House of Cards
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I don't know about you, but here in the modern world, the Urban Man often finds himself building a house of cards. You have to be fast, and you have to be agile if you want it to stand for long. Today I've got a whole deck to assemble, right in the middle of a shiny black conference table—that is to say, eight or ten folks from a potential partner company sit around watching me try to make a deal make sense.
As usual, the room itself is shiny: clad in perforated aluminum panels with clever purple accents. And yes, the cards keep slipping out of my hand. Often, they actually get up and leave the room. Just now, for example, I'm working with a smiling, but barely attentive King of Diamonds—a V.P. named Brad—when he gets beeped by his Blackberry and walks out in the middle of my presentation. You know, just before I get to the best part.
"Back in five minutes," he says, as I start figuring out how to hold off on the best part.
I say, "Let's shift the agenda, since we're losing Brad."
"No, this is great stuff. Go ahead without me," grins the King. But I'm pretty sure he's the decision maker, and no deal will happen without him.
In fact, as I look around, I figure I've now got, at best, a Nine of Hearts and maybe a Ten of Diamonds to work with: an assistant program manager, and a "media director" of uncertain power. She's on her laptop, doing mail while I talk.
So I talk louder.
I say, "Here's how our capabilities intersect in the market."
Meanwhile, I'm kicking myself for not laying out my hand sooner. I mean, this is not poker. In this game you don't hide your strength, you show a straight or better, and fast. Often you have just ten minutes before the other hands at the table lose interest or get distracted or spot the hidden weakness in an otherwise elegant structure.
Not that this town isn't filled with genuine poker players: you know, folks who hold their aces till the last. But like most urban men and women, I don't play at that level.
Me, I'm a cheerful Jack. Okay, maybe a Jack of clubs.
Just then, a random card appears at the door. She's thin and stately, with a close-cropped shock of red-gray hair. The air about her glows with a firm and rushed authority.
"So where are we," says this woman, glancing up at the slide I've left glittering beautifully on the wall. I figure she's easily a Queen of Hearts. I mean, everyone sits up.
There's nothing worse than a random power player showing up after you've already built your most elegant structure. You have to start over, and reconstruct it card by card, in half the time. And for some reason, last-minute players like to spot the little flaws in the prevailing logic of the room.
The Queen of Hearts interrupts. "We'd never do a deal like this," she says. "Everyone would hate us."
A silence falls as the Jack of Clubs thinks, "Where's that dang King?"
"Brad was sure we could avoid such a problem," I reply. "I'm sure when he gets back..."
But the Queen has spoken. As she leaves, I watch my lovely house—by now three stories high, and built of many wonderful people scattered in cubicles around the globe—collapse on the too-bright surface of that shiny black table.
The door opens again...and reveals my blithe monarch. "So what did I miss?" inquires Brad with unexpected enthusiasm.
"One of your colleagues raised a few concerns," says the Urban Man, and begins stacking up his cards to make one more try.
Copyright © 2007 Marc Porter Zasada. All Rights Reserved. Names and circumstances have been altered to protect the author.
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