Alicia spouted business cliches with such earnestness that I had to wonder if she’d been living under a rock for 2o years. How could anyone in the year 2014 call for a paradigm shift or blame something on a perfect storm without a measure of irony at the sheer overuse of the terms? Then she stood up and announced it was time to think out of the box. I rubbed my forehead like I was really thinking hard so she wouldn’t see me roll my eyes.
Privacy screen in place, I fired up the laptop to watch some funny cat videos and daydream about starting my own business. The meeting droned on around me and I vaguely heard someone say something about squaring a circle. I had no idea what that meant.
I did have a great idea for a new business watching the news about the day-after-Thanksgiving retail sales. Professional line-waiting. It’s an untapped niche of the service industry. Thousands of people want to score $79 flat-screen televisions and tablets but they don’t want to wait in line outside the Best Buy for four days. I’d hire the homeless and the otherwise unemployed to secure places in line. Then, on the day of the sale, my savvy customer could simply swoop in to take their place and get the great pricing without all the hassle.
I had just come up with the slogan We Wait For You when Alicia’s voice cut through the fantasy.
“The upshot here is that on a go-forward basis we need to right-size this department,” she said.
The phrase “right-size” got my attention because every business school flunkie knows that when managers say right-size they mean it’s time to fire some people. I shut the laptop screen without even watching the video kitten get out of the cardboard box, as Alicia demanded everyone stand up. I got to my feet, exchanging confused glances with the cubicle warriors around me, then watched as Alicia’s assistant wheeled two chairs out of the conference room. Were we going to have meetings where everyone had to stand now, like those Silicon Valley companies do? I’d just read a story on the Huffington Post about how making people stand during meetings encouraged creativity or teamwork or fewer restroom breaks.
Alicia swiped at her smart phone. “Everyone remember the rules for musical chairs?”
Concerned looks bounced around the room. Was she serious?
The dance track “What Does the Fox Say” inexplicably blared from the tiny speaker on her phone and she bounced her head in rhythm. “When the music stops, find a chair. If you find a chair, you keep your job. If you’re left standing, well, sayonara and we wish you well.”
There was barely time to be stunned or protest because my colleagues starting marching around the conference room table, hands grazing chair backs in the hopes that continued contact would bring an advantage.
The music stopped just as the singer was about to answer the song’s titular question. Alicia grinned as eight adults in business casual bumped hips and settled rumps into chairs. Me? I was left standing, along with Ruben from marketing. He looked like he was going to cry.
“I know this seems tough,” Alicia said. “But remember, in Chinese, the word crisis also means opportunity. Or something like that. One door shuts, another one opens.”
Ruben turned on his heel and walked out. Nine sets of eyes shifted to me.
“I see it as a win-win,” I said. “Let me know if you want me to wait in line for you at the Apple store. I’ll give you the discounted rate.”