Paranoia (021 of 170)

—of —
by Joseph Finder
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Paranoia by Joseph Finder. Copyright 2004 by Joseph Finder.
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Part One: 9 (Cont'd)

I nodded, smiled conspiratorially. Even marketing guys at high-tech corporations like to talk like engineers, so I gave some back. "Sounds familiar," I said. "You only have so many cycles, you've got to decide what to spend your cycles on." I was mirroring his body language, almost aping him, but he didn't seem to notice.

"Absolutely. Now, we're not really in a hiring mode these days—no one is. But one of our new-product managers got transferred suddenly."

I nodded again.

"The Lucid is genius—really saved Wyatt's bacon in an otherwise dismal quarter. That's your baby, huh?"

"My team, anyway. I was just part of the team. Wasn't running the show."

He seemed to like that. "Well, you were a pretty key player, from what I've heard."

"I don't know about that. I work hard and I love what I do, and I found myself in the right place at the right time."

"You're too modest."

"Maybe." I smiled. He got it, really gobbled up the fake modesty and the directness.

"How'd you do it? What's the secret?"

I blew out a puff of air through pursed lips, as if recalling running a marathon. I shook my head. "No secret. Teamwork. Driving consensus, motivating people."

"Be specific."

"The basic idea started as a Palm-killer, to be honest." I was talking about Wyatt's wireless PDA, the one that buried the Palm Pilot. "At the early concept-planning sessions, we got together a cross-functional group—engineering, marketing, our internal ID folks, an external ID firm." ID is the jargon for industrial design. I was jamming; I knew this answer by heart. "We looked at the market research, what the flaws were in the Trion product, in Palm, Handspring, BlackBerry."

"And what was the flaw in our product?"

"Speed. The wireless sucks, but you know that." This was a carefully planned dig: Judith had downloaded for me some candid remarks Lundgren had made at industry conferences, in which he confessed as much. He was blisteringly critical of Trion's efforts whenever they fell short. My bluntness was a calculated risk on Judith's part. Based on her assessment of his management style, she'd concluded he despised toadyism, grooved on straight talk.

"Correct," he said. He flashed a millisecond of a smile.

"Anyway, we went through a whole range of scenarios. What would a soccer mom really want, a company exec, a construction foreman? We talked feature set, form factor, all that. The discussions were pretty free-form. My big thing was elegance of design married to simplicity."

"I wonder if maybe you erred too much on the side of design, sacrificing functionality," Lundgren put in.

"How do you mean?"

"Lack of a flash slot. The only serious weakness in the product, far as I can see."

A big fat pitch, and I swung at it. "I absolutely agree." Hey, I was totally prepped with stories of "my" successes, and pseudo-failures I managed so well they might as well have been battlefield victories. "A big screwup. That was definitely the biggest feature that got jettisoned—it was in the original product definition, but it grew the form factor outside of the bounds we wanted, so it got scrapped midway through the cycle." Take that.

"Doing anything about it in the next generation?"

I shook my head. "Sorry, I can't say. That's proprietary to Wyatt Telecom. This isn't just a legal nicety, it's a moral thing with me—when you give your word, it's got to mean something. If that's a problem ..."

He gave what looked like a genuine, appreciative smile. Slam dunk. "Not a problem at all. I respect that. Anyone who leaks proprietary information from their last employer would do the same to me."

I noted the words "last employer": Lundgren had already signed on, he'd just given it away.

He pulled out his pager and quickly checked it. He'd gotten several pages while we were talking, on the silent vibrate mode. "I don't need to take any more of your time, Adam. I want you to meet Nora."

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