Susan had just graduated from the Product Design Department at Stanford University and showed up with her "still-wet" masters degree in Knoxville, Tennessee, to join the Human Factors Design group at Toyota. The interview with its direct-report manager Tammy in New York City had gone well enough for her to have a second interview with upper management in Japan. Toyota took the personal driving experience seriously as they had come in second to Honda in several studies, not to mention perception in the marketplace, so they interviewed carefully for a group who could take them further than before.
Susan was proud to be accepted in such a lofty group. They jokingly took on the Olympic motto "Citius—Altius—Fortius" in Latin which means "Faster—Higher—Stronger" in English. In her quieter moments she was frightened, even terrified, that she might not be good enough. Even if she was good enough, would she fit in?
So she walked into the office with her head held high
as one who deserved to join the group she was joining.
• Andrew was in his thirties and had traveled considerably, based on all his pictures on display of himself in foreign places. He was from New York City and relocated himself to Knoxville to join this group.
• Kim was Korean. Susan wondered if all Koreans were named "Kim" but figured this wasn't the time or place to ask. Kim was older, maybe in his fifties, but it's hard for westerns to judge the age of Asians. His English was good with a slight Korean accent.
• Jill was barely older than Susan, maybe twenty-five, with no obvious credentials in design, but her role was mostly documentation in the form of industrial drawings along with written text about designs. She had been doing this professionally since she left high school. Jill was quiet and kept to herself, clearly reluctant to join in meetings with the group. Her drawings were extraordinary in themselves as they subtly communicated not only what the drawn parts were, but what they was about, how they should fit, and how they should be made. Susan thought of industrial drawings as pass-fail, either they're good enough to make the part or they aren't, until she saw Jill's work.
• And now the group had Susan, "the fourth for bridge" as Andrew said, wondering if she could do more than play "dummy" with these three superb masters.
One time she was reading a collection of impressions and she came across an email from Garth. "Impressions" in this group were written essays about how a design looked and felt from the point of view of somebody using it. In Toyota's case, most of the points of view were from the driver, but sometimes there were passenger viewpoints of design as well. In this unusual case, the impressions were about checking and filling the oil and were written from the point of view of the mechanic. Garth's insights in this email were amazing, he presented in prose a picture of a user opening the hood and having the other hand come out exactly where the dipstick was. "Why not make checking the oil easier and friendlier?" he asked.
There was no Garth in the group, or anywhere else Susan encountered. She asked Andrew about it and he said he never met Garth nor did he have personal emails with him. "I think he's a consultant, but I don't know who hired him."
One time Susan and Jill were doing a mock-up of a car dashboard, something that a human-factors group at a car company does often, and Susan asked about the panel-lights switch being more prominent than usual. Jill mentioned that Garth had suggested that it was really annoying to have to find the panel-lights control when driving at night and that it should be obvious where it is. Susan asked about Garth and Jill changed the subject quickly, which suggested to Susan that she had something to do with Garth. Susan found an email from Garth and waited until she saw Jill again to ask about it.
Susan was coy about it and didn't ask directly about Garth. Instead, she asked about the content of the email, the comfort and feel of tracks to move the front seat forward and back. Jill answered about the email and talked about the manufacture of the seat tracks. Without missing a beat, Susan asked Jill if she had ever met Garth in person and what he looked like. "Sure," said Jill. "He's tallish, maybe six feet and slim, dark hair." Susan asked if she would get a chance to meet him and Jill said he isn't around the office much.
When Susan mentioned Garth to Kim, he said he had never met Garth but had read his emails. They were usually on point, but when they were off subject, Garth's emails were insightful and clever. And, no, he had never met Garth either, nor had a conversation with him by telephone or email.
Susan was puzzled about Garth, but the work kept her busy and engaged with the group and the Garth mystery went on a back burner for a while.
Excitement was in the air one morning. A car prototype mock-up was coming from the factory. The factory would set aside some assembly-worker time to build a one-off prototype from plans sent by the Human-Factors-Design group. This was an expensive diversion of resources, they didn't get mock-ups often, so it was a big deal when it happened. They would get a chance to see a car that looks like what they put on paper, so all four eagerly ran out to the garage as the mock-up was unloaded from the truck for them all to check out.
All four of them took turns sitting in the seats, both front and back, and then Susan walked around to the front of the car and opened the hood. The latch was on the left side, so she used her left hand to fasten the hood open. As she latched the latch, she noticed her right hand was directly over the oil dipstick, just as Garth had suggested. It was right there, no looking around for it, no reaching around other parts of the engine and auxilliaries. When she pulled the dipstick to check the oil, Susan noticed the oil filler cap was also right in sight with a funnel shape to make it easier to fill without spill. Susan remembered Andrew suggesting that idea earlier.
Kim was sitting in the front seat and he started to say something wasn't quite right. When he couldn't find the English word for what he wanted to say, he got agitated and he cursed in Korean. Andrew smiled and said, "Hey, I speak Korean." Kim put his hands to his face in embarrassment over his outburst.
Andrew said, "No, that's not what I mean. If you don't have English words for what you want to say, why don't you tell me in Korean and I'll translate." Kim's face lit up with a smile that was clearly pleased in any language and started to speak as Andrew translated. "It's not right, it's wrong, it's, hey, wait a minute." Andrew furrowed his brow and said, "I don't get that word. I lived in Korea long enough to do more than order coffee and ask where the bathrooms are, but that word is over my head." Kim went on in Korean and stopped for Andrew to speak. "Okay, it's jealous, no wait, you're annoyed, no, okay, you're frustrated by the space in the front seat." Kim smiled again and went on while Andrew translated. "When I sit in the seat there's a great big space between me and the windshield but I can't use any of it while the car roof is still low over my head. I want some of that space for me and not for the windshield, I want to feel, wait, to use the space and not just to look at it." Kim was clearly overjoyed at having this new communication medium.
Later that day Jill had a suggestion that the interior space was more frustrating because the roof over the driver was too low and then there was all this useless space in front of him or her. When pressed a bit about it she said it was Garth's idea, not hers, and she would have to talk to him some more about it.
The next morning Jill had a lot more to say about the space-slope issue. She said she had been running with Garth that morning and he gave her some ideas. That struck Susan as being more familiar than she expected. When they were alone together she asked Jill again about seeing Garth. "Oh yes," she said, "we run together from time to time. Just between us girls, besides being good company and smart, he has fantastic legs."
The mock-up and the write-ups kept all of them "up and at 'em" for a several days, so Susan had nothing more to say about Garth to Jill or to anybody else. Then early one morning Jill and Susan were in Jill's office "just chillin'" for a few minutes and Susan looked at Jill's smiling face looking down at her feet. "I know that look," said Susan, "Any woman knows that look."
Jill looked up and said, "What do you mean?"
"You admired a lot more than his legs last night, didn't you?"
Jill grinned for a moment and then she changed completely. She ran over and closed the door and then hid under the desk while Susan watched in amazement. "You can't tell them. You can't tell anybody. You can't, you can't, you can't. They'll make him go away and I won't have anybody."
Susan didn't know what to ask, so she stared silently.
Jill calmed down just a little, but was still quite agitated. "They'll make me take my meds and I won't have any fun, I won't be any fun, and I won't have Garth. I'm not hurting anybody, I'm not violent, I function in the world with normal people, and please don't take that away from me." She shrank further under the desk. "Please, please, please, please, please."
Needless to say, Susan had a lot of questions to ask Jill, but she didn't say anything for a few minutes. Embarrassed by her outburst, Jill slowly crawled out from under her desk and worked her way back into her chair. For a moment she tried to pretend nothing had happened, she wiped the tears from her eyes with a tissue, and then she sat up straight and faced Susan. "As you may have gathered, I'm a fully-functioning schizophrenic. Yes, I hear voices and see people, but it 's only been Garth for the past two years and Garth doesn't hurt anybody."
"Why don't you just take Garth's suggestions and make like they're your own?" Susan figured that was the best way to keep Jill's condition a secret.
"Because people will ask about the idea and I haven't a clue. I tried that once and it was silly, I mentioned something about the oil dipstick once and Andrew asked some question about the idea and I stared blankly back and mumbled something incoherent before I escaped to the Ladies room, one place I could be safe and alone. Now that you're in the group, I can't even escape there. So I have to present Garth's ideas as Garth's." Then she fell into her own well for a minute and added, "Besides, Garth has a big ego and likes it when his ideas are recognized."
Wow! Susan didn't know what to say and she figured that there was no hurry to say anything. The door was closed, nobody else was around, so she had a minute or two to think of what to do next.
Naked reassurance is the first impulse, saying everything would be okay, nothing bad will happen. This was obviously a lie as Jill obviously has had bad things happen, schizophrenia, medication, and maybe worse. Susan didn't know Jill's history, but she figured out that Jill was afraid, and probably a lot more often than just this morning.
Susan believed we're all on this planet for a reason. In the less-grand scheme of things, she figured she had to be in this human-factors-design group for a reason. Given the talent of this group, she was realizing that her purpose in this group wasn't design. Even with her credentials and education, these three were far beyond her in designing cars. Maybe her reason for being here was something else, making the group stronger, better, and happier. Jill certainly wasn't happy with her situation. Come to think of it, Kim was frustrated, or whatever that Korean word was that he used the other day.
First steps, baby steps, one step at a time, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, thought Susan. Okay, with all these steps she was thinking about, what was the next step? So Garth wasn't real, so Garth was a figment of Jill's imagination, he was still real and alive to Jill, very alive given this morning.
Before the big step of acknowledging Garth's place, Susan needed to reassure Jill that she was safe, especially after this morning's revelation. Jill had to be worried that her morning-after happy face that was so obvious to Susan would be obvious to others, that it would beg questions she couldn't safely answer. "Jill, you know that men are pigs, right?"
Jill stared directly at Susan with no idea where she was going, which was Susan's intent. "Jill, girls know girl faces and a woman knows a woman, but you don't have to worry about the guys. They'll never know you had company last night unless you tell them. Secrets you can't keep from me are safe from Kim and Andrew."
"You make them seem like idiots," said Jill. She was out from under the desk.
"No, not idiots, just men, with all the limitations that implies. They have their language and their ways and we have ours. I've come to class with a goofy grin that every girl knew and not one fellow noticed a damned thing. Wearing a t-shirt that says `I HAD SEX LAST NIGHT' might work, at least if the words were over our breasts."
Jill chuckled and said, "I hope so. I'm so afraid. I don't want to be afraid all the time."
Susan furrowed her brow, thought for a few seconds, and said, "Hey, let me think about it, okay?"
Later that afternoon, the four were having an animated discussion about the windshield. Kim felt it should taper downward, Andrew felt it shouldn't taper inward, that it shouldn't feel too narrow, and they both agreed that having it slope down and stay wide would look goofy.
Kim was trying to explain an approach and was having a hard time. Susan said he should go back to Korean and, once again, he started speaking in Korean and Andrew translated. Each of Andrew's translated sentences started with "Kim says," and then he added some thoughts of his own. It was working better than before, when it was all in English, but something was wrong with the dynamic.
Susan spoke up, "Kim says, Kim says, Kim says, you don't have to say that. Why don't you face Kim when you're translating and turn to face us when it's Andrew. And if you want to interrupt, then interrupt when you normally would interrupt. There's nothing sacred about Kim just because he's talking Korean. It's not rude to do that, at least no ruder than in English!"
The conversation went well from that point. Kim talked Korean with Andrew facing him and translating, then turning his head and answering what he had just said from Kim. Jill had a few words here and there and Susan just soaked it all in. She asked a few questions about windshields and aerodynamics, but she felt her role this afternoon wasn't to figure out windshields.
The two big-ego guys figured out what they wanted, they both faced Jill, and, in two languages, they asked, "Can you draw it?" Could she turn all the artsy-fartsy shape shop talk into a manufacturing specification for an automobile? Would it pass wind-tunnel tests and could it be manufactured?
Jill nodded and said, "I can get what you said into test. Let's build a mock-up and put it on our mock-up to see if it looks as good as you guys say it should."
Jill and Susan were in Susan's office with the men elsewhere. Jill said, "You must think I'm a pathetic head case."
Susan answered, "All but the word `pathetic.'" She paused and went on. "What do you think is out there? A bunch of perfect people and a bunch of schizos with nobody in between? When I was a kid there were people talking into the air. Now nobody talks into the air, they all have cell phones. Did you ever wonder how many of those people yakking and yakking into their phones have anybody at the other end? We're all goofy in our own way."
"You have to admit I'm a little goofier than most," Jill replied, "but I don't want to lose what I have to a pack of pills."
"I won't deny you may be at the wonkier end of the wonky human race, but don't go out there thinking the rest of us are just fine. We're not, we just haven't had a label put on our wonkiness, at least they haven't caught us enough to do that."
After a long pause, Susan asked, "Can I go running with Garth?"
Jill looked up, startled.
"Are you jealous? 'Cuz I think you better come along, don't you think? Somebody has to tell me what Garth is saying as we chat. I really want to know more about Garth."
Jill chuckled and then laughed. "Why are you curious?"
"Well, maybe it's because he contributes a lot of good ideas to our group, more than I do by the way, and maybe it's because he's a good friend and an important part of a good friend of mine and maybe I'd like to know him better, too."
Jill smiled and said, "Okay, tomorrow morning, seven o'clock, my place."
Susan waited outside Jill's apartment complex, seven o'clock came and went, and five more minutes came and went. Susan was getting nervous that she may have pressed too hard on the Garth issue when Jill showed up, said good morning, and started stretching. "Garth should be here in a minute," she said. She looked up the street and her gaze clearly followed somebody coming, somebody Susan couldn't see of course.
Susan wasn't a runner by any stretch of the imagination, but it seemed a safer forum for meeting an imaginary person than playing tennis, for example. They ran along having a three-way conversation. The only odd thing was that Jill had to repeat what Garth said. After a few times of speaking for Garth Jill stopped saying "Garth says" and just looked the other way, toward where she saw Garth, when she spoke for him. They started about running and moved on to work and cars. Jill was happy to keep the conversation light and Susan followed along. It was surprisingly pleasant and, even more surprisingly, not weird.
Since Susan was a slower runner than Jill, and presumably slower than Garth, she was allowed to run in front to set the pace. She didn't see her running company at all, not Jill and, of course, not Garth.
A few mornings later, when they put the mock-up windshield in the mock-up car, they all sat in the driver seat with hands on the steering wheel. Kim and Andrew were like little kids, so happy with how it looked. When they sat in the seat holding the wheel, they turned it from side to side like little kids in a toy car. All that was missing was them saying, "Vroom! Vroom!"
When Jill was in the seat checking out the car, she turned her head to face an empty corner of the room. After a few seconds, she looked at the dashboard, back to the corner of the room, and back to the dashboard.
Susan heard a voice in her head say, "Now!" Maybe I'm also schizophrenic, she thought. "What are you thinking, Jill?"
"I'm checking out the knobs. They don't feel right."
Susan took a deep breath and plunged into the deep end, took the big leap, or whatever metaphor fit the bill this day. She asked, "What does Garth think?"
"The knobs are too small! They feel like a video game, like we're playing PacMan, like it's a toy. He says we're not trying to create a toy, this is a car for real drivers using real machinery."
As Jill started to realize what she had just betrayed, Susan threw the next punch. "What does Garth think we should do?"
Jill looked in the corner and went on. "He says make the knobs bigger, make the driver know it's a real machine. And he says give them texture. If the knob has a sense of direction, like the panel light control, then give it a touch sense of direction."
"Garth," said Susan looking at the same corner, "how should we do that?"
Jill looked at the corner and looked back at Susan. "He says make the knob an egg-shaped oval with knarly stuff on the big end of the egg, so the driver is sure which way it's pointing."
Kim said something in Korean. Andrew looked at Kim and translated, "Can we manufacture a knob like that and stay within cost?"
Jill looked directly at Kim and spoke for herself rather than Garth. "Yes, I can do that. We can mold it from a prototype and stamp it out of good plastic. It doesn't have to feel cheap to be cheap."
As he figured out what was going on with Jill and Garth, Andrew threw in his own two cents. "Garth, you've sat in here and checked it out yourself. What about the positions?"
Short silence while Jill faced the corner, then she said, "Garth says it's good but maybe the radio knobs should be higher, more separate from the climate-control knobs. Also they should feel different from the air conditioning and the heat."
It all happened in just five minutes. Jill's phantom Garth was a part of the group without any visible judgment on her psychosis. Apparently Kim and Andrew already had a good idea that Garth was Jill's imaginary friend, but this made him real and positive in that role.
Susan decided not to press her luck and to let this settle in. "Hey, Jill and I are going shopping for lunch. How about we meet later and go over the design?" The two women quickly left the room and left the building.
When they were outside, Jill spoke first. "I think I hate you. I think I love you." Susan kept quiet. "I hate you because you outed me, now they all know I'm nuts." There was a long pause and Susan remained mute. "I love you because now we all know and understand and I don't have to pretend about Garth."
Susan only said, "Let's go for a walk on the nature trail." There was a path around the building that had a few walkers at lunchtime but was othewise not used. It was a nice place to have an ambulatory conversation. Aristotle and Plato and that crowd used to have discussions while walking and Susan recalled the term "peripatetic" for it. She decided showing off her knowledge of ancient Greece wasn't the topic of conversations she wanted at the moment, so they walked in silence for a minute or two.
Jill broke the silence. "You have to know I know I'm crazy. Tell me all you want about how other people are a little nutty, but I know I'm off the deep end. Garth is absolutely real to me, and having an `invisible friend' is cute when you're nine, not so cute when you're a professional in a workplace in a big company. I've tried six medications and they all make me tired and-or crabby." After a long pause, she added, "Besides, I like Garth. I want him in my life, whatever he is."
Susan said, "I figured that out early on. Having spent time with him, with your help of course, I realize he's real."
"If you believe that, you're as crazy as I am."
"Look," said Susan, "Suppose there's a person you only know over the phone. That person doesn't exist as flesh and blood, but you know he's there, right?"
"Yeah, but you know he's flesh and blood somewhere, right?" asked Jill.
"You got me there. Okay, next step, somebody builds a computer, kind of like Alan Turing's hypothesis, that acts and talks like a person. It's not a human being, it has no body, but it's still real. I don't just mean the electrical components, the person that it represents is a real person, right?"
"It still has some corporial existance, right?"
"Okay, but now move that computer into flesh and blood neurons, only those neurons are inside your head. Maybe your brain doesn't know how to express Garth's thoughts and hopes and aspirations and personality except through you envisioning another person. If some well-meaning psychologist medicated and shocked Garth out of existance, would we be better off? He's your creative outlet, or, well, he's one of your creative outlets. His insights seems to be quite different from yours. Some part of you is Garth and I see no reason not to lose that, in fact I see every reason to have that in our group."
Jill asked, "And you're okay with that?"
Susan smiled, "I'm more than okay with it. I think it's terrific. I think it's terrific that you have Garth with his insights and I think it's terrific that we can all talk to him now and I think it's terrific that you're not going to live in terror that you're going to be `outed' in some terrible way."
The next day, and through the next week, the group continued in it's twice-nutty way. Kim spoke Korean while Andrew translated and Garth spoke in his way while Jill repeated. There were even social settings where the group worked that way, a little off-beat to be sure, but it worked.
Then Tammy the boss scheduled a meeting with them in Knoxville. She was coming to visit the group in situ. "What do we do?" Susan answered that we do things the way we do and let the chips fall where they may.
Tammy was surprisingly sanguine about the scene. It took her about five minutes to figure the whole thing out. After all, Tammy knew about Jill's mental history when she hired her and figured there might be some idiocyncracies. Kim's use of Korean was a bit of a surprise, but it worked well and, really, it would be a bit hypocritical to ask about that while saying nothing about Garth. The funny part to Tammy was how natural and normal it all seemed after half an hour in the room with the four of them, or the five of them.
The second day Tammy was in Knoxville, she dropped a bit of a bomb. "You know this group has come to the attention of high management," she said. Everybody nodded, how nice it is that they care about us, and Tammy went on. "No, it isn't just that they care and they like you, they want to visit, to meet you in person. And I'll mention that Japanese management isn't known for being tolerant of differences. As onerous and rigid as American companies are, you have no idea how flexible they are compared to Japan. I worked there for two years and I can tell you. Just being a woman in a professional workplace was a battle."
Susan stopped her. "When are they coming?"
"They're planning to come out the end of next week."
"Okay," said Susan. "Here's the plan. Kim, you can use English for the meetings with the Japanese. Your English is better than mine, actually, so it won't be a handicap in any way. I know you prefer Korean, but it's not going to be a problem except that you'll have to play nice for a couple of days while they're here."
Andrew asked the obvious question. "What about Garth?"
Susan said, "Well, he could just go away for a few days, but that's not right. It's not who we are. But how about we go a few days without ever saying his name `Garth' or looking his way? When we ask normally ask `What do you think Garth?' we'll just ask `What do you think?' without a name and Jill will answer for Garth as she always does."
"Do you think that will work?" asked Kim.
Tammy stepped in at that point. "Let me explain something about Japanese business people. Whatever their prejudices and preferences are, it's all subjugated to making money, good money, and this group makes them very good money. They'll look at whatever oddities they see and how much money we're making them and they'll say `Hai, Hai, Hai, Hai!'"
Andrew immediately translated the Japanese, "Yes, yes, yes, yes!" When everybody was done chuckling he added, "What do you want from me? I know Japanese as well as Korean." That got a bigger laugh.
"Oh, yes, one more thing," added Susan. "Don't look at Garth. When we're talking with him, we all look that way. Maybe we're all starting to see him, too, I don't know, but I'm going to suggest we look at the car or at the Japanese, or at Jill, but don't look in the corner where we usually look. He'll still know we love him even if we're not looking at him."
Jill smiled and said, "Yes, he will, he knows."
The Japanese came in a group of six, which made for a crowded scene at the Human-Factors-Design office in Knoxville, Tennesee. There were five men and one woman. Three of the men did almost all the talking while the other three members remained silent during their discussions. What remained clear throughout the meetings with the Japanese was that they clearly respected this group and its results. There was lots of bowing and the general advice given the Americans seemed to work: Bow when you're bowed to.
The meetings centered around a new car Toyota was planning. It was aimed at a slightly different audience, sort of upscale but not really, people who wanted to fit in with the upscale crowd. It had to appear classy without costing a lot so status seekers of modest means could afford to buy it and would feel confortable showing off in it.
This was in marked constrast to some of the earlier models which were around understated excellence where things worked well without showing off. Having a new direction means a new design "vocabulary," new images, new feels, new terms for new presentation of a car's function. After all, the new car isn't going to do anything different. It still goes forward and occasionally backwards with up to five people in the car, it has to turn left and right, and it has to store stuff conveniently in the trunk. The trunk was a big issue since it had to hold four or five sets of golf clubs for the aspiring thirty-handicap crowd.
Susan watched the Japanese closely during the meetings. The three who spoke looked regularly, even periodically, at two of the silent three, a man and a woman, while the third silent fellow seemed to watch the Americans. After about an hour, he watched Susan most closely. Susan felt self-conscious about this fellow, Mr. Tanaka, and then realized entertaining these people was precisely her job. After all, she was unofficially the group's official people person, right?
The day the Japanese six were leaving, Mr. Tanaka came up to Susan and asked for a few words with her. Susan bowed and he bowed and he smiled. "You Americans use first names. It's not our custom in Japan, but we're in America here. We didn't come to impose our customs on you, Susan." He smiled again. "My name is Yuki, please call me Yuki, if you will."
Susan smiled and thanked him for the concession. She realized no concession is free, especially in Japan. Andrew would know a lot more about Asian customs and Asian negotiation, and just about every business conversation in Japan is a negotiation, or so she had been told. So she waited to see what was coming next.
Yuki Tanaka and Susan were sitting in Susan's office, just the two of them. "Susan-sama, there is much to admire in this group. We came here out of respect and curiousity and we go home ever more respectful after seeing you work together." He took a long, slow sip of tea. "However, if I go home with my colleages, I shall depart ever more curious."
"Why me, Yuki-san?" asked Susan, trying to fit in with the appropriate honorific "san" in reply.
"As you may have heard or gathered, business in Japan is about people and posturing, far more than in America, or at least far more than you admit. Every meeting in Japan is defined by who really is in the meeting. Who are the participants and who are there to serve them and who are there to fill seats? This is what we need to know in a new meeting." He took another long sip of tea. "As you gathered, I'm not an expert on cars or design or anything like that. I'm the person whose job is to figure those things out. While you have design credentials, Susan-sama, you stand out in this group as its human representative in this way."
Susan chuckled for a bit and then gathered herself together. "I'm so sorry, Yuki-san."
"No problem. The whole scene is funny, isn't it? Our company management wanted me here, they even fly me first class around the world to be here. We worry more about who we're dealing with than what we're doing, even in America, am I right?" Susan nodded and waited while Yuki drank more tea.
"You should be careful with that tea," said Susan. "There's a school of business negotiation called the small-brain-big-bladder strategy. You get the other people having to go so they have to interrupt the meeting and they break the rhythm. I'll admit, to a fellow human-interaction colleague, that, yes, I've used it."
Yuki gave her a big smile and then got to his point. "There are two things about your group that stand out to me. They may be part of the same thing, but I don't see how. So let me ask about them separately."
"First, Kim's first language isn't English, probably Korean." Susan nodded. "I use English regularly, enough that I use it without pause. When I go for a month without using English, it shows in that there are pauses in my English speech, usually about one-third of a second before I respond to a question." Susan sat up straight in her seat. "Kim has those pauses, even though he lives here. That means he isn't speaking English most of the time. I suspect he usually uses Korean for some reason. Given the excellence of his English, I have to wonder why, but mostly I notice that he must feel more comfortable in his native tongue. Whatever the reasons, it speaks to an attitude of comfort and tolerance here, that you work in whatever way you feel better and get more done."
All Susan could say was, "Wow!"
"I'm glad you all feel that way. That gets to my second point, a more-subtle point." Yuki finished his tea slowly and put the mug down gently. "The first thing I do in a meeting is count the participants. The number of real participants, and not just bodies in the room, is almost more important than who they are. As you may have figured, the participants and those who speak aren't always the same."
"Yeah," said Susan. "It was clear the other two silent people there were in charge. The other three kept looking at them, but not at you, Yuki. No offense."
"None taken. I'm not one of the participants of our meetings, only an interested observer."
"I wasn't able to figure out if the tall fellow speaking a lot was a participant or a go-between. I think he was a minor player."
"Good," said Yuki. "You got our meeting exactly right. Now, let's get onto yours."
"When I count a meeting's actual participants, I have some expectations going in. I consider myself open-minded, not only by Japanese standards but even by American standards. Still, I expect the number of active participants to be no more than the number of physical bodies present. In your discussions there were clearly five participants."
Susan sat up and looked at Yuki without saying anything.
"There were clearly five distinct entities there. There were the four I saw and one more, a man around thirty years old with a passing interest in football, some kind of athlete, probably a runner, and a keen, intuitive insight into how a car should look and feel. I thought, just once, I heard a name, Garth. How am I doing so far?"
Susan continued to sit silent and attentive. Then she nodded her head up and down once.
"Garth's voice was clearly Jill's. I looked for any sort of radio or cell phone or anything like that, but I couldn't find anything, and there were a few comments Garth made that made it clear he was in the room with us. Jill isn't a multiple-personality type because she and Garth clearly co-existed at the same time and even had conversations back and forth. The rest of you clearly know Garth and talk to him, and you also talk to Jill, but not at the same time. Am I still doing well?"
Again, Susan nodded her head up and down once.
"Maybe Jill has two people living inside her, but I think Garth is somehow projected outside her. She speaks in a different voice when she's talking as Garth, but I'm pretty sure she's repeating what he said rather than actually being Garth. She knows he's the person nobody else can see. The rest of you are comfortable with him as part of the group, so this isn't new or aberrant behavior on Jill's part. I don't care where Garth physically exists. He's a bright, creative, contributing member of this group and I would like to get to know him."
Susan started to recoil and wheeled her chair backwards.
"With your permission, with all of your permission, I would like to stay a couple of weeks with your group, not in a dog-and-pony show for management but with you as you actually work. I would like to be immersed in what you actually do here. It's wonderful."
Yuki smiled. "Well, I have curiousity, maybe feline, maybe primate, but I want to know more." Susan smiled at the intimate knowledge this foreigner to English knew about animal metaphors. "Second, we have a truck design group in Dallas that isn't coming up with the kind of ideas coming from here."
Susan smiled. "So you figure if you have one of those guys speak Korean and add a phantom member to their group, you might get better truck designs?"
"You mock me," Yuki laughed, and both were serious. "No, I don't think your group's oddities cause your success, but if I'm going to learn what makes you successful, I'm going to have to swim in the waters you swim, not sit on the side of the pool while you put on a show for me. Two weeks day in and day out might be enough to do that."
"What will you tell management?"
Yuki grinned and answered, "I am management, at least enough to get away with anything I want in this department. No, I won't `blow your cover' about Kim or Garth, only that I want to know how you work and the only way is to work with you for a couple of weeks. The advantage of a first-class airline ticket is I can go home anytime I want and it won't cost the company a yen, or even a dime."
Susan stood up to leave. Yuki, puzzled, looked at her and asked, "Where are you going?"
"To ask Jill if she would like interesting company for two weeks."
Jill was hesitant, more at first. Susan convinced her that the more people who new and accepted Garth, the less risk there was that anything would change in the group. "If Japanese management is exchanging emails with all five of us, including Garth, it's hard for them to turn around and say there's anything wrong, right?"
Tammy was next on the to-be-convinced list. "Do you need me to stay?"
"What for?" asked Susan. "We don't need babysitters and we're certainly able to work with Yuki. I wouldn't mind you hanging around for a day or two, so you can see how it's going, maybe even help us smooth some rough edges, but I think the point is made better if you can walk away and leave us with Japanese management."
Jill was squeamish at first, but then warmed up to the idea of having another person accepting Garth without judging her. "As they say in Business Newspeak, this expands the `acceptance footprint' for my schizophrenia. If the world can accept me for what I am, and what my mental machinations produce, then I should be a happy person. You know something? These days with all of you, I really am happy. So, sure, Yuki can join us. After all, he already has me and Garth figured out."
Andrew and Kim were a little different in their acceptance of Yuki. They had a vigorous conversation in Korean about it while Yuki and Susan sat in silence. Kim didn't want to seem foolish and Andrew didn't think he was foolish at all. Besides, as Andrew pointed out in his own Korean, Tammy already knew about his language issues. In Korean, Kim said to Andrew, "Okay, I guess it would be fun."
Yuki immediately answered him, also in Korean, "Great! I'm really looking forward to working with you, too."
Kim gasped and said, back in English, "I didn't know you spoke Korean."
"You mean because I'm Japanese?"
Kim said, "Maybe so, and maybe it's because nobody around here actually speaks Korean except Andrew. I'm sorry if I pre-judged you and, er, I hope I didn't say anything embarrassing or insulting in my diatribes."
"Not a thing," answered Yuki. "You know, guys, I might be more useful than you think. Andrew, while you get along translating Kim's Korean, I can do that instead and leave you to using one hundred percent of your energy to do your job in the group. I think it would be fun to be a direct participant here, even if it's only carrying Kim's words to the rest of you."
Kim smiled and answered, "I don't mind. What do you think, Andrew?"
Andrew laughed out loud. "Sure, I'd love it too. I enjoy being the language go-between, but I'd enjoy trying it without having to do that. I do have a good idea of my own once or twice. While I think I do a good job of managing both roles," all nodded in affirmation, "I'll enjoy not having to do that for a couple of weeks."
Tammy was a pushover once all four (or five) group members bought in. First she felt she ought to stay and they all convinced her that going back home was fine. "You don't need to baby-sit us."
The first day with all of them in the same room was strange and strained. It ended well with stronger bonds between team members, but it was a strange conversation.
The were all in the room with the latest mock-up car and everybody said good morning, once except for Jill saying good morning in her own voice and then repeating Garth's similarly-monotonous daily greeting.
Yuki was thinking for a moment, clearly remembering something and he murmered "on the stair."
Garth answered through Jill, "Yes, I know that one."
Jill said, "Know what?" and then Garth continued through Jill, "I always thought he was English, but he's actually American."
Yuki said, "I never thought about it. I guess from Asia it's not as important who's English and who's American."
More loudly now, Jill asked, "Who?"
Before Garth could answer through Jill, Andrew said, "Yes, I remember it too."
Kim just gave the usual look a foreigner gives around childhood references not from his own childhood. He knew he was out of this conversation and remained silent.
Yuki said, "I didn't mean it."
Jill asked "Mean what?"
She hesitated and started repeating for Garth:
"Last night I saw on the stair |
A little man...."
She hesitated again and repeated for Garth, more slowly this time:
"Last night I saw on the stair |
A little man who was not there
He wasn't there again today
How I wish he'd go away.
Then Jill said, "I don't remember that at all," and then, after a moment, "No, I don't."
Yuki said, "I don't remember it quite that way. Let's see now." He made it clear through body language he was keeping the floor. Then he recited.
"Yesterday upon the stair |
I saw a man who wasn't there
He wasn't there again today
How I wish he'd go away."
He quickly added, "I don't want anybody to go away. It's just a nursery rhyme I remember."
After a pause, Garth spoke through Jill again, "I didn't think to take it personally, so no worries."
Andrew said, "Actually, you're both right, but you're both wrong." Yuki stared at him and Andrew could feel Garth's invisible stare. Andrew walked over to the computer screen, poked at the Internet, and recited:
"Yesterday upon the stair |
I met a man who wasn't there
He wasn't there again today
Oh, how I wish he'd go away
"When I came home last night at three
The man was waiting there for me
But when I looked around the hall
I couldn't see him there at all!
"Go away, go away, don't you come back any more!
Go away, go away, and please don't slam the door
"Last night I saw upon the stair
A little man who wasn't there
He wasn't there again today
Oh, how I wish he'd go away
"So how are we wrong?" asked Andrew followed by the exact same question from Garth through Jill.
"It says here on this web page that this poem was written by Hughes Mearns, not Ogden Nash."
Garth said, "It sure sounds like Ogden Nash and I always associated it with him." Jill asked, "Ogden who?"
Then Jill fell out of her repeating-Garth mode and stared directly into the corner. "What do you mean how could I not know Ogden Nash? `Everybody knows Ogden Nash,' well maybe everybody doesn't know Ogden Nash, or a lot of other popular stuff. Do you remember where I was during the years most kids were learning this stuff?" Jill had been in a pediatric psych ward, something she did not talk about.
Jill put her hands to her face in embarrassment. "Oh my God!" All the others were looking at her and she felt even more embarrassed.
Then the obvious fallacy sunk in. How could Garth know all about Ogden Nash if Jill didn't? Clearly somewhere along Jill's journey she must have been exposed to it or Garth couldn't know. While the group was comfortable with Garth and Jill being two distinct individuals, they knew the hard, cold reality that both of them ultimately lived inside the same skull with the same history.
The thought occurred to Jill and she looked around at the group, all of whom had figured out the same thing. There was only one right thing to do at that point and she did it.
It started as a giggle and became full-blown, red-faced laughter for a long time, maybe a minute, maybe two. The others joined in, partly to keep her company and to show her sympathy, partly because it really was funny.
When she started to recover, she said, "I know it sounds silly, but I have no recollection of a lot of this child's-play stuff that Garth remembers. Obviously, it got in here somewhere, but I really don't remember and he really does. It's not just a little, it's all that stuff. Garth told me about Winnie the Pooh and the Hundred-Acre woods and Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Greenjeans. I really don't remember any of this."
Yuki said it best. "Memory is a selective process. I don't think we could survive if we remembered all the stuff that happens. Often that's a healing process, forgetting the bad stuff, and sometimes it just happens. In your case, we have cold evidence that you knew and forgot it, but it doesn't mean you should be embarrassed about it."
Jill added, "Well, it's a little more obvious in my case, isn't it?"
Kim said his first words in this conversation, in English this time. "Yes, I guess it is."
Later that afternoon, in the garage with the latest mock-up, the subject turned to door handles. Kim felt they should be practical and plain and Garth felt they should have some shape. "Door handles are the first part of a car we touch, so they should have sex appeal. Curved right they'll make a man think of a beautiful, sexy woman and a woman think of a well-muscled Adonis."
"Door handles should be practical, not sexy. Besides, what if they're gay?" asked Kim through Yuki.
"Then they'll be the other way. The guys will think the door handle feels like Adonis while the girls will think of a well-curved woman."
The conversation became busier between the two with a few interjections from the other four. Susan felt she was in the peanut gallery watching these two, Garth and Kim, going at it in vigorous debate with their two intermediate translators. It was good hearted discussion, but at a loud-enough tone that an outsider would have some doubts that these two liked each other.
Amid the loud conversation about door handles Susan thought back to her first day when she wondered if she would make it in the group. Now she was a vital part of the group and, she thought back, it was her human-personal insights that enabled both Kim and Jill-Garth to find their work so satisfying. Yes, she thought, I belong here and, yes, I'm contributing something, even if my design work isn't up to the speed of the rest of them.
She wondered what the rest of her career would be like. Would this group be here forever, so she would be a super-senior design member at Toyota when she retired some decades in the future? Or was there another path in her future? In either case, the lively group with its oddities and its excellence would clearly remain a part of her.
Today is 2021 January 16, Saturday,
2:39:49 Mountain Standard Time (MST).
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