Dear readers, I write to you this week reeking of astonishing hypocrisy. As you may have noticed this column frowns vigorously upon meetings of any kind. We believe, here at Cubiclenama, that human beings are at their most productive when they are left alone to get on with their work. The presence of other people only serves to distract focus and diminish output.
This is why, I believe, that prisoners in solitary confinement often emerge from jail as autodidacts fluent in foreign languages, and spouting Shakespeare from memory. While you and me spend years in crowded cubicle farms with nothing to show for it except USB drives full of meaningless PowerPoint presentations, abandoned provident funds, and tragic spreadsheets with titles such as “Receivables analysis: Subhiksha 2008-2009”.
But the one thing this column detests more than meetings is people who turn up late for meetings.
This morning, I turned up for a meeting 73 minutes late. Not only did I have to postpone the meeting, but I also had to relocate the meeting to another venue. Instead of meeting two executives from a prominent wristwatch firm at the Mint newsroom in Delhi, I met them at a coffee shop in a mall in Gurgaon. The mellow lighting, excellent coffee, people lounging around doing nothing, and couples cavorting shamelessly somehow makes for excellent meetings. So settling, instead, for Costa Coffee was a disappointment.
As I jogged through the mall working up a gentle sweat I wondered what excuse I could give for my tardiness. Traffic? Delays on the Delhi Metro’s yellow line? Bandh? Sudden onset of food poisoning?
Eventually, once I got my breath back, I frankly told them that I’d blundered and got my schedules mixed up. It is just impossible to lie once you’ve been a journalist for a while.
Thankfully, the people meeting me had just been informed that their next meeting had been cancelled. This meant we could chat at leisure. I was instantly overjoyed at not being the only tardy fellow.
The other guy, however, had given my watch-friends the most brilliant excuse for missing a meeting I’ve ever heard of.
Sit down for this one.
He calls them up and says that there has been an emergency alert at the school his child goes to. All the kids were being evacuated. And school policy dictates that during emergency evacuations parents themselves were required to pick up kids. No drivers, school buses, uncles, maids or domestic help allowed. So he had to cancel the meeting and rush to the school.
Go ahead. I completely understand if you’re standing up and applauding right now.
If this is a lie, and it well might be, it is an excellent one. There is no way to respond to this excuse except with sympathy. And also, most importantly, it is postponement-proof.
“My child is shivering from the aftermath of a bomb scare and you want to chat about why petty cash has been missing for three months???!!! Do you have no soul??!!! (In a muffled voice in the background: Teen ‘Heroine’ de do, yaar. Balcony.)”
My meeting later transpired without incident. But “The Excuse” has been playing on my mind ever since.
And the more I think about it, the more I am convinced that copious, institutionalized untruth is the great binding agent that holds our cubicle lives together.
Think about it.
Companies, we know, lie about things all the time. They lie to customers about products and services: “The world’s largest-selling men’s fairness-cum-virginity restoration cream.” They lie to shareholders: “Profit and loss statement: Page 16.” And, most of all, they lie to employees: “Dear friends, please find attached this month’s HR newsletter…”
Employees lie to each other and to their employers with equal gusto. Indeed, if it weren’t for our ability to lie so much at work modern workplaces would fall to pieces instantly. Imagine if everybody knew exactly what everybody was getting paid. Or they knew when and where everybody was interviewing for jobs. Or if everybody knew that if you tilted the stationary cupboard slightly forward, you can slip your hand through the plywood in the back and pilfer ballpoint pens and glue sticks.
Yet, knowing full well that dishonesty is the axle grease that lubricates the drivetrain of the modern workplace, we teach our kids and young people to be honest. School textbooks tell stories of virtuous people such as Raja Harishchandra, Eklavya (of thumb-cutting fame) and Pattom A. Thanu Pillai. Business schools teach ethics and corporate governance.
Instead, why don’t we teach them to be creative with the truth from an early age? Why not teach our youth the ability to not just deal with “creative truth”, but manipulate the truth to their benefit? Why don’t business schools have useful electives such as “Ethical Grey Areas” and “Actual Corporate Finance”.
That way when they arrive at the workplace they are fully equipped to deal with the abundant moral ambiguities.
OH NO! THE CAPPUCCINO MACHINE HAS EXPLODED IN THE CAFÉ AND THERE IS COFFEE ALL OVER MY LAPTOP AND NOW I CAN’T TYPE ANYMORE TILL NEXT WEEK...
Cubiclenama takes a weekly look at pleasures and perils of corporate life. Your comments are welcome at email@example.com
To read Sidin Vadukut’s previous columns, go to www.livemint.com/cubiclenama