Paranoia (030 of 170)

—of —
by Joseph Finder
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Macmillan: Paranoia

Paranoia by Joseph Finder. Copyright 2004 by Joseph Finder.
All Rights Reserved. Sharing not permitted.

Part Two: 14 (Cont'd)

She looked around menacingly, saw obedient nods. Then she turned around and slashed through the first item in the agenda with a purple marker, a little too violently. Whipping back around, she handed a sheaf of stapled papers to Chad, who began passing them around to his right and left. They looked like some kind of specs, a product definition or product protocol or whatever, but the name of the product, presumably on the top sheet, had been removed.

"Now," she said, "I'd like us to do an exercise—a demonstration, if you will. Some of you may recognize this product protocol, and if so, keep it to yourselves. As we work to refresh the Maestro, I want us all to think outside the box for a couple of moments, and I'd like to ask our newest star to look this over and give us his thoughts."

She was looking right at me.

I touched my chest and said stupidly, "Me?"

She smiled. "You."

"My ... thoughts?"

"That's right. Go/no-go. Greenlight this project or no. You, Adam, are the gatekeeper on this proposed product. Tell us what you think. Do we go for it, or not?"

My stomach dropped. My heart started thudding. I tried to control my breathing, but I could feel my face flushing as I thumbed through it. It was all but inscrutable. I really didn't know what the hell it was for. I could hear little nervous noises in the silence—Nora clicking the top of the Expo marker off and on, twisting it with a scrunchy noise. Someone was playing with the little plastic flex-straw on his Minute Maid apple juice box, pushing it in and pulling it out, making it squeak.

I nodded slowly, wisely as I scanned it, trying not to look like a deer caught in the headlights, which was how I felt. There was some gobbledygook there about "market segment analysis" and "rough estimate of size of market opportunity." Man oh man. The nerve-wracking music from Jeopardy was playing in my head.

Scrunch, scrunch. Squeak, squeak.

"Well, Adam? Go or no-go?"

I nodded again, trying to look fascinated and amused at the same time. "I like it," I said. "It's clever."

"Hmm," she said. There was some low chuckling. Something was up. Wrong answer, I guessed, but I could hardly change it now.

"Look," I said, "based solely on the product definition, of course, it's hard to say much more than—"

"That's all we have to go on at this point," she interrupted. "Right? Go or no-go?"

I riffed. "I've always believed in being bold," I said. "I'm intrigued. I like the form factor, the handwriting recognition specs.... Given the usage model, the market opportunity, I'd certainly pursue this further, at least to the next checkpoint."

"Aha," she said. One side of her mouth turned up in an evil smile. "And to think our friends in Cupertino didn't even need Adam's wisdom to greenlight this stink bomb. Adam, these are the specs for the Apple Newton. One of the biggest bombs Cupertino ever dropped. Cost them over five hundred million dollars to develop, and then, when it came out, they lost sixty million bucks a year on it." More chuckles. "But it sure gave Doonesbury and Jay Leno plenty of material back in 1993."

People were looking away from me. Chad was biting the inside of his cheek, looking grave. Mordden seemed to be in another world. I wanted to rip Nora Sommers's face off, but I did the good-loser thing.

Nora looked around the table, from one face to the next, her eyebrows arched. "There's a lesson here. You've always got to drill down, look beyond the marketing hype, get under the hood. And believe me, when we present to Jock Goddard in two weeks, he's going to be getting under the hood. Let's keep that at top of mind."

Polite smiles all around: everyone knew Goddard was a gearhead, a car nut.

"All right," she said. "I think I've made my point. Let's move on."

Yeah, I thought. Let's move on. Welcome to Trion. You've made your point. I felt a hollowness in the pit of my stomach.

What the hell had I gotten myself into?

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