Brenda de la Rue was sitting in a meeting room with fifteen people discussing a critical project. Apart from occasionally interrupting someone to correct their grammar, or to make statements like “Be sure to socialise this with the risk team” or “You aren’t thinking strategically enough, that’s your problem” or “This is all pie in the sky, I need results now”, she really wasn’t adding any value at all. And more importantly, she was bored.
Luckily her phone started ringing. Initially Brenda ignored it, but everyone was staring at her, so she thought she better answer it.
“Hi Brenda, this is Johnathan Highway from the Herald. I hope you don’t mind me calling you out of the blue, but your CIO Rupert Onion asked me to give you a buzz.”
“Really? No problem at all. Always happy to make time for the press.” Brenda grinned, puffing herself up and waving at the people in the room to be quiet.
“Yes, he wants us to do an article on your latest venture.”
“Which one in particular, there are so many?” she replied, unable to think of a single thing worthy of being written up in the paper.
“Working like a start-up.”
Brenda froze. She deflated and slumped into her seat. She had hoped this start-up thing was dead now. She refused to talk about it with anyone and had her assistant, Maddy Shovel, remove the words “Start” and “Up” from any document before she read it.
“I am sorry, Johnathan, I will have to call you back when I have more time. I am in a very important meeting at the moment.”
The people in the room were momentarily relieved that Brenda viewed this as an important meeting, however the relief passed quickly.
“You, you and you can stay.” Brenda announced pointing at the people she vaguely recognised. “The rest of you, hop it. Go on. Now!”
As a rather confused bunch of people stood to leave, Brenda added, “Any of you worked in a start-up?”
One girl raised her hand.
“You can stay too. WHY ARE THE REST OF YOU STILL HERE?”
As they filed out and walked passed a meeting room where a young woman sat holding a copy of her resume and checking her watch, one of them said “I don’t even know why she was there? I didn’t invite her. Maybe she’s in the wrong room?”
“You, Jack Sparrow, you can run this. We need a plan for how we operate like a start-up within the next 20 minutes.”
Dave Starling tried his best to smile. He looked at Justina Goose and Timothy Useful and wondered what they had done to deserve this, he also wondered which of the people now stood outside in the corridor were going to be making the critical decisions on his project.
“I’ve got the tee shirts covered, you lot work out the rest.” announced Brenda.
Dave felt he should try to apply some order to this, otherwise it would never end.
“Okay, let’s distil the basics of a start-up and see what aspects we can use in a massive bank.” He looked at the girl who had stupidly admitted that she had worked in a start-up.
“Can you tell us what it was like in the place that you worked?”
She cleared her throat and said, “Sure. It ended up going bust, but I was there for about six months. Let me think… Well, we worked very long hours.”
“Oh good, I like that one.” commented Brenda.
“And we got paid very badly.”
Brenda was grinning from ear to ear.
“But we did get equity in the company to make up for it.”
“Not happening. Next.”
“Well, the people were nice.”
Brenda leaned forwards. “Now dear, focus on the things we can realistically achieve. Did you have tee shirts?”
“No. Well we could wear what we wanted, but company tee shirts weren’t mandated.”
Brenda rolled her eyes to the ceiling, “No wonder it went under.”
Dave thought he should save the poor girl from this. “When I think of start-ups, I think innovation and freedom. Failing quickly. Prototyping. Continuous deployment. Agile. Brainstorming. Nimble. Fast change of direction. Is that the sort of place it was?”
Brenda didn’t know what any of that meant, but it sounded good to her and would look great on a tee shirt.
“Oh, yes. We had all of that. Especially the change. I went from having a job, to not having one, like that.” She snapped her fingers.
Brenda was happy to ignore most of it, but one thing that had whizzed by her ear as it left Dave’s mouth had her a bit worried.
“What did you say about failing? We aren’t going to be doing that.”
“Failing quickly. It’s a core principle for start-ups. Projects in big organisations can chew up huge amounts of money before they fail. In start-ups they try to have things that aren’t going to work, fail as quickly as possible.”
“Oh! Oh! I’ve got one!” shouted Brenda, not really listening. “Scooters. Did you have scooters? People flying around the office with a latte in one hand and headphones on.”
“Err, yes. We did have a scooter. The CFO fell down the stairs trying to impress a young intern. And we had all of our cabling on display. Not hidden away, it was a feature of the office. Different coloured cables everywhere.”
Brenda had heard enough. “Right. That’ll do. Off you go dear. The three of you can put together some slides to summarise it and send them to me by four o’clock. I’m off.”
Dave found himself with Timothy and Justina working away in the pure evil of PowerPoint.
“Ok.” said Timothy, “Let’s discount the things that won’t work or are illegal.”
“What’s the date?” asked Justina.
“It’s the third.” offered Dave.
“So, are you Risk man or Ops man?”
Timothy looked a bit unsure. “I keep sort of reverting to risk. It’s what I know best. Let’s say risk even though I might be wrong.”
“The scooters will have to go.” said Dave.
“And the dodgy cabling.” added Justina.
“We already have poor pay and long hours.” Timothy pointed out.
Justina thought for a second. “There is no way we can be agile, we are a bloody bank. So, what are we left with?”
They all knew the answer, but it was left to Dave to say it out loud. “I guess we need a thousand tee shirts that say ‘Fuck It Up Quickly’.”