Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Shock and Awe

There's a lot of stuff going on in my lovely company that can be classified as unusal, crazy or disturbing but rarely do we encounter stupidity in the pure form we encountered today... It was the shock and awe tactics of stupidity, and no surprise, I was shocked and I was awed.

The most recent project I have been working together with Luke, the Boy and Mr. Chin Jr. on has been a complete clownshow with a large number involved parties competing for the role as the lead clown while we have been trying to avoid getting too entangled and as much as possible tried to stay away and watch from the side. Last week we thought we had somehow finished this mess with our honor somewhat intact, granted, some tweaking was done to adapt to the politics of the client but nothing so shameful that it demanded a harakiri session. We looked into the market, did an analysis and provided a decent report for the client which we thought would be the end of it all.

However, now it seems like the project has involved to include a second part where we are going to look more into detail. One of the key findings of this particular market was that getting access to sales channels would be one of the largest hurdles to market entry as well as differentiation of the product. We also recommended the client to develop a product that targeted a certain segment of the market where we saw some potential to grow, and also avoid the heaviest competition. So far so good, today we talked with Mr. Chin about how to proceed over the phone.

Now, for the sake of argument, let's say that this product in question is "potato chips" which is mostly sold by "supermarkets". Now in the phone conference, Mr. Chin very seriously blurts out;
"I think that it might make sense for the client to acquire a supermarket chain to get immediate access to their sales channel, I have heard that there is one that fits the customer segment that we have in mind".

For a brief moment there is just complete silence in the room, we look at each other and just shake our heads and it takes me a couple of seconds to gather myself enough to very mildly ask Mr. Chin;
"Ok, but do you really think that this potato chips manufacturer wants to go into the supermarket business? Isn't supermarkets a little different from what they usually do, and also considering that potato chips is an extremely marginal source of profit for the individual supermarket...?".

A short silence follows whereafter Mr. Chin replies;
"Well, maybe we need to just show them why it's not a good idea to do this".

Again a short silence whereafter I say;
"Really, if they can't understand by themselves why this is a really bad idea I don't think there's any point in explaining it to them... Did the client really say that they thought this would be a viable approach?!"

Again, a longer silence followed by;
"No, not specifically but..."

Thankfully, the topic changed to more meaningful discussions after this and this was not brought up again, but the moment the phone was hung up there was plenty of merriment in the meeting room. Like ambulance drivers and other people in intense professions, humour has become our defense mechanism to survive.

Now, one would think and hope that this would be enough severe stupidity for one day but shortly after this phone conference I had another phone conference with Mr. Chin together with my new team for another project that is just starting up; Meg and Dr. Y. One of the topics we brought up with Mr. Chin was preparations for an interview with a client that we have been planning and we wanted to make sure that he was comfortable with the questions we were going to ask. In the beginning the meeting goes reasonably well, with us outlining our current status in the project and the plans going forward, so far so good. Except for a few comments from Mr. Chin that didn't really make sense and made us do the question mark faces, but didn't seem important for us to really care about. Just when we thought everything was fine and set for the phone interview the following day a question comes up from Mr. Chin;
"So... tomorrow we're going to talk to this guy and ask him questions?"

The whole meeting Mr. Chin had talked and appeared to be listening, but he had never understood one thing about what the meeting was about... Meg and Dr. Y has not yet been as exposed as me to the nature of Mr. Chin so they did not respond with humour but instead with pure disbelief.

Believe me, this is heavy stuff to experience, all in one day...

Since I will be working with them for some time ahead and they might very well appear as supporting characters in my future adventures, here comes brief profiles of Meg and Dr. Y:

Meg is one of those people that almost instantly triggers my inferiority complex in that she's extremely smart, friendly and always nice. She's in a junior position but has relatively long experience in the company and therefore knows a lot of the tricks of the trade. Very "Ivy League" but not snobbish about it. I almost hope to see some really bad side of her since it would be a relief to know that she also got flaws.
Intentional Amusement Level (1-10): 6
Un-intentional Amusement Level (1-10): 1

Dr. Y is a Japanese guy in his mid 30's and in a position just one step below me. He's a Harvard doctor in biology or something similar. He quite recently joined the company and is a really nice guy but has not yet adapted to the work since it's quite different from his earlier area of expertise.
Intentional Amusement Level (1-10): 6
Un-intentional Amusement Level (1-10): 2

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