The signs and portents were there. The newspaper that landed in the mud puddle, the spilt coffee and the unusually high number of black cats that crossed his path on his way to work. To him, they were just events and not warnings of something more ominous for he was the Rational Man.
The Company hired him to advise them on implementing quality management. There was a lot of resistance to the idea, particularly amongst a faction of the executives who saw it as an extra expense with little value in return. The Rational Man was confident for he handled similar resistance before. His research was thorough, his arguments compelling and his presentation worthy of an award. He was certain another company would be converted the cause by the end of the day.
The Chair introduced the Rational Man to the pride of executives. The first half of his presentation went as expected. He explained the quality concepts and how they benefited other organizations. He could see faint nods of agreement and actual interest amongst most of his audience. The Rational Man proceeded to outline his findings during his quality assessment of the Company.
“So are you saying the work we do is not quality work?” the Declarative Executive exclaimed.
“The Rational Man did not flinch. He was prepared. He had thought out every contingency. Every nuance. Every possibility. The Rational Man expected at least one of these in his audience. He couldn’t believe it was going to be this easy. The set-up line was too good.
“I understand your point. He began. “Very few of us believe we are doing, if I may use the term, bad work. Most professionals see what they do as being of some quality if not the very best. Much like the profession of motherhood, most mothers believe they are amongst the best but all empirical evidence suggests the contrary. Otherwise the world would be a different place.”
There was a moment of silence as the collective of executives pondered this argument. The Rational Man took a sip of water. He could sense the success that would come out of this presentation. He mentally flipped to the counterpoints he had anticipated, ready for the next volley. The Declarative Executive leaned forward.
“I fail to see what my mother has to do with it.”
Something twigged in the back of his skull – a feeling a distant ancestor would have understood when seeing the oncoming carnivore across the Savannah.
“Well, I…” he stammered, “I wasn’t speaking of your mother specifically. I was referring to motherhood in general.” Where did this come from, he thought frantically.
“So you think all mothers are bad?” the Declarative Executive rumbled.
“No not at all. I was using the example to show how there can be improvement in any activity. Even something like motherhood can be improved.” The Rational Man was happy with his rally and inhaled to push on with his presentation.
“So,” the Declarative Executive interjected, “you’re saying we do poor quality work because our mothers did not raise us properly.”
“What!” the Rational Man was taken aback. “Er … I mean there is always room for improvement. As I have outlined in my presentation you could benefit from having a quality management system. As for mothers, well, no one is perfect. Even my own mother made mistakes.” He hated resorting to cliches and anecdotal reasoning.
“You hated your mother then.”
“No! I loved her very much.”
“Then why are you saying such nasty things about her?” the Declarative Executive asked.
“I am not! In fact I do not understand why you brought her up!’ the Rational Man exclaimed.
“You brought her up!”
“I did not!” the Rational Man shouted. He was now the Irrational Man. Well, the Frustrated Man at the very least. “Oh, I did didn’t I?” he said very quietly. He looked at the indifferent faces of the collected executive and realized the moment was lost. The death of the quality management system was only a formality now.
The Chair realized it as well and mercifully informed the Rational Man he was out of time but thanked him for the philosophical approach to quality. The Rational Man slumped into his seat, in shock from his defeat by such a bizarre exchange. He did not even notice later in the meeting the money earmarked for the quality management system was reallocated to a project sponsored by the Declarative Executive. The meeting adjourned and the pride of executives shuffled out of the room.
“Maybe you should get some therapy.” the Declarative Executive suggested helpfully on the way out.