Thursday, February 2, 2012

Sherlock Holmes explains the Corporate Game of Shadows

Another day when the cubicle had to withstand the relentless barrage of insanity, another day when the mind clouded with confusion – resulting in outbursts of thunder and lightning.

And one had to bring in Sherlock Holmes to make sense of the madness, explain the curious incidents.

Let me begin by recounting what happened during the day.
The interview had reached an impasse.

The resume on my Lenovo screen was sparkling, almost gilt edged. The mere sight of the listed research papers on computational theory and algorithmic analysis; many of them registered for patent, and some co-authored with veritable pioneers in the field; whipped shut my recruiter’s instinctive snoopiness with the sheer weight of erudition. The stereotypical questions I could think of to throw at the earnest Hungarian at the other end of the line suddenly seemed lame, cripple and grotesquely deformed.

The account manager, at the third node of our conference call, was silent for a long, long time. I could sense him trying to bury the crushing feeling of inadequacy under a mountain of mundane mails which he was rummaging through importantly on his laptop, deluding himself into believing that his responsibilities as a business leader in Europe, right now rendered puny by the academic credentials of Laszlo Kovacs, granted him the status of superiority by default. The title Dr. in front of the Slavic name, in Heading 1 font at the top of the curriculum vitae, strategically placed to penetrate the protracted viewing zone of even the most myopic recruiting manager, did not help matters. Our combined qualifications were dwarfed. No follow up question was forthcoming once the man had gone over his career details.

The uncomfortable silence was interrupted with the connection disturbed by high pitched electronic interference. An sms filtered into my cell phone. It was from Ajay Yadav, the account manager at the third node.

“Carry on asking questions!” it commanded.

It was perhaps the exclamation mark which clinched the battle with professional patience.

“Laszlo, could you please excuse us for a minute?” I put the phone on mute and pressed the call button on my handset.

The account manager started without preamble, “Ask him some questions … you know I can only pitch in at the end…”

“Ajay, this guy is more qualified and educated than the rest of the team put together, you and me included. You want me to ask him how to create project dashboards with red, amber, green signals for half-witted managers?”

I assure you, I am not always like this. Right through The Best Seller, you have seen my innermost thoughts bubbling up only in the confessional confines of this blog. But, the maniacal mismatch between the interviewee and interviewer made me lose it totally. For a moment, it seemed that the spirit of my buddy had floated into me, and poor Ajay was once again being launched into the unchartered territories of truth.

“But, he has applied for this job …” he mumbled.

“Then ask him why he wants to rot in these cubicles, manufacturing data and preparing graphs, tracking so called project progress – charts that are to be discussed by a room full of confused senior managers treating them like patterns of tea leaves which foretell doomsday or coming of the messiah – Why does he want this life when he can sit in Hungary and do something which involves thought, makes sense and is of actual use to the world.”

“I agree that he is a little over-qualified ... ” Ajay admitted.

“A little?”

“May I interrupt?” a heavily accented Slavonic voice interjected, throwing us off balance. “It seems to me that you two are in conference, and one of you forgot to put the call on mute …”


“Oh, man … Ajay…!”

The cascading effects of delegation had reached chronic levels. Ajay Yadav had allowed our candidate to hear everything that we said … at least everything that he said. I was filled with genuine remorse. Of all people, I, who had been withstanding an atmosphere tinged with this imbecile for over three years now, should have seen it coming. Expecting him to put the phone on mute on his own had been an unpardonable mistake in my management of expectation from senior management.

“We’re terribly sorry, Laszlo …”

“Pardon me for having heard what you said,” the gentle voice continued. “But, I think it is good that I can make out your apprehension. I only heard one side of the dialogue …”

“Thank God for that.”

“No … I mean, I am only too happy to explain. You find it surprising that I want to go to The Netherlands and work at a largely clerical job as a Project Management Office, umm, worker …”

I could make out he had scoured his vocabulary to come up with the last word. Specialist and expert would have sounded ridiculous anyway, oxymoron of the highest order. A social levelling could have been served with comrade, but it had remained politically incorrect and probably still induced nightmares in the country from where he hailed. Worker was a close enough approximation.

“Ah, yes, Lasozo, you see we are afraid that if you keep doing something you don’t want to, you might end up not wanting to do it any more … and leave us soon,” Ajay Yadav had as usual made a hash of the Hungarian name, but at least he had managed to step into the conversation with something approaching sense.

“It’s Laszlo. I understand you are not familiar with Hungarian names. Also, it can be a bit confusing if you are not familiar with the conditions. I can write algorithm after algorithm here, revolutionise computing theory, but I will get paid only a third of what I can make there – if paid at all. And believe me, with a wife and a kid to support, you need no more motivation. Most often craving for cerebral challenges is vetoed by far more basic demands of the stomach.”

Ajay called me back once we had managed to hobble through the stumbling blocks of truth during the remaining duration of the interview.

“Well, what do you think?”

I took a deep breath. “We can give him what he wants, Ajay -  a decent income and placement in The Netherlands. And he has what we want, a EU work permit and a salary expectation lower than the commerce graduates from India whom we scrape out from the bottom of the university barrels. We are a perfect match.”

There was something on his mind even after I had broken it down into rudimentary units of demand and supply.

“Er, yes, but his aptitude and intelligence …”

“That is indeed an exception of far more gigantic proportions than we have ever handled, but I guess if we can overlook his smartness, we will soon realise that he is smart enough to keep his mental faculties on a leash as he goes about generating graphs and dashboards …”

“I need to think about it. In the meantime could you ask Joost for his feedback regarding the Lasozo’s resume?”

“Laszlo,” I corrected half-heartedly and hung up.

It was some fifteen minutes later that Joost Kuiper walked past my cubicle, lips pressed in a perpetual silent whistle, the rakish hair standing motionless, in the rigid fetters of hair gel.

“Joost, a moment,” I called him.

“Simon, what’s up?”

“I was wondering whether you had a chance to look at the resume we sent you yesterday.”

He pondered.

“The Hungarian guy?” the stress was on the last word.

As I nodded, a nubile form walked by –  on her way back from the coffee machine. Neelam Verma was another Axiom recruit, one of the girls from Bangalore, whose short two month assignment was coming to an end, much to the woe of many a  Dutch and expat heart. Her two months of struggle with data mining had been an unmitigated disaster, but the tee shirts that she wore – the way they accentuated her assets, the amplitude of horizontal oscillations as she made her walk to and back from the coffee machine about two hundred and thirty times a day, all these more than made up for the wasted hours.

“Er…,” Joost hesitated. “Is there really need for you to recruit? Can we not use from your current resource pool?”

I followed his gaze and the hint was not too difficult to grasp. It would perhaps cost the company a little more because the Hungarian would request a much lower rate than the one currently paid to the Bachelor of Commerce (Pass.) from some obscure university in Central India. But, where manpower is sold as commodity, she had attributes that were far more valuable than patented research papers. She rocked in multiple dimensions.

“You want her to stay?” I asked, indicating the retreating, rhythmic swaying of the nymph like hips.

“Er, yes,” Joost seized the opportunity to follow my eyes and ogle the curves before they disappeared into the cruel office chair, “… and could you be explicit about her staying on in my project? She needs to know ...”

I nodded. “Sure.”

It was at the Bijlmer Arena Pathe, watching the newest mutilation of Sherlock Holmes, that I could actually make sense of the upside down microcosm of the corporate world.
In a grotesque mirror image of the corporate world, the commoditisation of one of the most cerebral characters of world literature into an action hero actually allegorised the plight of Dr. Laszlo Kovacs.

I have nothing against Robert Downey Jr., who was just doing what he has to … jumping through the directorial hoops, to be readily palatable to the wii and play-station happy cinema goers. The whirring within the brain, the categorisation and elimination of clues and the zeroing in on the solution by deductive reasoning cannot be projected on screen without stretching the imagination of the digital-dependant minds beyond their short threshold of patience and imagination. For intellectual analysis to be viewed by a current day cinematic audience, one has to attach gizmos which approximate the human brain on dumbed down virtual reality platforms of cheap pseudo technology – much like the innumerable crime scene investigation series that assault us today. No wonder the other Sherlockian avatar of the day is Benedict Cumberhatch, the cutting edge techno savvy manifestation of the sleuth on BBC, who conveniently delegates memory and detection to the external interfaces that look like iPhone apps and super windows.

It is strikingly similar to the patented research work of Dr. Kovacs that is too much of a mental mountain to climb, much more conveniently replaced by zazzy yet over-simplified red, amber, green dashboards of digitised corporate crap.

Jude Law too did his bit as Dr. Watson, the side kick of the action hero. Green Hornet and Kato probably put in more thought behind their action than this detection duo, but one has to dance to the music of time. Other than a couple of feeble attempts to throw some thinking in the foray, the difference between the master sleuth and his often bumbling assistant of the original stories was reduced to almost nothing – the mechanisms of the mind finishing as an also ran in the Game of Shadows. The focus on immediate action, levelling the mental faculties across the horizons of intelligence quotient, is much like the modern world of corporate circus. Brilliant ideas of the genius of Conan Doyle limping in a poor second to the demand for instantaneous pyrotechnics – a carbon copy of the way organisational and process management theories are applied on demand, catering to the results of the next quarter, in the cubicular world.

Irene Adler, one of the most enigmatic female characters ever to grace pages of fiction, whose powers of thinking toppled even the great Sherlock Holmes from the pinnacle of the analytical world, is reduced to a ravishing bimbo with scarcely a line but lots of curves, appearance limited to the first reel. Rachel McAdams hastens to die during the first action sequence, but not before creating enough impression on the audience with every attribute in her possession sans the mental. The female character who takes her place is Noomi Rapace, as the gypsy woman with enough mystery to be unravelled in the distant lands of her origin mingled with the wrappings of cloth around her ample bosom, to make up for all the brains that died with Irene. The Neelam Verma of the modern day Holmes world.

And as the final blow to sensibilities, even Mycroft Holmes has to prance around naked to penetrate the mind of the movie lover of today. To think of Stephen Frey reduced to enacting a topless scene is a fair summary of the grotesque world we live in today, the most sublime of brains traded for the most bizarre of bodies – inside the cubicles and beyond.

Sir Arthur would have been prophetic if he had exchanged names with his Professor Challenger novel and called the Sherlock Holmes canon – The Lost World. That is how it stands today.

The Lost World?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Simon van der Wiel is a fictitious character who appears in the novel The Best Seller by Arunabha Sengupta.

These lines are both collected from the novel and extrapolated from it - additional musings of the author through his alter ego

About Simon

My photo
Amsterdam, Netherlands