Three whiskey sours into the evening Ray was starting to lather himself up into another story. I was eyeing a woman across the bar that I thought I recognized from my recent and failed attempt to interview at Google. I was pretty sure she was the HR woman who showed my into the interview room, the torture chamber where I spent the next few hours stretched out across a whiteboard, and brought me coffee. I thought she smiled at me. Rather, I know she smiled, but thought maybe she was actually being more than just polite.
Before I came to any conclusion, Ray started up, so I spent the next few minutes stealing glances while she stirred her martini and watched the door.
“Stop me if you’ve heard this one,” he said.
“Stop,” I said. I wanted to talk to the girl, but he plowed onwards.
“I once visited a company that fully embraced collaboration. When I first visited them everyone had their own office. The company was profitable and growing, and offices are an inefficient use of space. And anyway, collaboration was the fad then, so out with the offices, and everyone was herded into a wide open floor plan. Only the VPs and Directors had their own offices, but after a few more visits they were out on the floor too. It was good for collaboration, they said.
“The meeting rooms were next. ‘All meetings would benefit from the input of all stakeholders’, which pretty quickly became everyone. The entire company would grind to a halt as every meeting, no matter how trivial, became a free for all where every idiotic suggestion or petty grievance had to be treated with respect and reverence for the collaborative process.
“So pretty soon, nothing is getting done,” said Ray, rising unsteadily to his feet.
The girl, meanwhile, had finished her drink and was looking uncertain about ordering another. Someone, theoretically, could have walked up to her and bought her one right then. She might have even smiled at them.
“So things are going to shit, and everyone starts trying to ignore the meetings and get work done. Then the boss is pissed off because while the marketeers are debating the merits of san-serif fonts in email footers, the coders are trying to work, and while the coders are arguing about verbose method signatures, the analysts are pivoting their spreadsheets. So he put video cameras and monitors up, so that no matter which way you looked, you could see a screen of who was talking in the meeting. And he had the entire floor wired for sound, so that no-one could escape the voice of whoever was rattling on at the meeting.
“Last time I went, as they were finally running out of money, it was just the CEO and his department heads having a quarterly planning meeting that had run on for 18 weeks. All the employees had left for other jobs, but all the video cameras and microphones were still on. As the CEO and VPs argued over whether it was possible to ‘prove’ a business plan that was little more than throwing shit against the wall to see what stuck, their faces danced across a hundred screens, throwing shadows against a hundred empty desks.”
Ray stopped to barf his whiskey sour into a potted plant.
I looked up in time to see the girl walking out of the bar, alone. I could have caught up with her easy enough, but something must of made me stay.
Probably the thought that’d something rash like that, walking up to a girl that might have maybe smiled at me, would require more planning. Perhaps, I thought, pulling Ray away from the plant, I could schedule a meeting.