All Too Human

Author : Matthew Harrison

The mood in the meeting room, dominated by the large screen, was subdued. Only the tall silver-haired figure of James sat unperturbed, yet like the others he was waiting. The younger executives fidgeted.

“How long’s it going to be today?” said Marty, unable to keep silent any longer. “It’s getting worse and worse.” Curly-haired and sharp-suited, he was the rising star of the company – and looked as though he didn’t want to be there at all.

Sandra, looping blonde hair over one ear, glanced at the screen for the umpteenth time. “Nope, still engaged.”

Marty snorted. “What happened to parallel processing?” he appealed to the group. “I thought that was what we were supposed to get.”

One of the other executives mumbled, “Can’t we meet remotely? Don’t see why we have to bloody well be in the same room.” He got up as if to leave.

“I would stay if I were you,” James said quietly. The executive stopped, checked his phone, and sat down again.

Time passed. Sandra got up and adjusted the blinds now that the sun had gone behind the adjacent building. Sitting down, she flipped again through the PowerPoint that she had printed out, murmuring, “China, China, China,” under her breath. Then without looking up, she said, “I’m learning Mandarin, you guys.”

There was a general groan.

Marty had a copy of the PowerPoint too. He leaned towards James, stabbing the document with his forefinger. “What is the basis for this? We are committing everything to China, but it doesn’t show the demand – or even why we’re doing it. This plan,” he flipped through the pages, “it’s a complete black box.”

“We go forward in faith,” James said, without looking at the document, “as we have always done.”

Something in his senior’s complacency riled Marty. “I thought algorithms were supposed to give us analysis,” he objected. “Deep learning, big data, and stuff. Yet look at this – it’s just ramming China down our throats!” He brandished the PowerPoint at his colleague.

“And who wrote the algo anyway?” he continued as James remained unmoved. “Shouldn’t we have him as Chief Executive?”

James cleared his throat. “It’s not the analysis that counts in the end. It’s the wisdom. How all the factors are weighted, run through their dynamics, and distilled into a single mission statement – a China mission statement, if you will. That’s what we’re paying for, or what the shareholders are paying for.”

“But if you can’t re-perform the analysis?” Marty put a finger into the air. “It’s just…”

“…Animal spirits.” James completed the sentence for him. “Randomness. The same as it always was.” He was still sitting with arms folded.

Marty threw up his hands. “God help us!”

The big screen flickered. James raised an eyebrow. The other executives composed themselves and sat up, ready to receive instructions.

An iconic image of a samurai warrior appeared on the screen. “I want you all to focus,” intoned the CE, its voice slightly mechanical. “It’s the next big thing. I want you to live and think and breathe Japan…”

2 Comments

  1. Jae

    I’ve languished in meetings akin to this.

    Captures the ambience of ‘utter bollox’ superbly.

  2. SimonJM

    Oh, I chuckled at the last line. So familiar and urbane up to that point, being a reflection of most management initiatives imposed upon us.

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