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“Is it bigger than a breadbox?” – Deleted Scenes from Shimmer

July 12th, 2010 Comments off
When I’m writing something new, I tend to write far more than I ultimately use. Combined with my habit of writing out of order and without a outline (and without, early in the process, much sense of where I’m going), the whole effort is wildly inefficient.  But that’s just how I write. And so I’ll spend a lot of time on various scenes that I ultimately don’t finish. Sometimes, I’ll finish them, then, in the process of editing and finding some structure for the book, I realize there’s no place for the scene.

The Putt-Putt Golf Scene that Unbridled rightly cut from Shimmer was probably one of those scenes that shouldn’t have made it into my final draft. And below is a scene that I cut from Shimmer on my own, prior to sending the manuscript to anyone.  I think I wanted the scene to be at once funny, and puzzling, and reflective of some sort of deeply ingrained dysfunction in the way businesses operate. The disconnection between what is said and what is heard (and what is meant and what is real).

Maybe the scene does that. But I just couldn’t find a place for it in Shimmer.

“And so really, in the end, my message to you is very simple,” the salesman was saying. It was morning and I was sitting in on a sales presentation to a few members of the tech group. “What I’m offering is a multi-dimensionalized, fully integrated solution that will leverage your core, traditional strengths in what we’ve taken to calling the second transition of the new economy.”

The salesman shrugged with a confident finality. Ran his hand across his carefully unshaven face. He put down the controller to his LCD projector. He sat down in the chair near the end of the table. He had to be less than twenty-five years old.

Around the table, three young men from system administration were nodding seriously toward the salesman. Two young women from software development scribbled detailed notes into handheld computers, both also nodding in appreciation.

A few times a month, I still sat through sales presentations from outside vendors – insurance agents, office product resellers, software vendors. Each promised greater efficiency, increased productivity and quick cost savings for us.

After listening to the salesman’s fifteen-minute presentation, I had a question. Yet I could not find a way to phrase it correctly. However, Leonard, our head of IT who was sitting next to me, he was speaking already, already asking the question on my mind.

“I have to ask,” Leonard started, then paused a moment. “And bear with me, because it will seem obvious that I missed a key point early on in your presentation.” Leonard was nodding toward the projector screen, but let his hand drift across the marketing materials placed carefully on the table. “What, well, what exactly is the goal of this?”

“That’s a great question,” said the salesman. “One that too often does go unanswered. What this is – and at this point I like to use the analogy of your home – what this is the living room furniture, i.e. the sofa, the chairs, the coffee table even,” he said and, for some reason, he laughed lightly as he said it. “A coffee table made of the finest hand laid wood, I should say. And in using that analogy I’m as much saying what this isn’t, as I am saying what it is. It is not the dining room. It is not the kitchen. It is not the attic and certainly it is not a bedroom or basement. Again, it’s the living room, Leonard. A post-analog, new economy living room. And more importantly, it’s an integrated solution.”

The young staffers nodded, scribbling faster, glancing knowingly at one another.

Still the question lingered for me and, I could see, for Leonard.

“Let me put it this way,” Leonard was saying. “Is it software? Or is it hardware?”

The salesman nodded quickly, standing now. “Sure. Great question. You see, it’s neither and, in fact, it’s both. Think of electricity – stored up, generated, passed from power plant to power line, corner pole to building or home. That, really, is the best comparison I can think of.”

“If and when we were to buy this,” Leonard said, “would the item or items arrive in a box? Would it come via email?”

“Truthfully,” the salesman said easily, “because we’re so scalable – the industry press, for instance, has consistently called us the most scalable solution in this space – because of our scalability and the highly tailored approach we take to building your solution, because of that we arrive how you want us to arrive. That’s the beauty of our system. I don’t have to walk in here and sell you on what we have to offer. Instead I simply walk in, let you tell me what you have to say, and then I shape the resulting package around your needs, not mine.”

“Let’s try this,” Leonard was saying now, and I thought that I could see even the innate patience and understanding so central to Leonard’s being, I thought I could see it withering just slightly. “Talk to me in terms of its size,” Leonard said. “Is it small? Medium? Large?”

“Again you’ve hit on what I think is one of the great pressure points of companies like yours. Size doesn’t matter, does it? You’re up and running twenty-four/seven, right? You’re open when your doors are closed, yes? Complete integration with your clients and suppliers, correct?”

“Is it bigger than a bread box?” Leonard asked.

The salesman started to answer, but Leonard cut him off.

“Does it make noise?”

The salesman started to answer, but Leonard cut him off.

“If I touched it, would it be warm?”

The salesman started to answer, but Leonard cut him off.

“Does it have or emit an odor?”

And it was only now that I saw the slightest, almost imperceptible hint of anxiety in the salesman. Because finally he’d realized. Realized that not only did Leonard have no idea what this product or service was, but he’d realized – worst of all – that he had no idea either. He’d searched his catalog of analogies, anecdotes and quotes, trying again to find some deft and productive response from his two-week sales training course. But as he searched his memory – scanning all those training handouts, visualizing all those charts drawn so carefully on a massive whiteboard in his employer’s high-tech training facility, replaying all those training tapes he’d listened to in his car and at his home – suddenly these things only highlighted for him that he did not have an answer.

Because he didn’t know. He had no idea what he was selling.

No one else in the room saw this realization pass over him. I saw it only in the slightest paleness that crossed his face, in a slight shift in his shoulders, in the way he made a note to himself on a legal pad in front of him.

Leonard was squinting his eyes, his neck stretched out, and I thought that if he leaned forward any farther his chin would touch the table. “What exactly,” Leonard said, speaking so very slowly now, “in the simplest terms, what exactly does this do?”

And now the salesman nodded just once, smiling again, eyes blinking faster, life returning to a nearly drowned man. “Now I see what you’re asking. In simple terms, what does it do? Leonard, let me tell you,” he said, leaning forward too now, the young Core staffers sitting back in their chairs, staring at him, waiting breathless for his answer, “Leonard, it’s even guaranteed.”

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