The alarm went off, but the spaceship hadn’t come yet and he still needed pretzels for the bears, so Jacob hit the snooze button. Several snooze buttons later, Jacob woke with a start and realized that there wasn’t a spaceship and there were no bears. He was late to work.
Forty-five minutes later he dashed into the meeting room and took his seat. Several minutes passed. He realized that everybody was using acronyms he didn’t understand, the universal sign for being in the wrong meeting. He peered at a handout someone next to him was holding. “Strategies for Information Management,” the title read. Yep, wrong meeting. Someone must have changed meeting rooms, which he would have known had he had time to check his email, or had his work had the foresight to provide him with an iPhone. He would have to complain to HR.
He needed to leave the room, but he had been here for a few minutes, and he didn’t want to draw even more attention to himself, since he was new and he might have projects under several of the people here. He didn’t want them to know that he both went to the wrong meetings and did so late.
Jacob occupied himself for a minute or so with looking at a woman across the room. Then it began to occur to him that the meeting’s moderator was an endorser of inclusivity, which meant that she periodically asked for input from people who hadn’t spoken yet. Jacob hadn’t spoken yet. He was probably only minutes away from being asked a question that would contain an acronym he couldn’t even identify. That would be his introduction to his future project managers: Jacob Gayne, who goes to the wrong meetings, gets there late, and can’t even understand the questions once he gets there.
Clearly there was only one solution. Jacob needed to speak preemptively so that he could choose his own topic.
Jacob said, “Maybe we should combine our client and development data tags.” Then he sat back and smiled encouragingly at his colleagues.
A man who had been referred to as Ryan cleared his throat. “That doesn’t make any sense,” he said. “The client and development tags track two different things.”
“Maybe they should be integrated,” said a guy with a fireworks tie.
Jacob nodded forcefully. Confidence. It was all about confidence.
“No,” Ryan said, “That’s completely wrong.”
Diana, whose previous comments indicated she was from accounting, was a consensus-builder. “Maybe we should set up a task force to study it,” she said.
“Maybe we should have a task force to find out why we waste time with task forces,” Ryan said.
“That’s not a very helpful attitude, Ryan,” the moderator said.
“Let’s try to be in a problem-solving mode, not a problem-creating mode,” Diana told everybody while she looked at Ryan.
Jacob nodded sagely.
The task force was given a conference room, a snack budget, a list of volunteers and a mandate to meet on Tuesdays. On the first Tuesday, an hour was spent discussing mission statements, half an hour was devoted to the election of officers—because his vision had inspired the group, he was made chair—and 94 minutes were given to the development of an agenda with accompanying schedule and task chart. Ironically, it only took Jacob two minutes, after returning to his office from the meeting, to look up definitions of client and development tags on the company intranet and discover that Ryan had been correct.
A lesser employee might have been daunted by this realization. But Jacob understood that to admit defeat would have been to declare the entire three hours and four minutes of the just-completed task force meeting a waste.
At the next Tuesday meeting, he explained that it wasn’t enough just to investigate how to combine the tags; to do justice to the faith the task force’s creators had in them, they should integrate the processes of client relations and product development. Fortunately, he had picked up an inspiring term for undesirable tasks, “improving practices and standards,” and he used it then.
To accomplish its expanded mission, the task force could no longer restrict itself to meeting on Tuesdays. And it needed resources. A project plan was drawn up, amply supported with a flowchart and a PowerPoint presentation. The effort required to produce this plan impressed Jacob’s superiors, and soon the task force had a substantial budget and was able to start recruiting people from various departments.
The department heads were not pleased that the task force was poaching their best talent. Jacob learned that they were signing a petition under Ryan’s leadership, calling for Jacob’s dismissal. A short time later, he received a summons from the president. Not good.
Jacob had learned by then that the woman who had attracted his attention at his first meeting, Dr. Marsha Greene, was a crack strategist. He went to her for advice.
“You have to show that you’re getting things done, you have plans, you’re efficient,” she said. “There’s only one way to do that on short notice. Spend your whole budget right away.”
Jacob was dubious, but he did it. When he went in to see the president, and the president learned that the entire annual budget had been spent within the first month, she was amazed. “No one else has ever been able to work that fast,” she said. She promoted Jacob to a managerial position, turned the task force into a permanent team under him, and expanded its budget.
It took another six months before Jacob was raised to vice president. In many ways, he maintained the approach that had worked so well for him as task force chair. But there was one change he held himself to: he always made sure to set his alarm.
Aaron Emmel’s short stories have appeared in The Chicago Reader, Neverworlds, Spaceways Weekly, Shadowkeep, Nuketown, Alternate Realities, Wanton Words, The Martian Wave, and other publications.