Saturday, January 05, 2013

A failure of imagination

Non carpe diem

If it weren't Saturday, my reaction would have been different. Cartoonists like Stephan Pastis have confessed that Saturday is where weak comic strips go to die—or at least to be overlooked. If Scott Adams had scheduled the Dilbert strip to run on a Monday, I would have perceived it as the first installment in a promising new story arc, with four sequels to anticipate. Since, however, it appeared in Saturday's newspaper, the strip was evidently considered a dud, or at best a squib with a small pop. Here's the key panel:

Dilbert replies that his pointy-haired boss should not have high expectations for Dilbert's first draft. The reader can now emit a short, dry chuckle and move on. Unless Adams surprises me on Monday, however, this is a missed opportunity. Isn't the creation of content-free responses to awkward questions a significant corporate survival skill? Consider the following hypothetical question, which we can anticipate in general form if not in specific:
Q: What are your plans for NOUN? We can't afford to let our competition get ahead of us on NOUN.
Really, now. How difficult could it be to answer that question? Try this on for size (and impenetrability):
A: I'm glad you asked that. Our planning task force has a subgroup specifically devoted to NOUN and will be rolling out a timeframe for NOUN implementation that will maintain our competitive edge. We have been aware of the importance of NOUN for quite some time and have allocated resources for appraisal of NOUN options from our future projects initiative. We feel that we are ahead of the curve on NOUN and will be able to respond quickly to rival NOUN implementations.
You can't go too far wrong with that, can you?
Q: Are you ready to VERB? Your master plan does not address VERBing anywhere.
You already have the idea now. The answers write themselves:
A: Actually, the master plan has provisions for seizing opportunities for creative departures in new directions, implicitly including VERBing. You may be unaware that [random name] has specialized training in how to VERB and can bring those skills on-line in the near-term to establish our presence in VERBing in a high-profile and significant way. This is especially true because [repeat name] is the nexus of an inter-departmental strategy team that can facilitate cross-division implementation of VERBing options where those options are most appropriately tailored to enhance high achievement relative to our success metrics.
That speaks volumes, no? (No.)

With all of his experience in corporate bureaucracy, Scott Adams could easily have cobbled together a sequence of four superficially responsive non-responses for a series of strips. Alas, it looks like a missed opportunity.

I suppose it would be fun to add a couple of examples with more of an educational orientation, but I used all of those up in our latest accreditation report.


Karen Locke said...

When I worked for a military contractor, customer representatives could and did wander about at will, sometimes unescorted. Engineers were trained that to the question of "How's it going?" the most negative answer allowed was a cheerful "Oh, about as well as we can expect." Never mind that the schedule was a joke, the tools were always inadequate, and some key person had just quit in disgust.

Kathie said...

How about the way the questions would be answered by a state legislator?

Disturbingly Openminded said...

When I was in some awful training program to improve sales skills, we were taught that answer to the question, "How's it going?" was always "Unbelievable!"

Because the answer is always true. Unbelievably good; unbelievably bad; didn't matter. And the point was that it was important not to tell a lie.

Curmudgeon said...

One of my favorite obfuscatory phrases, this from the world of academe: " We're going to fold that in to our planning horizon. "