Now It Can Be Told:
The Truth Behind the Failed Launch of DipTych EasyCanTM Digital Canning Technology—and the People Who Failed It
By Kirsten Mortensen
“No comment. Absolutely no comment. I signed the piece of paper, my friend. The little piece of paper. Didn’t want to, had to. I would love to talk, believe me, I’d love for the real story to get out. But I will say this, people forget there was a child involved. A little boy. A very, very talented little boy. And that talent was never acknowledged. Not even a thank you. So that tells you something, doesn’t it. That tells you something right there.”
Ethan Tankard’s artistic genius was obvious to his father from a very early age.
The boy was still crawling. It was the way he held his crayon, his father said. Look at that line.
By the time he was school age the boy had learned to fully accept his father’s pronouncements.
He was a prodigy.
He abandoned Crayolas in favor of ink and sometimes colored pencil.
And his style evolved. He still dipped occasionally into Cartoon Derivative and Primitive Figure Drawing but his true oeuvre was Diagram.
They were enigmatic, Ethan Tankard’s Diagram drawings. Some appeared to be structures of some kind. Some were apparently vehicles.
The majority were devices of uncertain operation.
But if Brad was perplexed by the direction his son’s art had taken he hid it well, and even went so far as to disassemble various household gadgets—an old 35 mm camera, his PC chassis, as many pieces as he dared unbolt from the under the hood of his car—laying bare their innards to provide Ethan with fresh sources of inspiration.
Each time Ethan finished a new drawing, he offered it to his father for praise.
The resulting accolades were copious.
Ethan’s imagination was, after all, relentless. And the connection between it and the tip of his pen gloriously unbroken.
Then his father took a job, and Ethan’s primary planet was no longer firmly affixed to its orbit.
Brad’s new job wasn’t a “full time salaried position.” It was a contract job, destined to be tossed one day into the dustbin of corporate budget cuts. But that would come later. For the time being, the job kept Brad occupied and, even better, alleviated some of the fiscal tension that continually threatened the wary calm of the Tankard household.
The job furthermore enabled Brad to style himself as A Writer, one of his ambitions. Granted, the prose required to render copy for the kind of writing Brad was paid to do—i.e., technical documentation, drafts of spec sheets, compliance docs—admits little room for one’s Creative Genius. And the hordes of committee members whose views on each piece were solicited, politely and rigorously, by Brad’s new boss Andrew Spittleton, were all too ready to pounce on any whiff of Style, highlight it, select Insert Comment, and issue a terse reprimand. “Can’t say it this way.” “Please see the 1/28 version of the Technical Messaging Map.” “Sentences too long? Rec we bulletize.”
Not that the reviewers were mistaken. On the contrary. They knew their stuff. They had to. They worked for DipTych Corporation, a company that is more than a company; it’s a household name, the company that has manufactured 9.83 of every ten can openers purchased in North America—8.17 of every ten worldwide—since its founding in the 1920s. The name you see every time you pop open a bottle of beer or slice off the lid of your canned cat food.
A venerable institution.
So venerable it easily weathered the early 20th century transition from manual to electric. So venerable that when, last year, it announced the formation of a brand new subsidiary—DipTych Digital Can—the event was recognized instantly as a show of brilliant strategic leadership. DipTych’s stockholders had gone giddy. The household consumer goods analysts had swooned in joy.
It was DipTych Digital Can that had extended a writing contract to Brad Tankard. Giving him a front row seat to what would no doubt prove to be An Historic Event, at least within the galaxy of blue chip American corporate icons.
The effect on Brad’s son, however, was somewhat more ambivalent.
Until recently, Ethan had always boarded the same bus after school—bus #6—and dismounted at the end of his ride a few yards from his driveway.
There, he’d be greeted by his father.
Now he took bus #12 instead, which discharged him in front of the Middle School. His mother would meet him there and lead him to her homeroom, through a maze of sweaty-smelling, high-ceilinged hallways lined with banks of pale orange lockers that he was, sadly, forbidden to touch.
He would spend the next hour drawing on the chalkboard or flipping through picture-books while Mama sat at her desk and graded papers or stood at the classroom door to chat with other teachers who happened by.
Then he would ride home, belted into the car seat in the back of Mama’s Prius.
Once home, Ethan generally made his way to the corner of the spare bedroom that served as his father’s office.
Unlike before, the swivel chair was always unoccupied.
Ethan resolved that situation by climbing into it, pulling a sheet of paper from the stack sitting in the laser printer feed tray, and commencing to draw.
He didn’t always know, in advance, what his subject would be. But on one particular day he did know, because his class at school had been treated to a special event.
Shortly after lunch, they had filed behind the teacher, out the back door, and to the field at the rear of the school.
There, a man with a closely cropped beard had set up his collection of telescopes.
Ethan and his classmates were allowed to peer through one of the scopes.
It was pointed toward on a house that bordered far end of the school yard.
When Ethan’s turn came and he looked into the tube, at first he saw . . . nothing.
But no! Just as he was about to give up, he shifted the angle of his face just so and it happened. A small, circular image wobbled into view within the darkness—he calmed himself—the circle grew larger and then a gigantic slice of a fantastically flattened world suddenly presented itself in all its distorted glory.
Ethan gasped, entranced.
The main feature of the scene was a window in a house. He could see the pattern of the curtains on either side of the window frame. There! Dimly, he could see inside. A ceiling fixture. A cupboard, door ajar. Plates . . .
. . . A coffee mug. A small orange plastic container like where Mama keeps her headache pills . . .
Three times, his teacher had to call his name before he even heard her.
His turn was over.
And now he was back home, but still enmeshed in the spell cast by that magical machine.
He began to draw.
The machine’s legs were short, shrunken to reflect Ethan’s assessment of their importance. The exterior controls were depicted as a system of dials and levers. A cutaway revealed the machine’s interior: some wiring, a circuit board, a delicate cable carefully entwined around a pulley.
It was a masterpiece.
From some papers strewn across his father’s desk, Ethan found the perfect label with which to crown his work, and laboriously copied it across the top of his page—the words RESTRICTED USE, rendered laboriously in a thick serif typeface.
He believed he would show his new masterpiece, RESTRICTED USE, to his father as soon as he got home.
But then his mother called up to him and he darted downstairs to SpongeBob. And he forgot about the drawing.
Left it on his father’s desk.
Brad found the drawing later, after the boy had long gone to sleep.
He picked it up, rotated it in his hand, marveling.
Then he set it down and opened his appointment book.
Reviewed the next day’s schedule.
The R&D department’s weekly status meeting was noon tomorrow.
“Look, corporations have to take risks. If you don’t take risks, you don’t grow. We’re proud to be proven risk-takers.”
—Van Prentice, Executive Vice President of Operations, DipTych Corporation Division
DipTych’s roots, like those of most contemporary corporations, are well-embedded in the proverbial clay. But climb up into its branches and you’ll encounter a different world altogether, a world bespangled with the delights of ample money and the eye-popping refinements with which ample money adorns itself.
Now three gentlemen who made their home in this divine bower sat around a computer. They were DipTych CEO Paul W.G. Scally’s immediate reports, and they’d been there since 9:40 that morning, entranced by a slick little corporate analytics program called Quantme. The software’s ingenious claim: it renders any executive into an astute fiscal modeler. Just input a handful of readily available figures—last quarter’s gross receipts and the like—and sit back. A few voluptuous purrs of the hard drive and voila, your fiscal projections are output in a variety of selectable formats suitable for importing into other documents, emailing, or printing.
Van Prentice, Executive Vice President of Operations, had requisitioned it.
The other two Executive VPs were now watching him run it.
“It combines Gaming and Chaos Theory,” Van repeated as he left-clicked his mouse button to highlight another input field.
“Genius,” said the Executive VP to his left.
Secretly, the third Executive VP agreed, but he reflexively tempered his colleagues’ enthusiasm with a show of skepticism. “What did Flagner and Wright say?” Flagner and Wright being a Best Practices Consulting Firm with elegant tendrils entwined throughout DipTych’s upper branches.
“Very favorable. Flagner himself suggested we evaluate it.” Prentice tapped his keyboard enter key. “There. Now we just wait.”
“They used to do this with calculators.”
“These programmers today. Young kids. You know the guys who developed this, what they did before? That online game—Druid something.”
“Druidscape? My son plays that.”
“Yeah, that’s it. Kids sold it, made a fortune. Now they develop business software. And consult.” Prentice leaned forward. “Okay, here we have it.”
The other two Executive VPs leaned forward as well, their chests puffed, and pointed excitedly at the screen. Oh! The bonuses they would bring home next December!
“Mr. Prentice?” Van’s admin leaned into the open office door. “Rocco Pinnoccho here for the ten o’clock.”
“Send him in, Grace.” Van leaned back. “And Grace, I’ve just sent a document to the printer, bring it in when it’s done.” Van’s printer was out by his admin’s desk. Somewhere. He wasn’t quite sure where.
Rocco entered. He shook hands with all three Executive VPs.
They towered over him.
He pointed his chin upward during the greetings to compensate.
Then pulled up another of the room’s cushioned meeting chairs and sat.
Grace returned with the printout.
“Rocco, my man, we have good news. It’s going to be a fantastic year for DipTych Digital.”
Rocco nodded emphatically. Good news.
Van handed him the printout. “We’ve just run the numbers,” he said. “Here they are.”
Rocco looked at the report.
His face stilled.
“Very doable,” Van told him.
The two other Executive VPs nodded in agreement.
“Aggressive. But doable.” Van nodded back. “We dare to target.”
Dare to Target was the Quantme tagline. The Executive Vice President who had feigned skepticism mouthed the words silently to himself as Rocco continued to study the printout, running his right index finger over the numbers as if he were checking them.
“This is just what we needed,” Rocco said when he was done running his fingers. He nodded. “Right in line with what my team worked up internally.”
“Excellent,” Van said.
And the meeting was over.
Back in the polished privacy of the elevator, Rocco stood for a moment after the doors had closed before he pressed the button for his floor.
At one time, a meeting like that would have perturbed him.
The elevator floor sank smoothly between his feet. Down down down.
They thought they controlled him. And once, they probably had. As much as he liked to believe he’d achieved his corporate success through his own machinations, he knew better. He knew none of his past promotions had been squeaky clean, he’d won them because they’d met someone else’s political needs. And now, just as surely, he knew the executives who made their home within Scally’s inner circle were determined to keep Rocco in check. They didn’t like the way Rocco was winning the DipTych Digital numbers game. They didn’t like how Scally admired Rocco for driving his team so hard with so few resources.
They were determined to make sure he stayed trapped here in his little pond.
But they had misunderestimated him. And soon they’d see it for themselves. That he’d changed. Evolved. That he was made, now, of different stuff. That he acted, now, under his own power.
Because don’t let the whiff of Metrosexual fool you: beneath that perfectly exfoliated skin stretched an endoderm of far sterner stuff. A classic strength-born-of-adversity situation, because Rocco labored under a severe liability. In a world that prefers the beautiful, Rocco was born with a noticeably asymmetrical face. Nose not quite centered, one eye slightly higher than the other. He had learned, as an adult, to disguise this native disfigurement somewhat. Notice the carefully sculpted strip of moustache above his full upper lip. The hair combed straight backward—no part, nothing to trick the eye into comparing one side of Rocco’s face to the other. Grooming tricks to lend a kind of balance that his face otherwise lacked.
Rocco was that sort of a person, always resourceful. Even as a boy he’d been so. When he was nine or so and the older boys had taken to bullying him, for instance, he’d used his father’s hammer and a nail from the jar on the work bench, poked holes through the sides of two tin soup cans, labels removed, run a length of twine through the holes, and using the twine as reins had stood himself up on the cans, adding dizzying inches to his height.
Voila. Short no more. Short no more!
And take his most recent career accomplishment. He’d been languishing as the operations manager at Traditional for 18 months. But he’d also guessed, correctly, that Scally and the Board were ready to double down on their digital bet. And through a combination of ruthless maneuvering, a little bit of luck, and the careful seeding of a few rumors about his rivals—rumors carefully chosen to be just believable enough to stick and just salacious enough to circulate—Rocco Pinnoccho, in his 53rd year on the planet and his 12th year with the company, had secured not only a Vice Presidency, but the Vice Presidency of a shiny new corporate division.
The cans of his youth were once again solid beneath his feet.
How he relished his title.
But. Again the but.
Corporate advancement, to Rocco’s perpetual grief, is not an absolute. On the contrary. It’s relative. So while he might be astride the shoulders of the youthful Digital Canning Division, a lofty perch relative to the Rest of the World, within the DipTych hierarchy there remained reaches well above his head.
So Rocco Pinnoccho was looking ahead. He was considering his future.
His original plan: the burgeoning fortunes of DipTych Digital would burst like an aneurysm through the tissue thin layer stretched above Rocco’s head, carrying him up to a seat at the C-level round table.
But Rocco was beginning to appreciate the fact that this plan had been unrealistic. At least without some major tweaking.
He’d done everything he could. He’d run DipTych Digital Can masterfully since day one.
But there was nothing he could do about the economy.
The damn economy. Which, even after the EasyCan launch, threatened to exert an uncontrollable drag on what should have been a graceful piloted yacht flying fast as the wind.
Not that DipTych Digital wouldn’t do well. How could it not, with the money DipTych was dumping into it? But the pond that had looked so large eight months ago now looked puny and insignificant. Hell, Rocco couldn’t even count on approval to create a couple more directorships before fall. How was he supposed to become a Senior VP if there weren’t future regular VPs waiting in the wings to fill out his division’s executive roster?
In better times, he’d have abandoned the original plan entirely and engineered a lateral move. But the timing wasn’t right for that—it would feed him back into the waiting teeth of any number of still-too-freshly angered enemies.
Rocco needed something fresh, a Grand Strategy that would supersize the cans beneath his feet from puny #2 1/2s to massive #10s.
And so he paced.
His office door was shut.
The blinds were drawn.
He checked his watch and lifted today’s edition of the Borschtchester Deign and Pontificate from his desk. He didn’t bother to re-read the front page article above the fold. Even the first time he’d glanced at it, some three hours earlier, it was no surprise—the company had broadcast the gist to all of its employees the afternoon before, a deft little mid-week email pep talk. “DipTych is virtually recession-proof.” Quote from Scally. “During times of trouble, people open more cans than ever. We’ve got the data. They stand over the sink and eat right out of them.”
Rocco folded the paper in his left hand and rapped the article with the back knuckles of his right. Right across Scally’s pixilated photo. Then he paced back across his office, opened the door, dropped the paper in the cobalt blue recycle box next to it, sat at his computer, and opened a new spreadsheet.
He typed for a few minutes, referring occasionally to Van’s Quantme report. Then he picked up the phone and summoned his first lieutenant, Darryl Fiegit, Sales and Marketing Director, DipTych Digital Can.
“Okay. As promised,” Rocco said as Darryl settled into the chair on the other side of his desk. “Here are your numbers.”
Darryl took the sheet.
He looked as if he might vomit.
“I know this is higher than we’d discussed, but given the market growth potential it’s are very doable.”
But Rocco was having none of it. “We’re about to launch EasyCan.”
Darryl looked at the sheet again. It was vibrating slightly in his hand.
“According to the marketing plan you submitted.”
“Come on, Rocco.” Darryl was still looking at the print-out. “You know we were blue skying.”
“We’re paid to be aggressive.”
“Aggressive, sure. But—”
“Darryl. You know the facts. There are 78 million people in the United States with a net worth of a million or more. All you need to do is sell an EasyCan to every tenth millionaire and we’re there.”
“You can’t make assumptions like that, Rocco. You know you can’t. The focus groups . . .”
They’d commissioned the focus groups weeks ago, and had argued about how to interpret the results ever since. Rocco insisted that the lackluster reception of the EasyCan concept could be fixed by tweaking the feature set. Darryl, by nature more morose, suspected the issues might be more fundamental.
“We’ve agreed to disagree about the focus groups,” Rocco reminded him.
“And we’ve made no headway in the Dimpling licensing deals. None.”
This was another sore point between them. Because EasyCan was intended to be more than a mere can opener.
It was intended be a Digital Can Opening System.
Imagine a device that looks not like any can opener you’ve ever seen before, but more like a high-end home coffee maker. To use it, you’d open a little door in the front and set a can on the platform inside. No need to position the opener’s blade yourself—after you closed the little door, sensors inside the unit would identify the size and shape of the can.
You’d hear a little whir, as the device mounted the can onto its blade armature.
This functionality was the heart and soul of EasyCan, because the mechanical innards wouldn’t work properly on a standard can. No, they would not. To be compatible with EasyCan, the sides of the can had to be configured with specialized and highly proprietary indentations: EasyCan Dimpling Technology®.
If a can didn’t feature EasyCan Dimpling Technology, the EasyCan system wouldn’t be able to mount it on its cutting arm.
So take that, world. Bwa ha ha ha ha. A successful realization of the EasyCan dream would create a de facto market for cans that could only be opened by DipTych’s own device.
And DipTych would control a portfolio of licensing deals and partnerships the lucrativity of which not even founder Musgrave Diptychowski (1841 – 1923) could have dreamed.
The Colossus of Can Openers would become the Colossus of Cans.
It was for this that Rocco and Darryl had many weeks crisscrossing the country, calling on executives at the big consumer goods corporations.
The response, unfortunately, had been uniformly unkind.
The executives at big consumer goods corporations insisted, the fools, that old-fashioned cans were perfectly good enough, thank you. They’d suggested that DipTych might better stick to the old fashioned can opener business.
Nonetheless, Rocco’s faith in the plan was unshaken.
“We’ve beaten this to death too, Darryl,” he said. “They’re all bluffing.”
Darryl restrained himself from shaking his head. What good would it do?
“All it takes is one,” Rocco repeated for the hundredth time. “Then the others have to follow. If they don’t, they’ll lose their customers to the competition.”
Darryl wasn’t so sure. You see, there was a downside for any company that licensed EasyCan Dimpling Technology. It would add more cost to their canning operations. Which would be passed on to consumers. Who might balk a bit, on the heels of a particularly nasty recession, at seeing prices go up on their baked beans and tuna fish and canned corn.
“I’d feel better,” Darryl muttered, “if we did some market research on consumer price sensitivity to EasyCan compatible cans.”
“The market research we have is rock solid.”
Those damn focus groups again. Sure, the participants had warmed to some of EasyCan’s rich feature set—on paper. Who wouldn’t? Come on! A built-in scale? A little keyboard and a mini-printer—you can use the EasyCan System to create and store shopping lists, imagine! And built-in intelligence! Say you buy a can of cannellini beans. You place the can inside the EasyCan chassis, close the door, step back and wait for EasyCan to complete its one-touch hands-free open operation. Then the system’s LED display lights up. It says you’ve opened a 16 ounce can of cannellini beans. It’s read the bar code on the can! A little icon flashes. You last opened a 16 ounce can of cannellini beans on March 18! Wow, two cans of cannellini beans in just under a month! This must be one of your household staples! And so the EasyCan Opener System prompts you to add Cannellini Beans, 16-oz to your weekly shopping list . . .
“I’m not talking about the EasyCan feature research,” Darryl said. “I’m talking about the cans. And without the income stream from Dimpling deals I don’t know—”
“Darryl!” Rocco leaned forward slightly, his voice turning gentle, concern creasing his forehead. “Look. You know the hundred million isn’t my doing. If it were my choice . . .”
“You have to push back on them.”
Darryl looked unconvinced.
“I did. I told them this was way out of line with our internal projections. They wouldn’t budge. I tried.”
Darryl still looked unconvinced.
“I go to bat for you every single day, Darryl, you know that.”
What could Darryl do?
He rubbed the back of his neck. “I’ll need . . . I’ll need to accelerate my staff-up.”
Rocco voice got even silkier. “Of course. We’ve discussed this. You have my okay to get that admin you need.”
“No.” Darryl was not a particularly robust-looking man, but even a squirrel can muster a semblance of ferocity if cornered. Now he jutted his jaw slightly. “You want me to make those numbers . . . I need my staff—a full department.”
Rocco opened the marketing plan. He flipped to the section titled Budget and looked sadly at the column of figures.
But Darryl cut him off. “Rocco, I cut my budget projections by 75 percent, just like you asked. We’ve got Kich-N-World coming up. We have only three months. You know as well as I do. I need an army.”
Rocco sat back, smoothing his moustache to give himself some time.
“A full department, or I fall flat, Rocco. There’s no way.”
Numbers flashed through Rocco’s head. The plan—Rocco’s plan, not Darryl’s—had been to shoestring the operation for a bit longer. Keep labor costs down, sit on the cash . . . it had worked well, it was the way he’d murdered the other divisions for three quarters straight, Scally now regularly grilled the others on why they couldn’t run lean the way Digital did. Of course it couldn’t last forever. He knew that. But it had been so . . . nice. It had played so well into his long-term plans . . . or what used to be his long-term plans.
He stroked his moustache again.
This Darryl. A weakling. But a weakling with absolutely no life other than his job a DipTych. Which meant he had all the time and energy he needed to execute a reasonable approximation of a marketing organization single-handedly if he were forced to. Throw together the launch plan, leverage the U-Ful Utensil sales channel, pump some orders through the books. Then you add the fat. After you get the money coming in. That was how you goose the engine of your executive fast-track. Those guys upstairs, Prentice and those other idiots, they’d be the ones with prickling scalps when Digital turned a profit its second quarter after EasyCan launch.
But a hundred mill.
A hundred mill.
That changed the scale of things.
Damn that Van Prentice anyway. Him and his Corporate henchmen, they’d found a way to get back at Rocco for his paper numbers.
They’d changed the paper.
Rocco looked again at Darryl’s list of staffing requests.
It was a long list.
“Scally’s okayed it. You know that, and I know that,” Darryl said.
“Fine.” Rocco dropped the folder onto his desk with an angry flick of his hand.
He shut his office door after Darryl left and then sat down again, petting his tie, thinking, thinking.
He’d known this day would come.
He’d hoped it wouldn’t come so soon.
He needed something different. Something that would carve a mark so monstrous that Scally would have no choice but to reward Rocco handsomely.
He needed a backup plan. In place. By the end of Q4.
A Thing of Beauty
“What keeps me up at night? That’s easy. My staff. These are my people. They’re good guys, every one of them, solid engineers. They put their hearts and souls into their work. I hired them, it’s my job to look after them, make sure they’re taken care of, and I take that very seriously.”
As a contractor, Brad wasn’t allowed to roam the hallways of DipTych by himself. He had to be escorted, something that Andrew Spittleton, Research Director, DipTych Digital Can R&D, generally did himself.
So Brad wait inside the foyer, chitchatting with the guard who sat next to the badge swipe machines.
It didn’t bother Brad Tankard one bit that he needed to be babysat, because the indignity was more than cancelled out by the knowledge that he was part of the soon-to-be-magnificent DipTych Digital Can.
Brad recognized greatness when he saw it.
He was thrilled to be associated with—in fact technically a Member of—the Team.
And he displayed his enthusiasm enthusiastically. He was never merely punctual for work. Today he arrived today 20 minutes early, dressed impeccably as usual, impeccable as a mid-Century ad man in his altered-to-a-perfect-fit Italian suits, smartly-styled black leather messenger bag tucked under his arm, brimming with ideas and an outsider’s enthusiasm for following the byzantine rituals of DipTych’s technical communications programs.
Andrew descended the half flight of stairs leading to the foyer, greeted Brad, greeted the guard. Brad swiped his contractor’s badge and stepped over the line separating the mundane from the DipTych. Actually he kind of bounded over.
The building is one of dozens DipTych owns globally, and the second largest of the properties it owns in its headquarters of Borschtchester, New York.
The company, you might have guessed, is a behemoth.
It hadn’t always been so. In Musgrave’s day, DipTych was content to be nothing more than a successful and lucrative can opener company.
But then Musgrave died, and a generation that had never known him ascended to DipTych’s executive offices, and along came the 1980s, and DipTych—eager to burnish its reputation for forward-thinkingness—joined the rest of corporate America on the then-fashionable binge diet of Strategic Acquisitions.
To an outsider, some of these purchases may have seemed a tad incongruous, if not manic.
“Why a confectionary company?” you might ask.
Perhaps you haven’t seen DipTych-branded fruit-flavored candies. They’re sold in 3-inch circular tins with the whimsical tagline “no can opener required!” printed on the side. Brilliant cross-branding, you have to admit. After you taste those candies, you never look at your can opener the same way again.
Acquiring U-Ful Utensils gave DipTych unprecedented access to the European kitchenware market. Again, brilliant. If the U-Ful sales reps sabotaged Corporate’s efforts to integrate its other division sales reps within their own network, that was hardly the fault of the Board of Directors.
The most far-reaching acquisition, now re-styled as DipTych Window & Door, at least made sense from a cash flow standpoint. The more cynical members of DipTych’s professional class often joked that if it weren’t for Window & Door, there’d be no roof over Candy & Nut.
In any case, no matter how far afield DipTych’s eye might wander, the company also maintained a prideful and possessive sense of its ancient heritage, illustriously rooted in the 19th century industrial blossoming of its home city. And if, today, its corporate frame sagged fearfully under its own weight—one could sometimes even hear it creak ominously—DipTych paid well—very well, by Western New York rust belt standards—and its cheery benefits packages periodically garnered mentions in the national press.
All was well.
As a contractor, Brad wasn’t given full access to the trough, of course. But it was more than he’d earned as House Husband. And the work gave him the opportunity to brush the dust from one of his fine Italian suits and Attend Meetings.
Like the one about to start.
“I’m going to get a cup of coffee. Want one?”
Andrew was habituated to approximately 35 Styrofoam cups of free DipTych coffee per day.
The coffee habit may explain Andrew’s stunning career, in fact. A true DipTychian to his bones, Andrew had been hired right out of college as a young engineer and for the next 26 years toiled away, head down and head first, on analog can opener technology. Earning, en route, the undying respect of legions of other DipTych engineers. And the right to spend three quarters of his time flying to overseas manufacturing plants to troubleshoot manufacturing issues. His eyes, always solemn, had long since taken on a cast of virtuousness that shone through even when he was feeling particularly stubborn, which was often, as he was a precise and opinionated man.
Also, his wife’s cousin is married to the DipTych CEO’s niece.
So it was Andrew Spittleton, a middle-aged Andrew Spittleton with pale streaks like spilt milk coursing through his neatly trimmed beard, who’d been tapped to head up R&D for the newly created DipTych Digital Can, an honor as heavy as it was exhilarating. And not only because the buckets of cash allocated to the new division had flowed, so far, mainly through his budget. Far more important to Andrew: it was his job, and he knew it, to ensure that the products that would one day issue from the division’s loins would be without peer, unmatched and unmatchable. In fact, the only thing more important to him than this was his wife, and she was pretty much self-managing at this point in their marriage.
He returned to the conference room with his coffee and sat down. Over half of the chairs around the conference table were now occupied. A couple of hardware guys were there, a couple of materials engineering guys, a couple systems engineering guys, the Mechanical Design Engineer, and the woman Andrew had just hired to head up Quality Assurance.
“Who are we waiting for?” He took a sip of his bitter and Styrofoam-infused brew.
People murmured a few names.
Were these people all at work today, did anyone know?
Yes, so-and-so had seen so-and-so, and so-and-so had said he was going to be there but a few minutes late.
Andrew glanced at the clock.
The QA woman—the only female in the room—passed around the agenda.
A couple more engineers came in and sat down.
Andrew glanced at the agenda. One other person still missing. The marketing guy. But he was coming from corporate, across town. “Let’s give folks another minute.”
Brad drew a small stack of manila folders from his messenger bag.
Andrew picked up his own briefcase from the floor and placed it on the table in front of him. He didn’t always place the briefcase so—this was to prepare for the marketing guy. The briefcase was now a metaphorical castle wall over which no marketing asshat could possibly clamber.
Another engineer entered and sat, joining the chit chat.
Brad pulled his son’s latest drawing from one of his folders.
“What are you working on now?” Andrew asked him.
DipTych, in an admirable display of humanizing humor, uses aquarium fish names as code words for its R&D projects.
“Take a look at this,” Brad leaned down the table. “My 8 year old’s work. He’s quite the draftsman, isn’t he?”
He handed the drawing to Andrew, who took it in one hand while he sipped coffee with the other. “Cute.”
“The composition is exquisite, isn’t it?”
“The way he captures dimensionality. And that line . . .”
Andrew nodded again. He glanced at the clock. “Okay, folks, while we’re waiting for Darryl, let’s get started.” He dropped Ethan Tankard’s drawing onto the table on top of his copy of the agenda, then noticed he couldn’t read the agenda and pulled it out from under the drawing. “George?”
George Bonmont was Head Systems Engineer. This made him second only in power to Andrew himself, and not only because his tenure had cracked the 35-year mark—rendering him ten DipTych Years older than Andrew—but also by virtue of the enormous responsibility he bore. For to George fell the task of governing all of DipTych EasyCan Technology’s integration points. And there were a lot of them. In fact, it’s perhaps a vast oversimplification to call the EasyCan Opener System a “system.” It’s far more. It’s multiple systems, systems-within-the-system. The scale, the printer, the cutter, the screen. Not to mention potential add-on modules. One that allows can lids to be ejected into a recyclable paper wrapper, for instance. Making them safer to handle during transport to your recycle bin. And a steam cleaner to keep the EasyCan Opener System’s innards pristine and hygienic.
Fortunately, George had an uncanny and DipTychian grasp of the high level implications of all this interconnectedness.
He’d even coined a new phrase to capture the magnificent-ness of all that interconnectedness. “Tangential Integration.”
“First up,” George started. “We think we’ve got a possible solution to our bus architecture issue.”
Oh, the data port thing.
All of the EasyCan systems-within-a-system need to pass data to one another, you see. Not to mention pass data to DipTych’s future canning technology concubines—oh, sorry, “partners.” Passing data was the blood flow that would keep Tangential Integration alive. The trick was enabling data to be passed without growing EasyCan to the size of a 6000-BTU window air conditioner unit—which EasyCan had, at one point two months back, begun to closely resemble.
“It will require some customization,” George continued, “but Paulie here says it’s doable, right, Paulie?”
Everyone in the room already knew about the whole bus architecture issue and proposed fix, of course. In fact, George had used it as an example in a paper he’d submitted, “The Challenges and Rewards of Tangential Integration,” for an upcoming engineering conferenced. And he’d blogged about it some, too— George, being one of DipTych’s senior R&Ders, was permitted to post on the company’s technical blog portal. Because George was smart, one of those guys that could well have been the smartest guy on the DipTych payroll, not that anybody besides George and a handful of his closest colleagues would know it. And Tangential Integration was the kind of concept that could make a guy’s career. That could pass into the engineering lexicon with a fellow’s name forever in close association, Tangential Engineering . . . as first described by George Bonmont.
“So that takes us to the next open integration issue, the LNN bus.”
The engineers paused in a collective moment of thoughtful silence as they shifted their attention to the issue of the LNN bus.
The door opened.
Darryl had arrived.
Greetings, head nods, handshakes.
Darryl took a seat at the conference table.
The conversation recovered from its respectful pause.
“Question.” Tim, User Interface Design Engineer. “If we move to a customized LNN bus, will it enable us to boost the MPS to the LED at all? Or are we still constrained by the overall RDQL?”
Darryl avoided looking at Andrew. He looked at Tim, and nodded as if he knew exactly what Tim was talking about.
“That depends,” answered Placido, Mechanical Design Engineer. He pulled out a pad and sketched a quick schematic. Then, with short hard strokes, an arrow. “With a VRN bus, you’ve got inherently more capacity here—” he drew another arrow, “and here. The LNN should approximate the VRN, assuming we don’t run into any quadrant issues in our LSR.”
“Quadrant issues,” Andrew said. “I thought we’d settled quadrant when Alex moved the scale from the side to the top.”
“He did, to an extent,” said Placido.
“To what extent.”
“About 22 percent.” Placido smiled, because answering 22 percent was an inside joke. The team always answered 22 percent when it didn’t know what the right answer was.
Andrew didn’t smile.
“We could look at quadrant again,” one of the other hardware engineers suggested.
Andrew flicked his hand. “Okay. We have Darryl here, let’s table this for the time being.” He reached out and popped his briefcase open so that the back of the lid faced Darryl, Battleship Game style.
Darryl’s only defense, on the other hand, was a pad of lined paper. He drew a retractable pen from his pocket and clicked it into note-taking mode.
“Okay, Darryl. I’m guessing you’d like an update on where we are with the prototype.”
“Right,” Andrew said. He pulled a sheaf of documents from his case, extracted one single-page report from the sheaf, and pushed it across the table toward Darryl.
Then he separated the rest of the stack into two piles which he arranged on either side of his briefcase. This spread his defenses laterally in a kind of paper moat.
Darryl was reading the sheet of paper.
“This looks like the same report from two weeks ago.”
Andrew took a virtuously contemplative pull from his coffee. “Yes. You may have noticed, Darryl, based on our conversation when you walked in. We’ve got some issues we’re working through. This isn’t a 1945 folding hand opener unit. This is high tech. We have to get it right.”
The edge of the paper Andrew had handed him was damp and rumpled now from the moisture of his hand.
Andrew, on the other hand, looked contented enough to just about purr.
“When we have something we can prototype,” he said, “you’ll be the first to know.”
“Andrew. There’s a lot riding on this. Corporate has given us some pretty aggressive numbers. And we have Kich-N-World. It’s only 12 weeks away now. We gotta do our launch. And to do our launch, we gotta have something to show at the show.”
“So you tell me. But like I said, as soon as we have something we can prototype—”
“Andrew. You’re making me nervous.”
Like Andrew needed to be told. Darryl wore nervousness like some men wear designer clothes. Only he never took it off. He looked nervous even when he was drooling on his throw pillows during late night reruns of One Hit Wonders from the 80s.
He stared at the status report for another moment, considering his options. He could show a little sympathy for Andrew, and thereby align himself as an ally against the perennially bone-headed DipTych management. But that was risky. There was no natural basis for an alliance between the two. Andrew didn’t really have any use for Darryl.
And Darryl was a cautious man.
That left an option that was nearly as weak. Darryl evoked a higher power. “Look, Andy. You know this isn’t me. Making these decisions. Management—straight down from Scally—we need a product.” Darryl pushed the report back across the table and up against Andrew’s open brief case. “We have to get past concept. Concept’s going to get us all marched to the guillotine.”
Fail. Andrew still looked contented. Even vaguely triumphant. He picked up the report, placed it one of the stack of papers spread around the briefcase, then merged that stack with the rest of the papers and, with long graceful fingers tapped them together against the table like an oversized deck of cards.
He took a very long time to do this, while Darryl’s shirt became yet more damp with the fruits of his growing anxiety.
“I understand the stakes perfectly well, Darryl,” Andrew said. “But my chief responsibility is to the product, not the marketing department.” He returned the papers finally to his briefcase. “As soon as we have something new, you’ll be the first to know.” He took another swig from his Styrofoam cup.
Darryl stood up. His chair wobbled drunkenly from the force of his movement. He managed to catch it. “I’ll phone you up next Monday to check, Andy.”
“I’m out of the country all week. Friday,” Andrew answered. “Or the Monday after would be better, actually, I don’t know if I’ll really have anything new for you by Friday.”
He picked up his agenda and scanned the room. “Okay, who’s up next. Kevin?”
“I don’t think George is done,” Kevin said.
“Oh, right. George, then.”
Darryl capped his pen and crept away.