John and Wally, Part 6

Wally: “So you’re back.”
John: “And my shoulder hurts.”
Wally: “Ah, with good posture and technique, that will fade.”
John: “Or I could just not fire giant shotguns in the future.”
Wally: “Also an option, yes. So, here’s what I wanted you to get out of that, me boy. I wanted you to feel the physicality of a gun. When you see guns in movies or video games, they’re not really there. They’re not even simulated. They’re abstractions, representations of the platonic ideal of a weapon. Point and click, put a bullet there, bad guy falls down. But in reality, they’re things. They’re assemblages of metal and plastic, springs and levers. They’re heavy. They jam. It takes effort to hold ’em up. They spit out hot gas and hot brass, and you need to clean ’em.”
John: “They were really impressive pieces of engineering for all that, though. I mean, they were like cars. They can be finicky, sure, but when you think of how long a car can last, for how long 200,000 miles really is, and how amazing it is that a well-maintained car can go for that long easily…”
Wally: “Yeah. We do good shit on occasion. We being humans, that is. Had no hand in automotive or firearms engineering myself.”
John: “So, what’s the lesson here? Companies are like guns?”
Wally: “Exactly! Well, actually no, not exactly. Companies aren’t physical. But they have their springs, their levers, and they sure as hell will jam up in the right conditions. And when you see a company that looks like it’s going along smoothly, with the CEO listening to feedback and passing down vision and that being smoothly implemented by the middle management and so on…yeah, that can happen. You probably saw that one guy on the gun range practicing quick-draw who made it look like the movies, right?”
John: “Yeah. But having done it myself, I know that guy had to have been practicing for years. And that he had spent a lot of hours cleaning and maintaining those guns in advance. And that if I kept watching him long enough, he’d probably break the illusion of effortlessness.”
Wally: “And there you go. Companies, especially big companies, are wasteful. They spend huge amounts of their energy in useless outgassing as a matter of design, and are very often mishandled, and those mishandlings can cause problems up to and including people getting killed. But regardless of all that, they work. They work really well. Getting a bunch of smart, dedicated people together and giving them a common identity and purpose is the first, fundamental technology. We had tribes before we had tools, and for a good reason. So remember, this, all this, is often contradictory, often unfair, and can well fail catastrophically because someone did something stupid…but for all that, it has a good chance of working, even if it’s just muddling along because of the 10% of the workforce that gives a shit.”
John: “I can’t tell if that’s you or not.”
Wally: “Me? Hell no. How about you, kid?”
John: “I don’t know yet. And I just got here.”
Wally: “Making excuses already! My little new hire is starting to grow up.”
Wally: “You’re an asshole, Wally.”
John: “That I am, kid. That I am.”


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