A little help, people!
(Fortune Magazine) -- I had a presentation to do. I'm sure you've gone through it. The thing is, I'm the boss. That allows me to be crazy. It started as these things do - that is, very well. I have a wonderful team. They're all smart, they know me, they know the subject, they know the audience, and they're dedicated to my happiness above all things, including their own. Okay, that may not be entirely true, but they know that the latter depends on the former.
So as I said, it began well. We had a meeting, which was the third meeting on the subject of my presentation, the first having been held without me there to prepare for the second, where more ideas and scenarios were kicked around with a larger group in which I was not included. What resulted was an outline, a series of interesting talking points, and a graphical scheme that would have made Leonardo proud.
About a month ago, then, I was invited to join the working group that had been invested with the duty, the right, the privilege, of making my presentation a success. The gathering was held in the large conference room on my floor, a prestigious place where electronic outlets sprout from the tabletop and high-speed data ports bloom from every cornice.
I was pretty loosey-goosey as I sat down at the head of the table. There was coffee and Danish and a big group making googly eyes at me, each orb seeping with desire for my approval. Before me on the big wood surface were two tasty decks, one in color. On the left were my remarks, formatted the way I like them, in bullet points. On the right, a big fat deck of PowerPoint graphics, designed to make people believe I know what I'm talking about even when I don't.
I loved it! The decks were so shiny and crisp and new. There was so much writing on them! Clearly everybody had done a lot of work. I had a couple of problems with the opening, but I knew we could take care of it in time. The rest looked pretty interesting as I paged through, looking at every third word. The ending appeared okay. I think I had seen it in a previous draft of something, but no matter. Something that worked last month in Petaluma will fly just as high in Peoria in November.
All in all, I was pleased. And with a whole month to work on it! Well, actually 24 days. Hmm. Less than four weeks. I felt a little twinge in my gut, along with the thought that always comes to me as I get close to stupid events: Why do I get myself into these things?
We got together again the following week. I was in a bad mood. Tired, maybe. I didn't want to deal with the whole soggy mess. I felt as if I had been sentenced to death in 18 days but was free to walk around with a decent expense account until then. The written material looked fat and greasy. I tried to dip into it a little because I knew the guys needed my input, but I just couldn't. The words sat before me like hieroglyphics. I hated everybody in the room and got out of there as soon as I could.
For the next ten days or so I procrastinated. This involved my customary regimen of being remote, doing less important things, canceling meetings at the last minute, not responding to e-mail, and giving approval to stuff I hadn't really looked at.
Then we were four days out. At 2:30 in the morning on the Friday before the Monday of my doom, I got up, drank three fingers of scotch, and cracked open the remarks that had been prepared for me. I read them with my brain switched to the On position for the first time.
Lord, they were bad. I despised them. They lost me at "Good morning." Where was my snappy opener? The great ideas that would move my audience to laughter and tears? The rousing close that would bring them to their feet? All absent! This sucked! Where was all the help I was supposed to be given on this project? Wasn't there anybody in my expensive phalanx of people I could trust? Fools! Why must I do everything myself?
Aw, you should have seen their faces when I called them in later that morning. The tiny "O" their mouths made when I consigned the script to my wastebasket. It was moving to see them canceling their weekend plans as they buckled down for 72 solid hours of rewriting, rethinking, responding to my whims until, on the evening before the morning of the presentation, I leaned back in my chair, tossed the finished product on my desk, and said the words that all employees know so well: "There. Now why can't we get this kind of stuff done in a businesslike and timely fashion?"
Of course, I know why. I'm not stupid. I'm just organizationally insane.
After all, that's what they pay me for.
Stanley Bing's latest book, 100 Bullshit Jobs ... And How to Get Them (Collins), is available at finer bookstores everywhere. He can be reached at email@example.com.