought that someone might think I'm actually going to vote for something else. Which is exactly what happened when I helped judge the Costa Book Awards a few weeks ago. As soon as I walked into the Intercontinental Hotel on Park Lane, my Machiavellian ways deserted me, as I spent two hours batting – unsuccessfully – for the breezeblock I wanted to win.

Which – sadly – reminds me of the story concerning the university committee that was selecting a new dean. They had narrowed the candidates down to a mathematician, an economist and a lawyer. Each was asked a trick question during their interview: "How much is two plus two?" The mathematician answered immediately, "Four." The economist thought for several minutes and finally answered, "Four, plus or minus one." Finally the lawyer stood up, peered around the room and motioned silently for the committee members to gather close to him. In a hushed, conspiratorial tone, he replied, "How much do you want it to be?"

Which probably helps explain why I became a journalist rather than a lawyer.

Dylan Jones is the editor of 'GQ'