Monday, May 17, 2010

The rise and rise of Mr Spock

He looked like Mr Spock, he had the same mannerism and the same strong relationship with the captains. Sure, he looked like the man from outer space, especially to people from inner space, who looked up to him not unlike a pimpled teen at the Miss Universe.

Cornerd Cheese (CC) was the technical master of all he surveyed – both wide and deep. The captains would always take his word as the last on all things nerdy. Believe me, there are a lot of things nerdy in the world of idiot boxes. But lets not take credit away from CC for making so many things look nerdy…so nerdy that only he understood it best.

And understand, he did. He could look at picture quality and point to motion artifacts, even if the screen showed a dull faced reporter reading dull news about dull weather in dull England. Yes, he could spot jerks (not the human kind) in every picture that adorned the CRT.. and then the Plasma. While lecturing on the scaling round-off errors his technicians couldn’t fathom, he would mull over the possibility of tv-anytime ironing out those stupid subtitle truncations with one smooth XML schema. Midway, he would switch gears seamlessly to the user interface. He would wonder how simple life would be if the design dogs could be leashed. (He’d occasionally throw a bone at them, but he knew there was no easy way to make them stop barking). For, nothing was worse than letting the designers go all crazy. Neither did they (he’d claim) understand what the market needs, nor were they capable of appreciating the technology constraints. Clearly, the tarty Michel Adams doesn’t sell on the high streets, at least not where CC went shopping.

What did sell on those high streets was innovation. And who better than CC to lay claim to all of it, and then some? To be fair, CC was amongst the first to discover the value of innovation within the grand company. He went about it with a combination of strong passion and humble advertisement.

For a while, he toyed with the idea of small is beautiful, to have a small team delivering innovation for the grand company. Innovation was about breaking rules, he’d say. The Belgians, with all their bureaucracy, were, ahem, less than ideal for innovation. It had to happen on the libertine side of the border. A place where people could envision the TVs that hoi-polloi would lust after. Yes, the goal was to seduce people into buying the best TVs that the grand company would make. And so was born the box which “seduced by light”. In the hallowed corridors of BeerDam, the sweet talkers grudgingly admitted to the value of this proposition. And how, if this box hadn’t happened, they could as well have closed shop and moved on to selling shavers instead, or, (as the newly converted marketing types would pitch in, with a none-too-hidden grin), “water cookers”.

You are as good as your most recent success. But times change, and then you have to prove yourself all over again. Cornerd Cheese knew this. The seduction-by-light would last him a couple of years. But then, what next? He knew he had to run faster than he currently did, just to retain his position. And to get ahead, he had to take the game to the next level.

In the coming years, Cornerd Cheese would go about doing just that. He started by defining the ground rules of innovation, then to patronizing a process of “ideation to productization”, to building up a group of believers, to spreading the gospel of innovation within the higher echelons of the grand company, to recruiting “social and human factors” engineers…all the way to hiring marketing folks to market the ideas from his “idea factory” to the business bozos in BeerDam. No, it was not his intention to build an empire. He had had his share of empire building during his younger days, and now was a lot more mature. Was he to blame if gaining in numbers was a consequence of the enormous burden of innovation he carried? Could anyone deliver as much innovation with any fewer people? He had an answer for the skeptics. Twice yearly, he’d organize a jamboorie, an event where tones of technical and market topics would be thrashed to pulp by all the experts. The result – a neatly bound folder containing amazingly well made (though short on details) technology and market roadmap. This, he would proclaim, is the future of TV. Beaten by technical mumbo-jumbo and eager to get on with life, the sweet talkers would nod their heads. The captain would nod in appreciation and the cheesers in complacency. God was in heaven and all was well.