Saturday, December 6, 2008

Putting Socks on an Octopus

For the last three days, I've been out of town, immersed in the high tech corporate environment. The purpose of this trip was to bring the sales team together, discuss our achievements for the year, our goals for finishing out the year and our challenges for generating revenue next year. We also had a training session with a paid consultant and our CEO on a strengths-based performance management system to maximize the effectiveness of our skills ecosystem, and of course we had several social events. The sales team was together for literally every waking hour.

It's exhausting.

One of the most difficult aspects of this intense contact with my colleagues and with the corporate leadership is that it involves a constant barrage of some of the most obscene mangling of the English language -- an assault to the ears and brain with some of the most ridiculous corporate jargon imaginable.

Some of our newer AEs wanted to discuss the challenges of presenting our value proposition to prospects. Fortunately for them, we have started to emerge from our period of evangelizing to the leads and we've managed to gain some traction in our market sector. Sure, we've got the sausage, but where's the sizzle? Since we are partially an IT security product, use of the FUD factor is always effective, but clients also need reassurance that the product is future-proofed and more conservative customers want assurance that we've got referenceability and we've been vetted in the industry because they don't want to be on the bleeding edge of technology purchases. They need to know they're not pushing the envelope and we need to incentivize them to understand that this isn't a back-of-the-envelope science experiment, that we have reached critical mass in our market penetration and they won't just be kicking dead whales down the beach with a product that has jumped the shark or a company that is circling the drain. Yes, we need them to be confident that our solution has been baked-in and that even within our own environment, we do, indeed eat our own dogfood despite some unexpected cleverly disguised features (bugs) in our firmware and the subsequent turd-polishing that's necessary.

It's frustrating. The sales cycle is long and to most of the new guys, moving the client forward is a pig in a python. But the future looks good and we've got a couple of promising two comma deals in the pipeline.

Much of the future depends on our lighting up the channels. This is a tricky proposition and initially, it's a loss leader because to effectively do this, the VARs need to have deep-pockets and they need to be assured that they won't constantly be crossing sabers with us or with other VARs. Some people thought in the early days that we ought to just stick to our knitting. Some VARs are actively OEM'ing us, and some don't have the bandwidth to dedicate those kind of resources and human capital, but we do want to synergize with them, match jerseys, foster coopertition and jockey for position with other solution providers to show them that in a green-field environment, we are a differentiator and that with a little hand-holding and mindshare, we can help them get beyond the gatekeepers who are drinking the Kool-Aid from other vendors and we can help them to be change agents. Sure, we may be swimming between the islands without ever touching the beach and without a doubt, doing the Kabuki dance with some of these major players is like nailing jelly to the hothouse wall, but net-net is that we have to recontextualize ourselves.

Yes, it's tough and the new guys often felt like they were drinking from the firehose. It takes time to become a SME and it takes time to be able to develop the leave-behinds that will resonate and communicate the special sauce. We are a small company, we have a lot on our plates, we're getting lots of pushback, we don't have the cycles to spend on all of the things we'd like to do and there is no silver bullet or killer app that will guarantee closure. The developers are battling feature creep from the imagineers and often feel like they've been handed a bag of snakes to wrangle. When we had to downsize in 2005 and cut out some business units, nobody was happy about having to shoot the puppy. But we're heavy into transitioning and there will be a lot of triangulating with other departments and outside stakeholders in order to see revenues trending northward next year.

The social events may have been even more painful than the business discussions. The stress puppies come out of the woodwork and the competitive nature of sales people fosters a lot of testiculating. With C-Level employees in attendance, some of my colleagues took the opportunity to use the face time to try and advance their standing through assmosis, feeding ear candy to each executive as fast as they could spew it out. Noodling with the bean counters and with the visionaries may or may not provide the new guy with the juice to advance his agenda.

My head is swimming. I need to steam clean my cerebellum and there's no better way to do that than to jump back into working on the structure of my novel in progress, although doing that is a lot like putting socks on an octopus.


Melissa Marsh said...

I LOVE that image - putting socks on an octopus! :-)

But you're right - immerse yourself in your writing. It is such good therapy in so many ways.

Seachanges said...

What a great image - socks on an octopus. Just love it :) You must have fun having jumped back into your novel - know how you feel (my struggle with jargon is the educational variety - not much better)!

Patti said...

i admire that you can jump on that 'pus. i thought i was on to something, but now, eh...

Anonymous said...

Man, you need sauna just to sweat out all the work-related jargon.

"Socks on an octopus" was good, but you had me at "a training session with a paid consultant and our CEO on a strengths-based performance management system to maximize the effectiveness of our skills ecosystem."

Denis said...

That is awesome. I'll never jar another gon!

Lana Gramlich said...

Yet again I am reminded just how much I LOVE my job! (Even if it means reorganizing the entire library on a constant basis because people just don't know how to alphabetize!)

Larramie said...

Now there's a title that just might sell. ;) Welcome back to the creative world, Lisa!

debra said...

Blogger ate my comment again. Some days are like that, I guess.
I am too tired to comment intelligently---I just wanted to let you know I stopped by (o)

steve said...

Help! I get upset at the use of the word transition as a verb (which was just a minor part of this madness). I don't know whether I could have got through that session without screaming.

If anyone can put socks on an octopus, you can. Maybe you'll figure out how your novel ends.

Charles Gramlich said...

My brain hurted.

Lisa said...

Melissa, I've found that writing anything seems to be a great remedy for just about anything in my head that's taking up room it shouldn't.

Seachanges, I suppose every industry develops nonsensical jargon. It creates the illusion that there are new concepts and ideas when usually there aren't. It's amazing how many naked emperors there are running around. :)

Patti, Oh, you'll be on to it. I actually ended up starting a short story because of something I remembered from a long time ago. I don't know how it will come out, but it got the words flowing.

Rob, Ha! As I recall, you're in a technology related industry by day too, aren't you?

Denis, When you start paying attention, the level of jargon and/or plain old worn out cliche people use instead of just saying what they mean is really something. Last week I was waiting to get a flu shot at a grocery store pharmacy and this guy was waiting for a prescription to be filled and he kept making phone calls and telling people "I'm sick as a dog, man". And I kept thinking, when did we come up with that expression, and why is a dog the measure of being sick?

Lana, I would love your job too! I do have to admit that I've started looking at my job a little differently. From a writer's perspective there is something to be gained through observing people who talk the way corporate IT types do. I've finally learned to ignore the fact that although I'm not like they are, they do give me a great deal of insight into the way a whole lot of people think. Fortunately, I work from home and I only spend time in that environment a few times a year.

Larramie, It is a pretty good title, isn't it? I wish I could say I thought it up, but I actually heard someone say that very phrase :)

Debra, You are working hard on Cups of Kindness, so I'm just happy to know you were here.

Steve, To be truthful, you actually inspired this post and I made sure to use the word "transition" as a verb because I remembered it was a peeve of yours! Now -- that word IS used regularly in my industry, although it's by far not the worst "verbification" I've heard ;)

Charles, Dude! You should have been there for three days of it! I've exaggerated a bit in my post, but not all that much. I actually heard people use at least 20% of what you read!

Timothy Hallinan said...

Testiculating? Stress puppies? You're so good.

This put me right back in the bad old days when I had a real job. I was good at it, I was remarkably successful and very highly paid, and I hated every minute of it. Now I have less money and more time, and I can NOT understand why I didn't cut that deal with myself ten years earlier.

Brrrrrrrrrrr. Really took me back. Especially the "socializing" part. Brrrrrrrrrr.

Lisa said...

Tim, I had a feeling you'd be able to relate to this. As surreal as these two and three day sessions are, they're not as bad as the one I have coming up in May when it will be all the same people plus our biggest clients. I've been with the company long enough that I can let my guard down and not get sucked into too much of the silliness with my co-workers, but when the clients are around, I have to be "on" the whole time. Brrrrr is right. But as irritating as it can be, in this economy, I'm still pretty happy to have the job. I work from home, they leave me alone 99% of the time and I'm well paid. As much as I've fantasized about ditching it all, the recent downturn in the publishing industry has made me rethink my strategy and realize that having to fit writing and working into my life is works for most people, so it'll have to work for me too. But never know what the future's going to bring as I'm sure 6.7% of the population can attest to. You obviously did the right thing. It's clear you are doing exactly what you were meant to do. Your books are just wonderful and I don't know another author who is as dedicated to his work as you are.

Elizabeth said...

Love that. You should post an "art criticism" blog and then maybe a "literary theory" one -- and my eyes are crossed, right now!

I think you should pick up The Cat in the Hat for a quick realignment.

Lisa said...

Elizabeth, You are so right about the art criticism and literary theory! They're both right up there in the B.S. terminology department. I took lots of art history courses years ago and then when I met Scott and had an insider's view of the business of art, I was almost embarrassed at all the preconceived notions I had about what goes into making art. Now I read lots of literary criticism and it has occurred to me many times that what the critics write about a particular work probably has absolutely nothing to do with what the author was thinking when she wrote it. Funny how that works. We always want to make things much more mysterious than they really are.

pattinase (abbott) said...

My new favorite, and I am hearing it in terms of everything, is transparency.

Sustenance Scout said...

OH MY. The hubster loves to host ideation sessions and repurpose all sorts of stuff. Luckily he also loves his new job. Hang in there and keep plugging on both fronts! It's all worth it...though that's easy for me to say. I left the corporate world before there was e-mail! K.

p.s. Missed you at Bella's yesterday!

Carleen Brice said...

I watched Office Space (again) yesterday. Good for the soul! Did you pick up "Company" yet?

Stephen Parrish said...

This is outstanding. There has to be a print market for it.

Lisa said...

Patti, You are so right. The word, "transparency" is all over the news and actually, WE USE IT IN MY CRAZY WORLD TOO! Now that you've mentioned it, I remember the VP of Sales we had back in 2004 or 2005 was pushing us toward transparency with our channel partners. I don't remember hearing it last week, so we must already be over it :)

Karen, How could I have left
"ideation" and "repurposing" out? I think there are actually people who intentionally just make stuff up and say it to see if anyone challenges them. I suspect nobody ever does.

Carleen, I've had COMPANY for a while, but thanks for the reminder. I think I'll read it after I finish THE MAYTREES. I used to swear I'd never write anything about where I work, but I may have to reconsider. It's more fun than I thought it would be.

Stephen, Thank you. You just made my day :)

Riss said...

god. reminds me of the one year i spent working for a phone company. SME's my ass. The only thing they manage to manage is more loads of bullshit. At least mine did.

I'm sorry we didn't get the chance to get together while i was out there. And steam cleaning sounds like a good idea. Get back to using Earth-Speak. :D I hope you had a great weekend. Just think! Tomorrow's Monday! (c:

CindyLV said...

Hey, I bet you're a champ at "buzz word bingo!" I've played that game for years and I'm happy to be free of those awful meetings!

Tomorrow morning, when I'm sitting on my patio in my jammies with my cup of coffee, surrounded by my adoring fans (okay, two cats and my faithful dog), writing my daily three pages before facing the laptop, I'll be thinking of you... and laughing!

Lisa said...

Riss, I've gotten to the point where it's more funny than annoying, but it's only because I don't have to go down there very often and these days, I think it's because I'm grateful to be employed!'s already tomorrow. Yikes.

Cindy, I've never played "buzz word bingo"! Now I have to Google it and find it. So you'll be laughing...with me...right? :)

Shauna Roberts said...

Ouch! I only made it a quarter of the way through your post. I can't imagine how you stood three days of it.

Anonymous said...

I love this post! :) The sad thing is, I needed my husband to translate, and he knew what everything meant.

For what it's worth, he said you write "business gibberish" very well. :)

Lisa said...

Shauna, I hope that it came across that this is an exaggeration -- but with some of the people I work with, it's not much of a stretch. It wasn't too terribly bad this time. Coping strategy: alcohol and a sense of humor.

Mardougrrl, Hey!!! I've missed you. Your poor husband. I suppose some form of business gibberish has been a part of each industry's corporate culture for decades. I think the assumption is that it makes old ideas sound like new ideas...or something. I don't know why people can't talk like normal human beings. ;)

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Literary Quote

It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything.

Virginia Woolf