The Unified Three Year Product Trajectory

I don’t do what I do for the view. And at the end of the day not even for the cash, although I do have plans. I do what I do, because He was a simple carpenter, plying his trade for 15 years. Building things. That’s the secret message of the scripture, if you ask me.

But that is a nice view. No snow, except high on the mountains of course. Would be a nice day to take the bike out. But it’s an even nicer day to be here at Qteqk, building things.

I kind of ‘turn up’ at a meeting. That turns some heads. I fill up my water glass and say ‘Hi’ to everyone and find a window ledge to perch on. Meg will introduce me in a second. I take a quick sniff of the room. Some old dogs here, and some young scrubs who worked their way up from tech support. Meg lets them finish up their current spat: something minor about which protocol to support. It’s clear they have no framework to settle these debates. And that Meg knows that, but she is in too deep, too long in the manure.

She’s smart, though. Perhaps a little ruthless. Borderline deceptive if this goes on much longer with her not telling everyone the new sheriff is not only in town…he’s in the goshdarn room!

Meetings going okay. Lots of listening. Then letting them know I am listening. Eventually I get the question, the frustrated demand that I lay my cards on the table and say what I am going to do, what changes I am going to make.

“We are going to take the same brains we have now. We are going to take the same tech we have now. Here’s what we’ll do different. We’ll imagine there was no yesterday. We’ll imagine that all that matters is who wants to buy from us tomorrow. Because frankly, that is true. There is no yesterday. The people of yesterday are gone…I can’t sell to them.”

I bring in Yvonne Carpenter. Yvonne and I go back a ways. Back at IBM, we ran a pretty tight unit. She’s 20 years younger than me, but if I may say so, she had a good mentor!

I take her for a tour so she can shake hands with everyone.

“They’ve never had a Senior Project Clarification Officer here before, Yvonne. It’s shaking things up you just being here. But I got your back, you know that.”

Yvonne chats away for a little bit. I let her talk and run off her nerves. Once she gets past those nerves, she’ll be ready for the big time. That’s my goal for her: get her to a level of ‘cool’ where she doesn’t seem such a girl anymore. Ha… maybe she’ll stop wearing those crazy short skirts then!

I meet the German guy. He is possessed with –dare I say it – demonic energy. He got off the ‘plane an hour ago and I can practically see his trail of destruction as I head to our meeting. Cubicles with people typing way too hard. Corridor meetings with flickering suspicious glances all around. Gupta tearing up his MS Project that he keeps next to the picture of his lovely young wife.

Bernhard and I go at it, in a fashion. I explain that the tech group does good work, but that over here in head office we have been sending confusing and outdated market signals. That changes now.

He explains what ‘marketing’ is to me. I keep an even stare on his face. Red hair. Very primitive looking sometimes…on certain skull types. I used to surf. Sometime the swell rises to a point you can’t believe. You look down on this foaming screaming mess and you have to stay calm. You got up here, and you will surely go back down again. So yell away, Bernhard.

But then Meg comes in the room. From her perspective I am sitting placidly while the little German guy rips me a new one. She looks over at me with a hint of uncertainty. Then he looks at her like he would like to literally eat her. She shivers, I think.

New hire, not hired by me but reporting to me. A bit strange, but there you go. I take him out for lunch. With a beer, why not. Bending the rules a little bit, I suppose.

He agrees that the burgers are good here. Oh, come on! They are the best.

He won’t commit to an answer on that.

It’s a hard couple of weeks forging my product plan. The New guy, Keith, is an excellent Subject Matter Expert. I lock the three of us: Keith, Yvonne, and I in my office for three hard days. We have a vision.

I only have one doubt. Someone corners Keith and breaks him: asks him to define our goals. Maybe even in good faith: they just want him to inspire them. He couldn’t do it, could he?

They could get me through him. Not that it is about me. But by me I mean the Unified 3-year Product Trajectory.

“Got a book for you, Keith.”

He thanks me. Even calls me boss, which he didn’t have to do. I see that he is a bit wary when he reads the subtitle of the book.

“Don’t worry! It’s not a religious text! It’s a book I learned a lot from. Look at it this way. Even if you were an atheist – and I don’t know if you are. But as you know I am a lay minster in training. But I ‘get’ atheists, probably more than they do in some ways. But anyway even if you were an atheist…maybe MORESO if you were…you have to admit that one little Jewish guy in Galilee set up one hell of an organization.”

I walk him through part of the book that I want him to get. Not about Jesus. I don’t give a hoot about Keith’s faith (which he is really quiet about now, in my opinion.) It’s about Authority.

“Jesus had no power. I have no power. Sure I can – y’know FIRE you [ha!]. But how does that get you to work better, harder, follow the vision? That’s coercion, and it never gets more than the minimum grudging compliance. I don’t want compliance. I want enthusiasm – to be filled with the spirit.

“How do I get that? How do You get that from those around you whose souls we need in our camp? You do it by serving. That’s what the title is about. The greatest leader is the greatest servant.”

I slap him on his muscular back and I leave him to soak that up a little. Betsy is waiting on me at home. She hasn’t been getting much ‘love’ lately!

I bring something good up from the cellar. After dinner we walk and look at the mountains, holding hands. We talk a little bit about our ministry. Only three years to go!

She asks me if I will miss business. Flights to weird places. Putting out fires. Measurable success.

“Sure, I say. But to everything there is a season.”

Someone laughed at me during a meeting today

Someone closed their email real fast when I came in their cube. I just wanted to talk about the Chiefs game. He’s the Chiefs fan, not me. Frankly I couldn’t really give a hoot.

Meg flies out to Germany tomorrow. Really it should be me, but then again I am kind of buried. She trusts me to run the shop.

“Because you see the big picture. That’s important. You don’t just come in and start cleaning everybody’s shoes. The shoe-shine guy is not the CEO. You have to show your knowledge of the big picture and your absolute desire to serve. Only then do you become The Authority. It’s a double meaning see.

“You can trust me on this because I have been doing it for 20 years and as you can see it is working fine for me.

“I don’t do this for the view, but you can see right here that not a lot of people have a view like this.”

We watch a big front of snow coming in for a while.

Why is he so scared? I need to find the fear in him.

Yvonne come in the room. He lightens up a little. She’s more his age: that makes sense.

This is good. We have the core of a tight team here. I just need to get the other guys on board. I have fifteen direct reports now. And we are a long way from a first major victory. This is the dangerous time. A hungry time.

I have a nickname now. Not one I care for. “Chief Shoeshine Officer.” But at least I have a friend who forwarded that to me.

Meg is not supportive.

She is tired. I think she does prescription drugs. She is so thin and frail that she is hard to look at.

She tells me all about how powerful Bernhard is and how it is best to just follow along with him until we get that first big win under her belt.

I’m straight with her: we will never get that big win if we do things the Bernhard way.

She is okay if he drags us down. Then we strike while he is weak.

I don’t think she understands strength and weakness.

“I didn’t come here to fail, Meg. Not at this level. Bernhard will kill us if we follow your plan.”

She looks out the window. Windows are very dangerous things.

“Just a quick drink.”

Soon we are both drunk. Well, that’s what I think anyway! Seems that way. I crack a joke about how we almost went in that bar with the rainbow cowboy neon sign thing.

“So. How are we doing? What about this goddamn German, huh?”

I can’t get inside this guy’s head. He won’t say a single thing out of turn.

“Did you read the book?”

He did. He says he thinks it is pretty cool. He thinks it is very interesting,

“Eternal life is very interesting,” I let him know. “A flower in eternal life is greater than a galaxy here in dream life.”

I wake up and I remember saying that.

I can’t get out of bed that day.

Betsy makes the call.

Engineers are working on things I never heard of. Sales people got PowerPoints from heaven in their email.

This is a significant challenge to me. I call my capos in: Yvonne and Keith.

“Look,” I say. “Bernhard has blown it. The board want order. Not this chaos. You don’t tolerate Germans and all of their bullcrap to get chaos. You want order. That’s why you have a German. And do you know why you have your Americans?”

They are quiet.

But Yvonne knows. I give her a wink.

“DREAMS!”

I have started the process. A meeting will happen where Bernhard’s ideas will meet my ideas. Meg okayed it. Yvonne and Keith are putting together some magical stuff. Magical. I go in the team room with Y&K and I just kind of let it happen. I give them the freedom. The trust. They know I am going to be behind them 100%. They just have to dream it. Bernhard and his team of…Eurocrats… they are just puppets. Machines.

I bring the guys donuts and coffee. Yvonne is massaging Keith’s shoulders and his eyes are closed. They are both wearing similar shirts. Very silky, sort of clingy. Her eyes are not closed. She is looking down at him. Very attentive.

“Easy, guys!”

“You know what we should do. All of us. The whole team.”

I don’t really wait to let them guess. I am lousy at waiting.

“Whitewater rafting!”

They laugh but then I jump on the desk and I act it out: beating the waves down, shouting out orders to the left and the right.

We make it home. Beautiful hot red valley takes us home slow.

They dig it!

I visit Meg in hospital.

She asks me not to tell anyone.

“There’s nothing to tell, Meg. They all know you. The real you.”

She laughs a kind of dry laugh. Dry like fiberglass.

She says that Bernhard has worn her down.

I say that he is nothing. He’s old news. We have the plan and the team.

She says that he has broken her heart and burned up her body.

She says that.

She really says that.

But she promises that things will be okay. The board finally found a CEO. He is coming in a few weeks time. He is coming to judge the good ideas and the bad. She believes in my ideas.

I guess I fell asleep in that chair in the hospital. I wake up and they are sponging her down. I leave. It’s hard to tell what her body is made of anymore.

Betsy is not happy.

“She needed someone. What would the Lord have done?”

She tells me she doesn’t care about that. But she has a bad feeling. Like I should never have left IBM.

Frankly, I roar at her. She looks scared like she hasn’t for years: since I was a young dumb kid. Lord, what did she see in me then, practically godless: no more than an ape?

Thank you Lord.

I raid the cellar again and again. Soon I am calling it ZE BUNKER! I am doing Hitler salutes in the kitchen and shouting SIEG HEIL! SIEG HEIL!

I ‘make’ her drink. Although how do you make someone drink. I don’t pour it down her neck.

You can’t make anyone do anything.

Even Jesus can’t do that. That’s what this whole fucking 4000 year mess is all about.

Sorry.

All my troops are in the room.

Bernhard has done his preso. It was very backward looking, and I let him know it.

“Keith, our deck please.”

Keith has the flash drive. The PowerPoint opens.

In a few simple phrases we define the market, the channels and the only gap…a product we could easily make if we stopped doing Bernhard’s nonsense.

Bernhard says I am living in a dream. He starts throwing deep tech words around. He starts talking about how my product is made of unicorn tears.

I let him talk. But then I remember how he embarrassed me before. I have to shut him down.

“Bernhard. You had your chance. You took this company nowhere. Your role now is to execute. The vision is set here. We will give you everything you need to execute well. But please… for Lord’s sake… stop thinking.”

I have won.

Then he looks at Meg. It is like he has a remote control in his pants. Meg says…

You know I can’t remember what she says. I just remember how everyone looks at me as they leave the room and I stack papers. Papers so thin you can see through them.

Bernhard invites us all out for a drink.

It’s not even a mind-game. He only fights for the fight. No malice, no goal. He does not want power: it simply is him.

What to do?

Lord. What to do?

“Betsy, I have one advantage. Territory. When the new CEO arrives he is going to want to throw all of these ideas out the door anyway. All I need to do is show the CEO that I command Headquarters. Meg is a ghost. All I need to do is get the guys behind me. Just have a really tight team of my direct reports that can execute fast.”

I can’t wait until rafting season. I rent a lodge in the mountains. Time for the off-site.

Betsy comes in my room during the night. I ask her for a massage but she says her hands are hurting. So I try to massage her but she says she doesn’t want that. She just wants to hug.

The hug is sucking energy from me. I break away.

Betsy understands. But does she?

She is not invited to the offsite.

I plant hints all week for my big team.

It is going to be awesome.

This is where the new Qteqk is born.

And fun! I have so much meat to take up. My brother in law is a butcher.

I pick up Yvonne. She squeezes in next to Keith.

“I have driven through worse than this!” I say.

But that is an absolute lie. It is so white and so silent on those mountain roads that I have absolutely no idea how I could tell if we died.

No-one else makes it.

Keith hopes no one had an accident.

“Oh really?” I say, sarcastically. Yvonne looks p.o.-ed.

The lodge is frozen up. We grab blankets and sleeping  bags and head back to the meeting room, where there is heat. We put down sleeping bags and play movies through the overhead projector.

I have enough meat for an army. We get a little fire going and cook it. Slowly. We are all sweating. Yvonne keeps bringing us drinks.

“We can do this,” I say.

I never figured out Yvonne’s ethnicity. So I ask her.

She says she is white but funny looking.

“Keith can we do this?” I ask.

Keith is sprawled on the floor. He says that in all honesty he thinks we are screwed. And that he has burned a lot of bridges.

“So you think I am on my way out?”

Keith says that he does. But I sense sadness in him.

“Keith and Yvonne, you both make 120 thousand dollars. I can make that 150 with my little BlackBerry right here. No need for approvals. Can’t be reversed.”

I have their attention.

“And I will do that for you. If you prove…that I had your loyalty and I have your loyalty now. You have to show me that I have your loyalty.”

They look at each other.

“Show me something.”

And now I am watching them.

They are going so slow.

He’s just crushing her into nothing. And she is looking at the fire.

And she clenches her mouth and I look down and… well of course she is clenching her mouth.

Of course she is.

But she should look at that.

If that is going to happen, she should look at it.

I have my hand coiled in a rope of sausages.

The door opens suddenly.

A man walks in. Olive skinned. Long haired. Bearded. Untouched by the snow. Glowing. Gleaming. He sees us. He sees what we are doing. I see the wounds in his hands.

With the sausages’ wet meat I shield myself and I kneel before him and I say “Let me serve you, master let me serve you.”

Before coming to Qteqk, he ran a spaghetti company.

On the way to the mountains, he blew out a tire and had to change it in a blizzard.

There will be no ministry.

Betsy does not come back to our home.

At the end of the day it was just work stress, alcohol abuse and a little kinky trip. Not worth killing yourself for.

I sell half of our past. It gets me a small amount of future.

At no point can I see a decision that I made that was all about me.

So I don’t think about forgiveness.

Marc Horne

Image: Beth Anderson http://elisabethanderson.com/

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5 responses to this post.

  1. This piece made me laugh and also squirm.

    It says something about all the companies we have ever worked for, I think.

    Excellent. And you win the ‘Dan Holloway award for gruesomeness’ this time.

    Reply

  2. “I sell half of our past. It gets me a small amount of future.” Love that sentence. Encapsulates and propels the story—and is just beautiful.

    Reply

  3. This story is peculiar & the language an unnerving mix of cliches, everday, & sheer gorgeous poetry – & the icky exclamation marks. I read it with dropped jaw! It is very cool.

    Reply

  4. It was the sausages that made my jaw drop!

    Reply

  5. […] The Unified Three Year Product Trajectory by Horne […]

    Reply

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