Sunday, October 23, 2011

Breakfast meetings and Grand Ideas

It all started in a breakfast meeting.  But first, let me digress already.  I work in corporate America for a very large company.  Large companies feel like they make large decisions, and large decisions require large chains of managers to make sure the large decisions get broken up into smaller decisions to keep yet other managers busy.  I was one step up on that chain, team lead, which meant I was the one that would be most easy to blame if things went wrong.  Last May I needed a relatively minor contract extension for a project my team was working yet it still required 11 signatures  I pushed hard and won the approval lottery through stage 10 in an amazing 25 days!  Then of course the news came that number 11, the president of my division, took the approval with her on a business trip that would last the rest of the week and so I would have to wait yet longer.  UGH! 

The next day I was in the breakfast meeting.  This was no ordinary breakfast meeting, but one in which my boss' boss' boss would hold every month to honor employees whose birthday fell that month and, more importantly, make sure he saw all his underlings at least once per yea.  So here was my chance to impress my boss-to-the-third-power in this mere one-on-50 meeting!  We were going around the room introducing ourselves and saying something interesting.  I had a bunch of people that were introducing themselves before me which gave me plenty of time to ignore them and think of something interesting myself.  My cynical side was to point out I was team lead and that my job was to shuffle papers between 11 people to make them feel important.  But, the marginally smarter side of me won out and I decided to mention my ski trip to Antarctica that was coming up in November.  Deciding that wasn't good enough, I thought I would embellish it with a bigger goal of skiing all seven continents in the next two years.  If I didn't succeed, no one would remember anyhow because they were all busy ignoring me as they came up with their own interesting stories.  My interesting fact won an inkling of feigned interest from the crowd, and I sat back down.  

The introductions continued and my thoughts turned to the approvals in order to distract myself from the other inane interesting stories.  I pondered why it took so long to get stuff done.  I used to be able to get stuff done, and now here I was smothered by a mega-fleece jacket of bureaucracy.  I figured I needed to do something big to remind myself that things can actually get done.  I wondered if my goal of skiing the world in two years could be shrunk to one year.  Hmmm.  Luckily there were still more interesting stories to be ignored, and by the end of the meeting, I wondered if I could ski all the continents in just 10 days, or, in other units, 1/3 the time it took to get an approval on a contract extension that would cost a huge portion (0.00005%) of the company's profits.  So thank you breakfast gave birth to Ski710:  seven continents, ten days.   --Marty