Saturday, 7 October 2017

Human Intercourse

You realise that when you're told that CEOs read sixty books a year there's an implicit statement there that those are worthwhile books, for some value of worthwhile?  Ah, I wish you weren't looking so puzzled.  Yes, yes, you're reading books, but they're books aimed at children.  Rather young children, in fact.  No, I think you'll find that the expected age for someone reading Mr. Bump is three.  I'm sure it is very educational, but reading sixty Mr. Men books in a year is not something to shout about unless you're still of an age when you haven't learned not to shout.  Hmm.  Well, it's odd you should ask that actually, since I do know someone perhaps a little older than you who would have genuinely benefitted from reading the Mr. Men books.  Well, perhaps having them read to him.  No, he's a Director of Technology... ah, I see that pride and hubris are the ways to your heart.  Yes, you're quite right, someone who wants to be CEO shouldn't be picking their books from a mere Director's reading list.
I'm Buddy.  No, I don't work for you. And no, security won't come up and throw me out, they let me in.  Yes, I'm expected, although perhaps not by you, and that's usually the case.  I'm a life-coach, a guru of sorts, a transcendental meditationalist... no, not a transformational medalist, though I was one of those briefly as well.  One of the Olympic Games.  No, I'm not telling you which country I represented, but I am mildly flattered by the asking.  Put your phone away – photographing me was uncalled for.  Well I'm glad it's not come out clearly.  Don't try again or I'll break your wrist.  What?  Some secret guru trick, obviously.  It took me sixteen years in the wilderness to learn it, seeking out an ancient and wise teacher and submitting to humiliation, punishment and heartache.
Well if you must know the Wilderness is a club in LA, but all the rest is right.  Well ok, years might be hours, and wise might be drug-addled and heartache might be heartburn.  It's the thought that counted in this case and I can still break your wrist.
So I'm here to talk to about human intercourse.  Yes, yes, I was expecting you to say that.  And that.  No, I wasn't expecting you to show me that, please put your phone away now.  I believe you.  Of course I believe you, you've just shown me the picture.  Thank-you.  Human intercourse, or the ability to hold a conversation with someone.
Yes, and that's the problem; you can't manage people if you can't relate to them, and you can't relate to people if you can't talk to them, and you seem pathologically incapable of saying the right thing.  I've seen the list of complaints made about you and frankly, if I were your HR team, I'd be sending you in for biological salvage and reprocessing.  What?  What year is this?  Damn, I could have sworn it was... never mind.  I'd have had you sacked and evicted from your home, then hunted from city to city by killer-clown and murder-hobos.  Yes.  Yes they're a thing.  They're going to be very big in a couple of months.  Anyway, your HR team have asked me to intervene a little.
Thoreau said something useful here, but I don't like quoting people other than myself as it dilutes my brand, so I'm going to tell you a little parable instead.  This is the parable of the parrot and the dermatologist.
Once upon a time there was a parrot that lived in a cage that was located on the 26th floor of a very expensive building somewhere not too far from Manhattan.  The parrot had an owner who was blind, both physically and mentally.  Every day the owner would clumsily fill the parrot's feed dish, and add water to the cage, and then, in the silence of the parrot's feeding, would call her son and believe the lies he told her for anywhere up to an hour on the phone.  After the phonecall was over the parrot was always quiet while it digested its food and considered the side of the conversation that had been audible to it, and so it would listen contently while its owner talked some more and debated with herself if she was good enough mother and what she could do to be more loving.  On one occasion she sent a large basket of sweaters, gloves and legwarmers to her son to surprise him, and on another she ordered a hundred bouquets of flowers to be sent to all the staff in his office with a small card attached containing a random quotation from Dorothy Parker.  The parrot would silently approve, and the owner would feel validated.
One day the owner felt that while she was doing everything she could for her son she was perhaps neglecting the parrot a little, and so she called a dermatologist to come and exfoliate the parrot and perhaps provide it with a little massage.  She considered her finances, and decided that the parrot could even request a 'happy ending' if it was so inclined.  The dermatologist arrived at the appointed time and was led, stumblingly, to the parrot's cage.
"Oh dear," said the dermatologist.
It transpired that the owner had weighed the parrot down under the load of birdseed and then waterboarded it repeatedly until it drowned, all unaware that her attempts to care were mere murder.
The moral of the tale is that lying to your mother will cause your staff to stop working and ponder why eternity should be a man, a woman, and a ham locked in a room.
Ok, how about, the moral of the tale is that tragedy happens when silence is misunderstood? Or possibly that you shouldn't sell parrots to blind people?
Your takeaway from this?  If you have to ask, you didn't listen hard enough, did you?  Well... no, I don't think I want to tell that tale again.  OK, so your takeaway should probably be that staff like gift baskets, but that legwarmers won't be back in fashion again for another twenty years. Go with that, I'm sure it'll help sort the complaints out.

Friday, 6 January 2017

The Altanta Furies

Alec had been waiting in Jeronica’s personal assistant’s office for eight minutes so far, and had finally picked up some of the reading material on the occasional table.  The office was tidy and precisely laid out: the door to Jeronica’s office was guarded by the desk, and the guest seating was a corner of chairs a little too low to sit on comfortably in the opposite corner.  The walls of the office were more frosted glass and the personal assistant was tasked with making sure that visitors did not see each other at any point during their visit.  There were newspapers and magazines on the occasional table, which were carefully considered and adjusted according to who was going to be kept waiting in there and for how long.  At the moment the magazines had a slight right-wing bias to their editorials and the newspapers were all from non-English speaking countries.  There was a slight hint of tension in the room.
Alec set the magazine down and looked at his watch.  He had arrived early, having been warned by his boss to do nothing to upset this very expensive and very effective agency, and felt a little bit like he’d been unwelcome from the first instant.  Sitting here on a chair that hurt his knees looking over magazines that only reinforced his opinion that the newspapers were seditious and dangerous nonsense was reinforcing that feeling, and he was starting to wonder if this was all a test somehow.  He decided that he should make a stand.
“Mr. Fury?”  The personal assistant didn’t look up, and he wasn’t sure she’d spoken.  He looked more closely at her, but her eyes were looking at something on the desk in front of her and he couldn’t even be sure that they were open.
“Mr. Fury, I’m over here.”  He looked beyond the assistant and found a tall, well-dressed woman standing in the doorway to the inner office.  Her face was neutral and nothing about her body language suggested that she was emotionally affected by him looking at the wrong person.  He felt a flush in his cheeks as embarrassment surged, and he struggled to his feet, the awkward chair making it hard for him to stand up gracefully.  He finally got to his feet and stepped forward, holding out his hand, but she stepped back before he could get close, granting him access to her office.  Confused, he walked past her then stopped, wondering if he’d been rude, turned, and found that she’d somehow moved with his turning and stepped past him where he wasn’t looking, and he was looking back at a closed door.  When he recovered from that Jeronica was sat behind her desk, indicating that he should take a seat.
Which was the wrong height again.
“Mr. Fury,” said Jeronica.  He looked at her.  “May I call you Alecto?”
“Alec,” he said reflexively.
“But may I call you Alecto?”
“I suppose.”  No-one used his full name.  Most people didn’t even know it was a name.
“Thank-you.  You are here on behalf of an organisation called the Atlanta Furies?  I believe that you are, in fact, a founding member though you conceal that within the organisation, taking on a middle-management role in order to better understand the people you work with and ensure that there is… let us say alignment across all levels of your group.  You have deliberately been excluded from the process of deciding to work with us in order that you can obtain a fresh perspective on what we propose to do and how we will do it, and so you can independently evaluate us without needing the expense or… shall we say indiscretion? – of an external agency.  And if you were a less tactful person, you might inform me that your good opinion of us is very necessary for the continuance of our relationship.”
He captured his rage effortlessly as it surged, long practice enabling him to take the blast-furnace heat of it and turn it into chilly, emotionless reaction.
“You’re very well informed, Ms….?”
“Jeronica,” said Jeronica.  “It’s not my real name.  If there is a need to, you and your organisation will be able to deny any and all connections with us.”
“Exceptionally well informed, Jeronica.  So much so that I will have to conduct an internal investigation about accessibility of information.”
“That won’t be necessary.  My assistant will provide you with a dossier when you leave on exactly how we determined all of these things; what you choose to do with that information is entirely your business.”
“I see.”  He was momentarily impressed, but the rage was still burning, still being converted to patient, tightly-wound tension.  “Then, since you know so much, perhaps you’d like to tell me what you think we want you to do?”
“The Atlanta Furies have, on paper, hired us to conduct a feasibility study of expansion into three states with the aim of increasing turnover by 250% over two years and profits by 70% in the same period.  Organisational growth should happen, but be constrained, and ideally create a two-tier organisation so that direction and execution can be separated.”
Alec relaxed a little.
“The real work we are being tasked with is the weakening of local police and judicial authority to create a power vacuum into which the Atlanta Furies can insert itself.  Your competition is this arena is currently small and you see a benefit to being prime-mover.  With a suitable grip on law-enforcement you intend to drive a survivalist and anarchist agenda, returning humanity to a more primitive state that, through a process of adaptive competition and natural selection produces fitter, better evolved people.  The long term objective, currently considered over an eight year period, is an eventual control of political parties for the betterment of everyone.”
Alec forced a smile on his face.
“We can deliver that for you,” said Jeronica.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Soft power, furnishing and touches

The office was a good size for pacing, but pacing was probably a sign of frustration at lack of control, so Jeronica wasn’t going to give in to her desire to stand up and stalk from one end of the room to the other.  Instead she leaned back in her chair and took three deep breaths, holding them for four seconds each before exhaling again.  The chair creaked slightly.  When she was sure that she was calm enough she unlocked the computer again and navigated to the corporate intranet.  The blue logo appeared in the corner of her browser and she noted with interested that it had been updated slightly.  She had to pinch the monitor screen to zoom in to be able to see the exact difference, and even then she had to open an art program and find the eyedropper tool to sample colours, but all the vowels in the name of the logo were now in a slightly different shade than the consonants.  Clearly internal-IT had finally succeeded in getting their list of changes made with the vendor.  She tapped her desk intercom and instructed her PA to find out exactly when, overnight, the change had been made.  Diarmarthid, Head of IT, would be looking to capitalise on a success like that.  Then she summoned up the corporate org-chart, full-screened it, and leaned back in her chair again.
Jeremy had exactly no direct reports; he occupied a gold-hued box at the top of the org chart with no lines connecting him anywhere.  In actual fact the immediate top level below him all reported to him, but a careful matrix management structure had it so that they technically reported in to each other in non-transitive ways so that no-one could gain an advantage.  The layer below that was even more complex in its organisation, with reporting going upwards except where it occasionally went sideways, and in one case, down.  Jeronica was in the middle of the second layer, as was Manguy, Margoyle, Diarmarthid and had been Stephanotte.  The lines around them were a spider’s web of treachery and political connivance which they all walked with the careful skill of a tightrope walker with detached retinas.
Jeronica had responsibility for Foreign, Romantic and Domestic Affairs with a side-interest in Healthcare in Developing Nations; Manguy was a specialist in Military, Political and Demographic rearrangements, and Margoyle had lately been tasked with the problem of Sweden but typically took responsibility for Trans-local and grass-roots uprisings and Steganography.  All three of them could reasonably consider Soft Power to be an area that they could manage, so Stephanotte’s departure was going create infighting.  Well, she thought, more infighting than usual.
A thought crossed her mind, and she leaned forward again, tapping at the keyboard.  It took a little bit of work, but inside five minutes she established that the org-chart had been updated late last night and that the last two revisions were password protected.  She tsked softly; Manguy was unsubtle in her opinion, and opened the org-charts stored on her computer.  Even evening a new copy was downloaded and compared with the previous.  The difference was slight, but not unexpected: a single reporting line had been removed.
Jeronica leaned back again.  Margoyle had reported into Stephanotte.  Which meant that now she was uncertain if Manguy had changed the org chart or if Margoyle had.  Curiouser and curiouser as a silly little girl had once said.
A message box slid up in the corner of her screen.  “The intranet was updated at 02:47.  The contract with [REDACTED] was signed at 21:23.”  Jeronica committed the numbers to memory and sent a message back.  “Purchase two bottles of Champagne and deliver them to Diarmarthid.  The card should read ‘Congratulations’.  Make sure that the consonants and vowels use exactly the same shades as the logo.”
She leant back in the chair again.  What to do about Stephanotte?

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Better than yesterday

Better than yesterday, she thought.  Yesterday it had been at 87, which was getting close to numbers that would be cause for concern.
The monitor swivelled on its stand automatically as she walked around the desk so that she could see it directly no matter where she was stood.  It impressed her more jejeune visitors, but it had taken her a moment’s reflection on attaining this office to realise that there must be a camera tracking her for the monitor to manage this trick, and that the founder, Jeremy Diseased-Rat, was definitely reviewing the footage from those cameras.  Of course, knowing that gave her an advantage but then you had to factor in that Jeremy wasn’t stupid either and would recognize that at least some of his staff would think this far ahead.  It wasn’t long thinking like that before you found blind-fold three-dimensional chess to be relaxing, and Jeronica had very quietly signed up for an evening class in Philosophy a year ago.  Six months later she’d employed the teacher privately, covering her tracks from her employer by making the lessons appear like a discreet affair, but even now thinking through the levels of knowledge and self-evaluation gave her a headache and caused well-meaning passers-by to shy away from her as though she were possessed.
She sat down.  The chair was corporate standard: comfortable, capable of rotating on enough axes to qualify as a gyroscope, and designed by an elegant Dutch gentleman who wore houndstooth-check suits, shirts from an obscure American tailor, and had been given a tour of the offices that had required him to retire to a nearby bar and drink Absinthe for an hour afterwards.  It was exactly the right height for her, as was the desk: the facilities staff came in with laser-measuring tools to make sure it was all correct.  The visitor’s chairs, on the other side of the desk, were fractionally too short for most people so that they had to look up very slightly in order to make eye-contact, and their cushioning was deliberately thin in places to keep the visitors shifting their position.  Behind her were three pictures hanging on a polished concrete wall; at first glance they seemed unrelated, probably a job-lot from a Chinese art-factory and identical in every office.  Except they weren’t; they were once again commissioned by Jeremy with exacting specifications: as you spent time looking at them elements in one picture became apparent in the others, and what seemed like three random paintings became a triptych with a disquieting theme.  All the offices had different pictures, and the colour schemes of the furnishing were chosen to harmonise.  Serious clients came to Jeronica’s offices once and then suggested meetings off-site.  She avoided sitting in her colleague’s offices for the same reason.
The keyboard for her computer unrecessed itself from her desk and her fingers blurred over the keyboard as she entered her passphrase: the first sentence from her favourite novel.  The numbers on the monitor vanished to be replaced by her email client and moments later she was intent on prioritising the demands on her time.  Her personal assistant, a stick-thin woman with carmine fingernails like claws, came in and placed a cup of coffee and a saucer of water biscuits on the desk and left again without Jeronica consciously noticing, though her hand reached out after a minute and picked the cup up.
“Knock knock,” said a voice.  Jeronica set the cup down, wondering briefly when she’d picked it up.  The computer automatically locked itself, replacing her work with the number 90 again, as a security measure.
“I hate jokes,” she said, looking over at Manguy.
“No joke,” he said, holding his hands out, palms upward.  “I think Jeremy might have banned them after the last corporate retreat anyway.”
“Were you invited to that?” Her words were casual, light even, and her gaze flicked away from him to her cup, but returned fast enough to catch the shadow of irritation that crossed his face.  “I don’t remember seeing you there.”
“Maybe we were in different meetings,” he said.  Before he could get his next sentence out she lifted the plate of water biscuits as an offering, distracting him and giving her a chance to speak instead.
“I did seem to be in with Jeremy a lot,” she said.  “So you might be right.”  She set the plate down, its job done, and carefully didn’t smile at the fractional tightening at the corners of Manguy’s eyes and mouth.  “Please, have a seat.”
“No need,” he said.  “I just thought I’d mention that Stephanotte has left us.”
“Already?” Jeronica smiled though she wanted to frown.  “The AHA—“
“Change of president,” said Manguy.  “The political situation—“
“Yes, of course,” said Jeronica.  She nodded, the first genuine gesture she’d made since finding Manguy in her office.  “Didn’t she reach out to Knuti?”
Manguy raised an eyebrow in reply.
“Any word on who will get Soft Power, Furnishings and Touches then?”
“Margoyle has been getting in early lately,” he said.  “I’m sure you ought to be busy, I’ll see myself out.”
She waited until he’d left and the doors has closed behind him before she allowed her a hiss of frustration.