THE IMPOSTERS KOAN DRILL
“How the creatures order one another about, and make one repeat lessons!” thought Alice, “I might as well be at school at once.”
L. Carroll “The Lobster Quadrille”
The Imposter’s Koan Drill
Alex, like Pfeffer had promised, was promoted out of the forging works. That was his reward for covering the Coquettish Queen’s rather large rear-end. The forge’s productivity had quadrupled. Alex had explained to the chalkies that their future was in their own hands. Thereafter they paid homage to the queen but instituted their own manufacturing methods.
Alex’s new workplace was the development lab. He was thrilled with his environment but was surprised to find ponytailed Fred and wing-tipped Henry (his previous mentors) also assigned to the lab.
Once Alex had assured himself that these two would not be his mentors he set about planning his future. This was done by visiting various areas of the lab. He showed genuine interest in each phase of the business by asking meaningful questions. Alex also developed friendships and working relationships throughout the lab.
Over the next few years Alex also sensed some troublesome facts. Fred and Henry appeared to have some type of influence within the lab. Alex also noted that the third proposed mentor Lola, and (from time to time) Pfeffer, would appear in various meetings. These two also seemed to have a following.
One day Alex found himself invited to one of these meetings. The invitation came from Pfeffer. The subject of the meeting was listed as “Our Corporate Culture.” Alex scanned the memo for any additional information that might give him a hint regarding the subject. But alas, there was not any more data that would help him. Being a little perplexed Alex decided that there may be something gleaned from the invitee list.
The list only confused Alex farther. Besides himself the invitees included Fred, Lola, Henry, Myrtle, the moose, the beaver, and the fish. It was, indeed, a strange group.
The hour and the day of the meeting arrived and Alex found himself in the meeting room. Everyone was there except Fred and the fish. Pfeffer greeted everyone as they arrived. After a few minutes it restated the purpose of the meeting, “Corporate Culture.” Everyone was rather tense because Pfeffer was not waiting for Fred and the fish to arrive. The prevailing thought was that they had previously been skinned and hung out to dry. Alex and Myrtle glanced at each other and grinned; not about poor Fred and fish but at knowing that this would be another useless meeting.
Pfeffer had hardly started when Fred walked in the door with the fish bowl pressed up against his right eye. He had the eye wide open and the fishbowl magnified its size by a power of four.
“Fred” demanded Pfeffer tersely, “what the hell are you doing?”
“Scaring the fish” answered Fred.
And indeed he was; for the fish was backed up against the opposite side of the bowl with his pectoral fins almost covering his eyes.
“Put the fish on the table and sit down” commanded Pfeffer. Then under its breath added “Idiot!”
“Yes Maam, – – – er – – – -, Sir, – – -er – – – Excellency” stumbled Fred.
Pfeffer continued “Now that we are all here I will continue on with the subject of the meeting. Our goal today is to ask questions that make no sense, and then, not answer them. Is that clear?”
“I know, I know, I know” said the fish excitedly as he leaped in and out of the water.
“What do you know?” asked Pfeffer.
The fish said proudly “I know what you meant.”
“I meant what I said” explained Pfeffer.
The fish responded with “Now that we are all here – – -“ and was about to repeat every last word that Pfeffer had uttered.
Pfeffer grabbed her notebook and placed it over the fish’s bowl. The fish sank dejectedly to the bottom and slowly moved his fins over the gravel.
“Ain’t nuttin’ clear” came the confident voice of Myrtle.
Pfeffer went on to explain. “Our engineers do all their work with logic and refer to their textbooks for formulas and algorithms. This method does not work for defining a corporate culture. We must find our own way to enlightenment.
“I would prefer an example” stated the beaver.
Pfeffer thought for a minute and then said “Have you studied your books?”
“What books?” asked the beaver.
An exasperated Pfeffer loudly answered “The ones you bought while going to college; you numbskull.”
“Why yes” replied the beaver respectfully.
“Well, – – – – – then burn them” commanded Pfeffer.
“What does that mean?” asked Henry while fiddling with his silk tie.
The moose quickly responded “It means to raise them to the temperature required to cause combustion. That way they will catch on fire.”
“FIRE – – Fire – – – Fire” the fish screamed while circling around and around in his fire-proof bowl.
Fred ran to the doorway and grabbed the fire extinguisher. Before anyone could stop him he had sprayed the complete contents over the whole room including all humans, beasts and Pfeffer. Everyone had cleaned themselves as best they could. Pfeffer then continued her corporate culture session.
“It does not mean to burn the books or anything of the sort” said Pfeffer. It is a question without a specific answer. Whatever answer you come up with is the correct one. It is an exercise to get you to think about answers that fit within the context of our corporate culture. We, then, can define our corporate culture in terms of our answers.
Myrtle and Alex looked at each other in amazement. Pfeffer might be on to something.
“Let’s try another one” said Lola as she batted her eyelashes at Alex. She knew that he knew something and she had to find out what it was.
“OK” responded Pfeffer and continued. “The CEO was approached by an apprentice toolmaker who asked ‘How they hangin’?’ The CEO smiled and said ‘They aren’t.’”
The fish giggled at the story while the moose was preoccupied with cleaning the last bit of fire-retarding foam from his antlers. Henry had heard the strange conversation that Pfeffer had proposed to elicit enlightened thoughts (you know; the one between the CEO and the apprentice). He sat back posing thoughtfully (for others benefit) with his hand on his chin. Fred and Lola huddled together in quiet discussion regarding an answer. The beaver frantically scribbled something in his notebook while Alex and Myrtle were lost in their individual thoughts.
“You see” said Pfeffer, “the premise makes no sense yet it produces thought. Your thoughts are as valid as the next person’s. Your thoughts, however, are useless unless you voice them. Only then will we be able to state our corporate culture in terms that we can all understand and agree on.
The moose stated his thoughts. “The toolmaker apprentice does not hang people – – -therefore no one is hanging.”
The beaver then spoke up. “The CEO can’t make a commitment; therefore we should not expect the CEO to take a leadership position on how they should hang.”
The fish could not voice his thoughts because he could not stop giggling.
Henry finally said “Well, I dress to the left and therefore if I was the CEO I would have said ‘to the left’.”
Fred then stated his position. “I wear tighty-whities and they don’t hang – – – – so I could be the CEO.”
Lola quickly jumped in and said “Fred, you could be wearing boxers and they still wouldn’t be hanging.”
Fred’s face turned a bright red. He quickly rose to his feet and departed the meeting.
After the door closed Myrtle stated his viewpoint. “The CEO has been castrated and therefore must reply as he did – – -‘They aren’t’.”
“Oh my God” shouted out Alex directly at Pfeffer, “You are the CEO. You can’t possibly be hanging.”
Pfeffer took a step backward, surprised that Alex had guessed its secret. Soon a wicked grin crossed its face. Myrtle and Alex looked at each other across the table but no words were spoken.
Pfeffer immediately adjourned the meeting.
The forging works were crude at first,
But for precision work there was a thirst,
Forging wrenches; a thing of the past,
Precision machining arrived at last.
The works grew cleaner; smoked less too,
Master mechanics and engineers, a few,
Built mechanical calculators; precise to a “t,”
That counted the census (that’s you and me).
Electron tube, conductor, logical gate,
Were the next step (and luckily, not too late),
Floating point logarithms repeatedly executed,
Algorithms performed, ever so convoluted.
Nerds designed logic, geeks wrote code,
Serial, overlapping and parallel mode,
Managers exhorting, fomenting, cajoling,
Workers aped them with eyes ever rolling.
Top management aloof, arrogant and haughty,
Insider trading, stock options and naughty,
Behind the scenes playboys a’sailing,
While stockholders were increasingly wailing.
The CEO was laying blame at the feet,
Of the workers who were taking the heat,
Without whining (not like leadership ‘on high’),
They took the layoffs without hardly a sigh.
“Not my fault, uh-uh, not me, not me,
Cried the executive levels; one, two and three,
Until the obvious reasons; illuminated bright,
Then they were gone in the middle of the night.