Monday, week three. His third team meeting.
Darin sighed as he entered the glass-panelled room at the corner of the vast open-plan office. The eight chairs around the table were already taken, which suited him fine. He preferred to sit at the back against the wall. He headed for the a seat next to Holly. She forced a smile as he approached, cupping her machine coffee cup for comfort.
"I should've got one of those." Darin said, sitting down.
"My medicine." She said, taking a sip. "It helps me get through these!"
"Good morning, people!"
Adam took his usual place at the whiteboard at the front of the room, his blue and red marker pens already raised. His top three shirt buttons were undone as usual, revealing his tuft of brown chest hair. The shape of his rather obvious man-breasts were far too clearly defined beneath his shirt, and his bottom buttons looked like they would fly off at at any moment due to the pressure from within. That sight always made Darin feel a little queasy. As two more entered the room Adam started writing on the board. He made sure to write what he always called 'Wisdom Words' in red. This week those words were 'Synergy' and 'Fungibility'. They were both capitalised and underlined.
Darin felt his chest tighten. All the joy and relaxation of the weekend had already been sucked out of him. He shook his head slowly. "I don't know how much more of this bullshit I can take!"
Holly smiled and nodded.
"I'm serious. I feel I've been so busy since we started a few weeks ago, but we've actually achieved nothing."
Holly was thoughtful for a moment. "Well, I completed my first report last week. Adam was impressed with it."
"Wasn't the title of it 'Guidelines for Pre-Meeting Attendance Solutions'?"
"No!" she said, looking offended. "It's advises people how to decide on who should be present at meetings to decide the agenda and attendees of future..."
"It's pointless! You spent a couple of weeks writing thousands of words explaining how to organise a meeting to organise a meeting!"
"Darin! Holly!" Adam said. "It's good to see you both proactively fostering information exchange. I'm certainly keen to encourage one-to-one interactivity, but please can you transfer your attention to me as I'd like to begin."
Darin forced a smile. "Sure, Adam."
"Excellent!" Adam looked around the room. "First, I have to offer congratulations to Carol." He pointed to the perfectly groomed middle-aged woman sitting near the head of the table. "Her group-wide presentation on Friday about proactively targeting cooperative models was very well received by our leadership. In fact, I received an email from our C.I.O. Joe Platts just before this meeting." He looked down at the printout he was holding. "Joe felt that Carol's insights would radically simplify value-added collaboration and idea-sharing, and future-proof our core competences!" He put down the printout and clapped. "Well done, Carol!"
Everyone joined in. Carol was grinning, her cheeks had reddened slightly.
Darin wasn't clapping. He leaned over to Holly. "Did you go to that?"
Holly stopped clapping and shook her head. "I was on the Client-Focused Methods of Empowerment course that day."
"Oh, right. You should watch the playback on the intranet, as much of it as you can stomach anyway. It's unbelievable!"
"Darin?" Adam said. "Do you wish to share something?"
"Um… I was just telling Holly that she should watch the playback of the presentation."
"Indeed! I was just about to recommended that all of you do so if you missed the live event. At the very least you'll learn how to expedite intellectual capital. What are your thoughts on it, Darin? What did you tell Holly?"
"I said I found it… unbelievable."
"Yes! It's high pay-off content did leave me almost breathless at times, too."
"Anyway, we must move forward." Adam turned to the whiteboard. "Today I'll have to keep this meeting quite short as I have to assist Chen on the goal-oriented methodologies task force." He looked at his watch, and then at Chen. "In only 20 minutes, In fact."
Chen, young and very slim, and wearing an incredibly ill-fitting grey suit, grinned. "Yeah, I'd like to finish earlier than that if I can. I need to print copies of my client-focused multidisciplinary best practices recommendations and issue them pre-meeting."
"Yes, always a good idea. Participants will need time to absorb and process." Turning back to the whiteboard, Adam pointed. "Right. As you can see there are only two wisdom words this week. Going forward I'd like you to incorporate the essence of each in your interactions. The first is 'Synergy'. This one's simple enough. Can anyone suggest how we can utilise synergy in our day-to-day communicative activities?"
Carol raised her hand. "By progressively harnessing our information exchanges for the benefit of the whole team rather than maintaining silo-restricted knowledge encapsulation."
"Exactly! And the quantifiable benefits, anyone?"
Ed, a large and quietly spoken man on the verge of retirement said. "We can leverage the extended knowledge base to maximise efficiencies."
"Perfect! Carol and Ed seem to have grasped that concept. Please reach out to them for mentoring if you need to."
Holly whispered. "We're just talking about the benefit of working together, aren't we?"
Darin was still frowning. "Yeah, that's it."
"Why doesn't Adam just say that?"
"Because he's had his brain washed in bovine excrement."
The 'Synergy' discussion seemed to have ended.
"Let's move on to 'Fungibility'." Adam said, glancing briefly at his watch, and then pointing at the word on the whiteboard. He underlined it once again for emphasis. "This maybe harder for you all to conceptualise, so I think I should go over this one. To put it simply, fungibility is all about interchangeable units that are essentially identical in intrinsic value and quality. The clearest example I can think of is from the last quarter when we aggregated our collaborative supply chains with our market-driven intellectual capital. That allowed us to seize mission-critical domain knowledge and formulate parallel cross-platform processes that generated a state-of-the-art culture of functional expertise. And, of course, because of that it was then a seamless process to fabricate our bleeding-edge quality solutions that enabled us to repurpose our..."
"Bullshit!" Darin yelled, standing up.
Darin found himself trembling and breathing hard. He stared at Adam.
Adam stared back. He looked surprised, but then spoke calmly. "You're uncharacteristically vocal today, Darin. You seem to have strong feelings with regards to fungibility. Perhaps you could share..."
"It's not just fungibility! It's everything in this place! It's endless bullshit day after day! Everything you say is bullshit. It has no meaning. It's empty corporate verbiage. And the work that we all do is bullshit too; bullshit created from your bullshit directions and inspired by these bullshit meetings! I have no idea how this business is generating profit." He pointed at Carol. "Carol's presentation last week was two hours of nothing! I'm not criticising your performance, Carol. You did it well and with astounding confidence, made all the more impressive by the fact that every single sentence you spoke was layered with copious amounts of bullshit in its very purest form. How you managed to maintain your composure and a straight face while reciting all of that is remarkable. Truly remarkable!"
Carol smiled and nodded. She seemed to take it as a compliment.
Darin looked at her in amazement for a moment and then continued. "Ed, you're retiring in a few months, aren't you?"
Ed nodded. "In two months, yes."
"How long have you worked here?"
"That's even more impressive than Carol's ability to recite bullshit to the company's leadership."
Once again that was taken as a compliment. Ed nodded his thanks.
Adam was silent for a moment, and then said. "Thank you, Darin. I appreciate your openness. I'm always keen to mindshare and foster interpersonal engagement." He held up one of his pens. "Why don't you come forward and express your..."
"What's your job title, Adam?"
"I'm sure you already know. It's Director of Relational Accountability."
"It's a bullshit title. It means nothing."
"That's not the case." Adam said. "I'm responsible for facilitating multiple cross-purpose teams by..."
"Carol, what's your title?"
Carol smiled. "National Interactions Facilitator."
"Nothing but bullshit. Ed, what about you?"
"Senior Quality Executive."
"Maximum bullshit." He looked at Samuel, who was, as usual, sitting next to Carol. "Your a Solutions Mediation Specialist, aren't you?"
Samuel nodded. "Guilty as charged!"
Darin shook his head slowly. "My title, and Holly's, is 'Response Associate'. This is our fourth week in the role and I've not yet been able to work out what that means. We seem to work and work but nothing we do has any meaning. What is a response associate, for fuck's sake?!"
"Well," Adam began, "you're required to provide a cost-efficient extrapolation of meaningful insights to stimulate cross-unit alignments that..."
"That means nothing, Adam!"
"Well, that's because you didn't let me finish my explanation."
"Ha! Okay then, please continue."
"Thank you. As I was saying, as a response associate you're required to provide a cost-efficient extrapolation of meaningful insights to stimulate cross-unit alignments. And the reason you do that is to motivate stake holders to re-conceptualise their enterprise infrastructures. It's a low-level position, but a highly important function none-the-less."
Darin stared at Adam.
"That's as clear an explanation as I can give."
Darin let out a sigh. "Yes, unfortunately I believe it is!"
Chen stood and walked meekly to the door, stooping as he passed in front of the 'Wisdom Words'. "Excuse me." He said quietly. "Printouts to do!"
Darin sat down.
Holly finished off her coffee and said, "I can't decide whether what you did was brave or foolish."
Darin took a deep slow breath. "Neither. It was pointless, just like everything else we do here."
Adam was speaking again. "As I said at the beginning this is a short meeting today so we'll finish now. I'm sorry we couldn't complete our discussion of fungibility. We'll continue that next time. Samuel, could you write up the minutes and distribute to the wider team by this afternoon."
Samuel nodded. Everyone got to their feet and followed Adam to the door.
Adam held the door open. "Remember to integrate synergy into your interactive scenarios, if you're not already doing so. If nothing else it'll improve your top-line vectors!"
Darin and Holly were the last to reach the door.
Adam closed it before they could leave. "A quick word, if you don't mind?"
Darin and Holly looked briefly at each other. "Yeah, okay." Darin said.
"It's best just to play along with it."
Darin frowned. "What?"
"The corporate language, or 'bullshit' as you prefer to call it. Don't question it. Don't look for meaning or significance. You won't find any. Just go with the flow."
Holly gasped. "Are you saying Darin's right?"
"Of course he is."
"I knew it!" Darin said, laughing. "You're a bullshit master!"
Adam grinned. "I suppose I am, but it wasn't difficult to become that way. Simple, in fact. Those that just go along with it from the beginning are the ones that are most successful here." He looked out through the glass panels of the meeting room to the mass of desks beyond. "Most people here try to find meaning and a purpose in what they do, and some keep looking for that for years. Those that can't give up, get demoralised and quit, which is no surprise as there literally is no meaning or purpose to find."
"So, we should just accept it completely, or leave?" Holly asked.
"Yes. That would be my advice, and ideally you should do that today."
Darin nodded. "I get what you're saying. It's the only way to be happy here. Accept it fully."
"Yes, even embrace it. If you do you'll end up getting very well paid. I figured that out early and I've actually had a great time here, and I can provide a comfortable life for my family. Very comfortable." Adam looked down and tapped his swollen belly. "Too comfortable, perhaps! And your outburst in the meeting has made my week. Such things are rare, so thanks for that!"
"Your welcome, I guess..."
Adam patted Darin on the shoulder. "Half the world runs on bullshit, Darin. And those that choose to work for that half almost always make a lot more money than those that do the meaningful work for the other half. Just pick a side."
"But is it really right to make so much money for doing nothing?"
"That money is spent on products and services provided by the real workers. It pays more than two-thirds of the total taxes paid so that public services and research facilities can run. What we do here may seem pointless but it keeps our civilisation advancing at a rapid pace; far faster than it otherwise would."
Holly understood. She smiled. "So there is actually a point to our pointlessness!"
"Indeed there is!"
Chen could be seen approaching, his suit flapping loosely off his body as he did so. Adam opened the meeting room door.
"I've distributed copies of my recommendations." Chen said, handing a copy to Adam. "The task force meeting is starting in a minute, I'm heading there now. I'm keen to blue sky some performance-based options!"
Adam nodded. "Good idea. We need to maintain high-yield scalability. I'll be there in a minute."
Chen nodded and then scurried off.
Adam looked at Darin and Holly. He smiled and spoke quietly. "I need to go. Choose sides. Do it today."
After Adam had left Darin closed the door again and he and Holly stood in silence for a while gazing at the floor, and then they looked at each other.
Darin spoke first. "What are you going to do?"
Holly looked a bit nervous. "You may think less of me when I say this, but I like it here." She looked around at the sea of desks beyond the meeting room's glass walls, and then back at Darin. "And I'm sorry but I really enjoyed writing my bullshit report!"
"What about you? I guess you're going to leave."
"Well, Adam's explanation of fungibility obviously pushed me to the edge. I was definitely on the verge of quitting after that!"
A wide grin starting to form on Darin's face. "If I said that I wanted to develop proactive expertise to revolutionise leading-edge growth strategies, then I think you can guess!"