“They’re jealous, Brad,” Martha said consolingly. She was standing beside the hissing coffee machine. “You’re an eight, and they’re just sevens.”
“Really?” Brad, waiting his turn, was intrigued. “I thought I five-d it.”
“Not at all. That final slide was a nine.” Martha smiled warmly.
Brad was chuffed, but his feet remained firmly on the ground. “Thanks, but it’s not going to change anyone’s mind.”
Martha nodded, and took her coffee. They both knew that with Integer Inc’s Offsite coming up, top management had zero tolerance for dissent on the group’s new plan. Still, Martha felt it was important to make a point. “That’s what I mean by being an eight, Brad – sticking your neck out, trying to make a difference.”
“Aww!” Brad, finger on the espresso button, was genuinely touched. “You really think I’m an eight, Martha?”
Martha screwed up her eyes. “Maybe eight-and-a-half, in a good light…”
Brad laughed. “You’re my ten, Martha!”
“I’m the one who five-s it,” she said as she walked out, balancing her coffee in one manicured hand.
Sipping his espresso back in his room, Brad mulled over this exchange. A VP in Integer’s Corporate Services department, he had always thought of himself as a seven, but he respected Martha. When he recalled his final slide, on key logistical factors zeroed from the plan, he wondered – could he really be an eight? And as the caffeine kicked in, eight-and-half didn’t seem too much of a stretch. Even in a not-so-favourable light.
“Don’t get ahead of yourself,” was Dave’s advice, imparted over spaghetti bolognese in Integer’s canteen. The cautious financial controller was Brad’s best friend in the company.
Brad reluctantly agreed. He did respect Martha’s judgment, though.
“Her judgment?” Dave snorted. “She’s just ten-ing you, she wants to go through the numbers with you…”
“Zero that!” Brad said delightedly.
“But seriously,” his friend went on, “your number decreases with age. On average you drop a digit a decade, so if you were a seven, sorry, an eight, at twenty, you’d be – how old are you? well, no need to ask – a five by now. It won’t be long before you’re barely countable.”
This seemed preposterous to Brad. How could he be a VP if he were just a five?
Corporate inertia, the Peter Principle, the biggest chunks float to the top… Dave had plenty of explanations. It was just the luck of the numbers.
Brad dismissed this impatiently. But could Martha really be ten-ing him? It seemed too ten to be true.
That afternoon it was the Management Meeting, for the rating of the new plan. Although not a formal member, Brad had been invited along to make up numbers. It was his big chance to establish himself as an eight. But his stomach was dropping to zero. He took a nervous mouthful of water and thought of Martha. If he did this, he told himself, he wouldn’t just be an eight, he’d be a nine, at least.
The CE’s presentation ground on. The scenarios in the plan were all high. Fives magically became sevens; sevens became eights – even within the same slide; numerical reality was totally disregarded. “We have to move on, have to move forward!” the CE exhorted them. “Behind us it’s all ones and twos, ahead it’s sevens, eights, nines…” His voice cracked with enthusiasm. “I’m asking you to step forward with me. We can be ten, we will be ten, I want us all to be ten! ten! ten!”
There was a short pause, then everyone clapped. Brad clapped too – strictly for the performance, he told himself.
The CE invited comments.
“To me, it’s a nine,” came the sonorous voice of Dave’s boss, the CFO.
“It’s a ten from me!” squeaked Legal, always ready to one-up.
That left the business division heads, the voices that counted. Brad waited for the real figures – the fours, even threes, that would signal that the plan’s number was up. But one by one, huskily, with lowered eyes, the heads came out with nines.
The CE’s baleful glance swept around the table. “It seems that we have a consensus. Any more from anyone?”
Brad, his stomach sinking into negative numbers, put up a hand.
The CE looked at him with surprise. “Ah, Brad! You’re seem a little three-ish today” (to laughter) “what can we do for you?”
“I’d just like to s–say,” Brad stuttered. Then he stopped. Thoughts flashed through his mind – the five-ing of his own presentation, the massed nines of the others, who after all knew the company better than him, his zero stomach, the fact that he needed his job.
The CE’ eyebrows rose, whispers began. Everyone was waiting.
Brad found his voice. “I’d just like to say that to me, it’s a perfect ten.”
Back in his office, alone and trembling, Brad cursed his weakness. He wasn’t an eight, he thought bitterly. Dave was right, he was just, what was it? a five.
Later that morning, Dave himself put his head around the door. “I heard what happened in the meeting,” he said sympathetically. “Don’t zero yourself.”
Brad shook his head. “I thought I could do it. But I couldn’t. Dave, I really am a five.”
“Don’t take me literally,” Dave said. “It’s just that we can’t all be tens. Or even eights.”
Brad thanked him. “Guess you were right about Martha too. ‘Eight-and-a-half’– what a lot of bloody nonsense!”
That afternoon, Brad was about to enter the pantry when he saw Martha inside. He was going to walk past. But no, he had to face the numbers.
“I’m not an eight, Martha,” he said firmly as he went in. “I’m a five.”
Martha turned to him with a disarmingly tender look. “You’re honest, Brad, I like that.”
And as she walked out, she turned to him and said softly, “If you’re a five, it’s a ten-ish five.”
Brad, finger on the espresso button, realized that he would never know his inner integer.
by Matthew Harrison