The Sword of John Cleese
I was just sent a link to a 1980's Compaq commercial starring John Cleese. It reminded me of a meeting I had at my last place of employment.
I'd been working on a project for quite a few months. Most of the team members were harassed and harried, doing the work of 4 people. I had to be very careful about how I stated technical items, as there was little patience for things they didn't know about. That's fine - I can talk to any technical level person, and make them feel comfortable.
What I didn't realize is that I had a roomful of people who did not read, and who did not have a wide vocabulary. I forget sometimes that not everyone has 52 books on hold at the library, nor do they have more than 10 books at home, let alone over 800 books that have been read and re-read. (Sigh. I really do have to cull some out.)
So one day, when trying to get a point across about how we really needed to finish up the disaster recovery portion of the project before DR testing began (seemed obvious enough to me!), I finished my presentation with something like this sentence (I forget the exact wording, except for the last few words):
After all, we don't need the risk of audit failure hanging over us like the Sword of Damocles.
The rest I'll never forget. There was total silence in the room, and a lot of people staring at me, bewildered.
I asked if folks had understood the technical details, and everyone nodded.
Questions? I asked.
Then slowly, a hand went up, tentatively.
I encouraged the person to ask any question, I'd do my best to explain anything they wanted to know regarding my presentation or the subject matter at hand.
"Um. I'm wondering what John Cleese has to do with our Disaster Recovery system."
..... Excuse me?
"John Cleese. What does he have to do with DR?"
I'm .... I'm not sure. Why do you ask about John Cleese?
"Well, you mentioned him and his sword. The Sword of John Cleese."
No, that was the Sword Of Damocles. Not John Cleese. I'm talking about the legend of the sword hanging over Damocles, from Greek mythology. You know, the sword hanging by a hair? Used to illustrate the life lived in fear?
At this everyone's eyes glazed over, and one fellow kind of shuffled around a bit and said "um, but, um, I don't understand what John Cleese has to do with - " and the Department Head reached over, tapped him on the arm, and said:
"OH!" "Oh ok!" "Ahhhh" - all the folks in the room started nodding, everyone sat back comfortable with the world again. They were able to put me in a pigeonhole: READER. Didn't matter if what I was saying about the sword of John Cleese made no sense to them - they just wrote it off as something from those "books".
Now mind you - these were some damn smart people when it came to finance. I'm telling you, they knew it all. So I'm not trying to insult their general intelligence. Just ... wow. Am I really that different from other people out there in the world of office life? I mean, other people in this world read books, I know that for sure - our libraries are thriving, librarything.com has millions of books listed (ok, maybe not millions, but I think they just hit some record #), and I had an engaging conversation with a bread truck driver the other day about the use of lime juice for scurvy prevention, because he had a paperback of "Two Years Before The Mast" on his dashboard.
For the 2 years after that meeting, at that employer, the participants of that meeting would always ask me to talk again about that make-believe sword and fear and that funny ending I had about that British guy. Once one of them, when he'd found me eating lunch on the steps in the rare sunny day, even turned to his lunch companion and said "She reads BOOKS!". The lunch companion looked at him like he was an idiot: "And??" and I knew I had a reader sitting across from me. Hallelujah. I wasn't alone.
So be careful out there, everyone. Beware the Sword of John Cleese.