COPYRIGHT Paranoia by Joseph Finder. Copyright 2004 by Joseph Finder. All Rights Reserved. Sharing not permitted.
Nora Sommers was blond, around fifty, with wide-set staring eyes. She had the carnivore look of a wild pack animal. Maybe I was biased by her dossier, which described her as ruthless, tyrannical. She was a director, the team leader of the Maestro project, a sort of scaled-down Blackberry knockoff that was circling the drain. She was notorious for calling seven A.M. staff meetings. No one wanted to be on her team, which was why they were having a hard time filling the job internally.
"So Nick Wyatt must be no fun to work for, huh?" she began.
I didn't need Judith Bolton to tell me you're never supposed to complain about your previous employer. "Actually," I said, "he's demanding, but he brought out the best in me. He's a perfectionist. I have nothing but admiration for him."
She nodded wisely, smiled as if I'd selected the right multiple-choice answer. "Keeps the drive alive, hmm?"
What did she expect me to say, the truth about Nick Wyatt? That he's a boor and an asshole? I don't think so. I riffed a bit longer: "Working at Wyatt is like getting ten years of experience in one year—instead of one year of experience ten times."
"Nice answer," she said. "I like my marketing people to try to snow me. It's a key component of the skill-set. If you can snow me, you can snow the Journal."
Danger, Will Robinson. I wasn't going there. I could see the teeth of that jaw trap. So I just looked at her blankly.
"Well," she went on, "the word has certainly spread about you. What was the hardest battle you had to wage on the Lucid project?"
I rehashed the story I'd just given Tom Lundgren, but she sounded underwhelmed. "Doesn't sound like much of a battle to me," she countered. "I'd call that a trade-off."
"Maybe you had to be there," I said. Lame. I scrolled through my mental CD-ROM of anecdotes about the development of the Lucid. "Also, there was a pretty big tussle over the design of the joy pad. That's a five-way directional pad with the speaker built into it."
"I'm familiar with it. What was the controversy?"
"Well, our ID people really keyed in on that as a focal point of the product—it really drew your eye to it. But I was getting major pushback on that from the engineers, who said it was near impossible, way too tricky; they wanted to separate the speaker from the directional pad. The ID guys were convinced that if you separated them, the design would get cluttered, asymmetric. That was tense. So I had to put my foot down. I said this was cornerstone. The design not only made a visual statement, but it also made a major technology statement—told the market we could do something our competitors couldn't."
She was lasering in on me with her wide-set eyes like I was a crippled chicken. "Engineers," she said with a shudder. "They can really be impossible. No business sense at all."
The metal teeth of the jaw trap were glistening with blood. "Actually, I never have problems with engineers," I said. "I think they're really the heart of the enterprise. I never confront them; I inspire them, or try, anyway. Thought leadership and mindshare, those are the keys. That's one of the things that most appeals to me about Trion—engineers reign supreme here, which is as it should be. It's a real culture of innovation."
All right, so I was pretty much parroting an interview Jock Goddard once gave to Fast Company, but I thought it worked. Trion's engineers were famous for loving Goddard, because he was one of them. They considered it a cool place to work, since so much of Trion's funding went into R&D.
She was speechless for a second. Then she said, "At the end of the day, innovation is mission-critical." Jesus, I thought I was bad, but this woman spoke business cliché as a second language. It was as if she'd learned it from a Berlitz book.
"Absolutely," I agreed.
"So tell me, Adam—what's your greatest weakness?"
I smiled, nodded, and mentally uttered a prayer of gratitude to Judith Bolton.