Art Pact 140


"Encouraging," I told him, rolling my eyes.

"It's something," he said. There was a hurt look in his eyes, and a sort of defensiveness about him. I suppose it wasn't too hard to see why. He'd worked on it for a long time, and the current system was much better than in the past, but there was no way the board were going to go for it. I did the quick maths in my head - five days to train someone in the new system, about an hour saved every two months, it would take just under seven years before it paid off in time saved alone, not counting the new computer equipment and the training manuals that would be needed. It was a nice idea, and ultimately it would make people's lives easier, but it was a poor return on investment even if Brewston hadn't spent more than two years working on it. Worse, a year of that had been on the company dime rather than in his own spare time. There was no way that the company would ever recoup its money on the system, not realistically. They'd paid for Brewston to do some academic work, essentially, or perhaps to figure out a system that some other company, rifling through their belongings when they went under, would find and perhaps implement as some sort of curiosity. It was something that a management consultant might write a book about which would be widely read among the industry but not outside it, and rarely if ever implemented. "Oh god you're right," he said, sinking back into his chair and letting his head fall into his cupped hands. "It's a disaster. I'm going to get torn to shreds."

That bit was unlikely, at least. I had expressed to him a few months ago my view of how the board would respond to the news I thought he would eventually give them (of which opinion reality had now vindicated me). What I had neglected to inform him today was that I had at the time been somewhat drunk, and I had fallen back on the oratorical technique of hyperbole rather heavily. There was unlikely to be any summary firing, unlikely to be any shouting, and extremely unlikely to be any blood-letting of the sort which would require more than a quick spray of stain devil on the boardroom carpet. In short, screwed though he was in terms of getting his ideas implemented, I thought that Brewston probably had very little to worry about in terms of either his job or his physical safety. The most likely outcome, I supposed, was that the man would be shunted sideways into some sort of honorific job which could then be allowed to wither and die until it wrapped itself neatly around him like clingfilm and forced upon him the choice of either finding another position in another company where they didn't know him or gently allowing himself to be suffocated until retirement. I said nothing of this, though.

"I'm sure they'll be interested," I said instead. "I don't think that they'll be wowed."

Interested and Wowed were the buzz phrases of the month, the subtle distinguishers between those ideas which would be taken on by some boardroom patron and those which would be shown the door. We were all about wowing our customers at the moment, wowing our supply chain (and required them to wow us in our turn), wowing our shareholders. If someone was interested in an idea it simply meant that they were passionless about it, and with the apotheosis of H.M.Brightly into chairperson of the board that was the only sort of passion which was approved of.

"Oh god," Brewston said, hiding his face again. I was surprised - I honestly hadn't expected him to be so au fait with the current company trends as to be able to recognise my choice of words for the left-handed compliment it really was. I had not given him enough credit, obviously, just as I had given him too much credit when I first heard about his theory.

That was the crux of the matter, of course - how to gracefully disengage myself from the idea before I was blackened with the soot from it. Brewston would survive the debacle, of course, and in a way I thought that he might even thrive on the failure, growing comfortably into his new position - whatever it might be. But for me that stagnation would be career death, and therefore tantamount to physical death. I had to keep moving in the company if I was to complete my goals, and that meant not getting tarred with the same loser-coloured brush that Brewston was about to get redecorated with. That meant making it abundantly clear that the idea had not been mine (true), and that whatever people thought had been early enthusiasm for it was in fact a sort of amused condescension (false).

"Look," I said carefully. "Perhaps we should put off showing this to the board just yet. There's a bit of leeway on the dates of the presentation. Maybe we can arrange it to be dropped back a couple of months. You might find some way round the... limits, if you catch my drift."

"There are no limits," he moaned. "I mean, there are limits, but they're all fixed in stone. I've done the maths over and over, it's hopeless. The system as it stands will never get any better than it is now. It can't, because that's the way it's constructed."

"OK, well - what about just a different spin on it? If you can work out some better way to teach it, say, or just some.. I don't know, some braver face to plaster on the whole thing. You could say that it's kind of a dead end in itself, but now you understand the problem space more thoroughly. Does that sound like it makes sense?" I had to ask - buzzwords du jour aside, I'm never entirely comfortable with research jargon.

"I guess," he said hesitantly.

"That's settled then." A stay of execution for him, and a couple of months for me to distance myself from the disaster. I smiled encouragingly at him.

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