Statistics Saturday: 16 Real People Whose Names Became Those Of Corporations


  • John Pierpont Morgan
  • Richard Sears
  • Ulysses S Steel
  • Commodore Billy Nabisco
  • Arthur Kraft
  • Rick “The Swarm” Disney
  • Daniel Striped Xerox
  • Wyr Beatrice
  • Ray McDonald’s
  • Whirlpool Louis Upton
  • Michael Valvoline Smith
  • William H Microsoft
  • Sebastian Kmart Sperling Buick
  • James David Tricon Global Restaurants
  • Uniroyal Roy
  • Marjory Sealed Air

Reference: The March of Folly, Barbara W Tuchman.

The Conference Call


The call is scheduled for 2:00 Friday. PM, the office manager sent out a follow-up e-mail about, as though AM were up for discussion. It’s the same joke sent out every time. But we must respect the rituals of the Conference Call. To leap in without the assurance that everyone was not getting together at 2:00 AM would be unthinkable. And it would bring about the ambiguity about whether they meant the 2:00 AM reached by staying up late on Thursday or staying up late on Friday.

The subject is the M’Gregor Project. The M’Gregor Project has been going on for so long and gotten discussed so well that it has achieved organizational Nirvana. There is no task on it, however minor, which can be completed by any known means. The attempt to establish how to complete any part of any task on it results in the task splitting, like a free neutron, into three smaller tasks and administrative neutrinos. And yet these smaller tasks are no more completable. And yet call for as much discussion. It is not that anyone is avoiding work. They put reasonable, responsible efforts into their tasks. It’s just that everyone needs something someone else does before they can finish, and there is nothing that can be finished first.

Thus the need to set a careful agenda. There should be time to review outstanding tasks. This is all of them. There will not be time to review outstanding tasks. The group will get through about ten minutes of this and then ask whether there’s anyone falling behind. Everyone feels themselves falling behind. Even without trying to subdivide tasks two or three new ones have appeared to everyone. Tasks are like feral kittens scratching at the break room door. After consideration most everyone accepts these newly subdivided tasks. They set them up in the least-used corner of their workspace with a small bowl of kibble and bedding made of shredded printer instructions. There is special time given to the person who’s found five new tasks. Two of them are given away to people who think they could whip that out Monday. Monday’s when the printer is set to explode, but that isn’t on the agenda and so is not considered.

There is no one at the company who remembers the M’Gregor Project’s start. There is no one at the company who will be there when it ends. There is no one at the company who can explain why it’s not MacGregor. There is no one at the company who can convince those separatists that it should not have been McGregor. All agree there is some benefit to the company if the M’Gregor Project should be completed. Something, surely. But to just make some clear progress before the end of the quarter would be good too.

Nothing is completed. Nothing could be completed. There is something. There is the possibility of reorganizing tasks into new categories. This is more than trading tasks that haven’t got finished. This would be the chance for everyone to think carefully about what they’re good at. To think of what they feel engaged in doing. To think of which of their assigned tasks are too boring to even let fail. A chance to own up to it, to show what one accepts one will never do, and give them up to people who still think themselves ready. To set about such a reorganization is work. A large number of people have to devote themselves to rationalizing their projects. This is a major task. A great many people would like to have done it.

The Conference Call is a chance to share anxious anticipation of explaining why your task is not finished, or fear of getting a new task. In this way do the participants reassure one another that they are part of the group. That they are some of the many, many people who have been involved in the M’Gregor Project. It is the socially acceptable substitute for our instinctive desire to groom one another’s fur for lice and tics. And this, of course, is why the thing is done.

We’re ready for you to join on line two.

Why I’m Stuck Again At The Meijer’s Check-Out Lane


So there’s been some progress and I found some acceptable cargo pants at Meijer’s. And now I have to work out whether I had an “extremely” satisfying shopping experience. I have no conceptual theory for what makes an extremely satisfying pants-buying experience. I have some ideas of things that make for an unsatisfying pants-buying experience. I’m a little unhappy that I had to ask someone to unlock the dressing room, but that’s just because I don’t want to bother the person whose job it is to unlock the dressing room by asking for dressing-room-unlocking services.

But that’s not truly unsatisfying, the way I’d be unsatisfied if, say, a pair of test-fit pants turned out to have legs full of angry worms. I don’t know why the worms are there. Maybe they wanted to simulate the leg experience. Or if I took the pants off the rack and was immediately tackled by The Number 23-era Jim Carrey. Maybe if I went to buy them and got caught in a spotlight while buses full of everyone I knew in middle school came by to point and laugh at me.

But “extremely” satisfying has to be more than just “nothing unpleasant happens”. I need something more. I don’t know what. I’m stuck on what that would need. My attempts to think of an “extremely” satisfying pants-buying experience keep failing. Like, suppose I tried on a pair of pants and found a $20 in the pocket? Great, right? Except then I can’t just ignore the fact that some stranger wore these pants before me and they weren’t even washed or anything. Or else someone didn’t put these pants on and is just shoving money into the pockets of un-used pants. Why would someone do that? What’s their angle?

The people behind me in lane 14 are getting tired of my dithering. Please send help. Also, companies, please stop trying to be personal. It’s not working out like you want.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Another Blog, Meanwhile index rose five points as a high-pressure system moved out, which goes to support the hypothesis that people knew what they were doing yesterday when they blamed the five-point drop on the high-pressure system. It’s nice that something would work out like that.

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Report on the Failure of the Turpid Moraine Moraine Project


It is difficult to identify the proximate and ultimate causes of the failed Turpid Moraine Moraine Project, as this complex and sinister web of factors can pretty much be blamed on the people getting this report, but the effort is worthwhile as it keeps the report-writer from having to unload the boxes of returned things or suffer physical retribution from the Moraine Moraine clients.

We must characterize communications as a primary failure cause and/or mode. For example, the client could directly ask the programmers to ask whether the demands on their servers would be lessened if the software development kits used a smaller typeface and maybe something in a Futura. Meanwhile the programmers were inadequately shy about writing back to ask whether the project had been approved for development as much as 34 months after the contract was signed.

A considerable volume of chat transcripts indicate that communications — internal, external, and whatever that grey area is in-between — were altogether too good and allowed everyone to know what kinds of people they were dealing with. In any modern organization traces of humanity must be suppressed, because humans are just terrible, and the more you hear from them the worse they are. Fortunately the failure of the Moraine Moraine Project bodes well for future work with them as there’s no one left on their staff or ours willing to speak to the other.

To underscore the excessiveness of our communication note that the client’s staffers who sent the typeface memo asserted they were merely being facetious, to bring all together in a sense of common cause against the general stupidity of the modern world. Our programmers responded that there is no reason to treat an ironical shopworn joke as superior to a sincerely shopworn joke. The ensuing debate on the signifiers and purposes of humor, and what did our programmers think that approved-for-development base-touching was exactly, enabled over seven persons in both organizations to earn their Masters of Literature. While we had no explicit responsibility many felt we ought to keep people safe from that sort of thing.

Despite too-good communications, the specifications for the project were still inadequately defined. Enclosed please find the final draft of the project requirements: the twelve Primary Objectives include (as item seven) an inventory of the broken vending machine, (item twelve) a ruling on whether to write “10” or “ten”, and (item nine) a call for international diplomacy by way of open covenants of peace, openly arrived at. Among the twenty Desirable Objectives are “fireproof kettles”, whatever those are, and a settlement on the way to spell “moustache”. The Marketing division was able to identify fourteen products which already meet all these specifications, none of which satisfied the clients, and two of which required the attention of three municipalities’ emergency medical technicians. Marketing asserts Moraine Moraine was being “fickle”.

The Training Department’s admirable refusal to communicate with Programming, Marketing, or the client, despite its de facto status as project coordinators, nevertheless failed us in some ways. Lacking other information, for example, both Marketing and Programming trusted that the West Silage physical plant was still owned by our company, or indeed any company. This was the direct cause of the humiliating site visit in which the attempt to the prototypes of our data-sampling and analysis tools resulted in being chased by binturongs wielding sticks. The Training Department wants it noted that the sticks were sharpened in line with the ISO-9000/OUCH procedure they developed for the Total Quality Management program which began in 1994, and that they will be ready for the 1998 Final Audit whenever we can provide them with six to eight years notice. They would.

While it is always dangerous to identify senior management as participants in the failure I must note that the boss’s decision to unnecessarily offend the foul witch Sycorax and thus get grown into some kind of hoop or something in a pine tree (her e-mails on this point were blissfully uncommunicative) until freed by a shipwrecked sailor, coming as the incident did in the middle of budgeting, left our staffing decisions badly affected for the following fiscal year.

Given the multifaceted nature of the Moraine Moraine failure it is difficult to recommend a single most important corrective action, so I recommend we just have everybody in charge of something read a bunch of Tom Peters books until they feel good about themselves again.

Pole Barn Update!


There’s been some good news about the company that was behind that pole barn controversy a while back. The company’s put the whole business of their place being called a pole barn behind them and decided to expand in the area, this time near the airport where people are only going to give them a hard time about not looking like an airplane hangar enough.

But what delights me is the noon news reporter explained that “what they do is somewhat mysterious” and offered that, basically, it’s “a high-tech business that works with electrons”. This has been bringing a smile to me ever since. It’s got the vision of a company finding troubled electrons and counseling them back to success in school and a stable home life and maybe work out some of the problems that come about from feeling like they’re just one in an innumerable crowd and hardly even an individual fermion.

Whatever happened to Coleco


A big part in the history of any business is when it figures to diversity, because that’s where everything gets really screwed up. The case example of this is Coleco, which started out making stuff for doing things with leather, and concluded that to be really successful it needed shoe-makers to be able to be able to install in-ground swimming pools, always a sign of moving upscale in the neighborhood. But to be able to support the new in-ground pool ventures it had to move into making video games so that people would have blinky, button-y things to occupy themselves with while beside the pool. This forced the company into the line of making computer hardware since without the hardware the video games were just, in those days, illegally copied discs accompanied by magazined that insisted you needed to know BASIC for some reason. This forced another diversification as Coleco needed its employees to be properly outfitted for clean-room operations, and to be properly outfitted they needed sharp shoes. This forced them right back into the business of making tools for leather workers. The company vanished in a recursive loop in 1987 and was never heard from again.

It’s Somebody’s Business


The history of a company usually has distinct phases, like the step where a small team of like-minded idealists with skills in an exciting new technology realize they’ve been coming to a garage workshop garage for four years now and have almost completed a salable product none too soon because the owner of the garage almost caught them last time. And then there’s a stage where everybody gets quite tense about selecting the right sort of cake for the birthday party for someone who’s out sick anyway. It wasn’t the right day anyway. And then there are also all intermediate stages like deciding what to make for their fifteenth product, and deciding that the company logo has to be redone so it’s at an angle. It can make for fascinating reading to follow all these stages. I plan to do so by putting the logo at an angle and changing its typeface to something sans serif that badly imitates handwriting.