MISBEGOTTEN PLACES #7

The Universal Kelvinator Machine

Last year I was at the HQ of Best Route Technologies, reporting on the production of a machine called “The Kelvinator”. You probably never heard of it since then, and you probably never will again.

My sources told me that it was quite an event when the Engineering Group announced that they were ready to deliver a fully functional prototype a month ahead of schedule. That meant that Marketing was free to present it at the industry trade show in Hamburg the following month, and Sales was gearing up to start taking orders. The CEO seemed really proud to bubble-up the news to the Board of Directors. Jenkins from Accounting confided to me that the directors issued themselves generous predated (my italics) stock options, as this thing was going to be big. “Big, big, big!” was exactly what he said. “The end of the company’s growth-hacking decade.”

With the machine in production, the group think was that the company would be first-to-market, positioned to be a next generation leader - a major paradigm shift for a company that had never before ventured so far off the mark from its core competency. Finance Group said this would be the solution to the dispositive growth of the previous fiscal year, but Gunderson from IT told me, “That’s bullshit. This thing can’t wash it’s own face”. I immediately liked Gunderson.

It was previously reported that Adams from HR proactively floated the factoid that a customer-centric name for the asset had not yet been mined in committee, despite weeks of comprehensive focus group testing that amounted to nothing more than “boiling the ocean”. None of the proposed names suggested the machine was capable of doing anything substantial. This was indeed a valid point, illustrated by the altercation in the lunchroom when Roberston of Operations asked Ozawa from Investor Relations to disambiguate the machine’s identity and “stir-fry an idea in his think-wok”. Ozawa threw the first punch.

The fact is, Marketing hadn’t ever built a consensus around why they wanted the machine in the first place, only saying, “Build something to do something and we’ll pull the specs out of a hat later.”

It was a scant three months earlier that Engineering set to work on this high priority mission-critical project, absent any results-driven parameters. This hyper-local team kicked the tires of this bleeding edge ideation and did a deep-dive into assembling axles, splines, bearings and seals. Delving further into the weeds, in interviews they talked of putting together gear trains, belt drives, linkages and cams to perform with “dynamic symbiosis”. Buttons, switches and indicators provided an operational user interface between the mechanical components and its ultimate users.

Meanwhile, a dozen computer programmers were insourced to program the machine to respond to various end-user data input. They were told “We need to bring people on the journey with us and you guys are the performinators (sic) that can do it!” But without being part of the wagon train in this cattle round-up, this culture-fit group of motley, bearded, long haired, torn jeans wearing scientists was working without an assignment capsule and simply created a data farm of thought showers that appeared to produce quasi-operational corporate structured value nuggets… but in fact did nothing at all.

On the day the machine was unveiled to the Board of Directors and put through its tests, the company was buzzing with activity. The dynamic synergy among the departments was palpable. Sales was making a list of buzzwords and talking points and running it up the flagpole to Marketing. Engineering was oiling the gears and levers, while Design was creating visual collateral promoting the “Williams-Paxton Universal Kelvinator”.

(Note: Williams is the CEO of the company, Paxton is the president. Williams was not comfortable that his number 2 appeared to be nipping at his heels, so at the last minute he ordered the machine’s name changed simply to the “Williams Universal Kelvinator”. Paxton could find his own damn machine.)

“Everyone might be singing from the same hymn sheet” confided my informant Gunderson, the doubting-thomas alpha-geek from IT, “but they’re all drinking the kool-aid. Sooner or later they’re gonna have to eat a reality sandwich.”

Later in the day, Williams appeared on stage in the auditorium dressed in jeans and a gray turtleneck, looking like an overweight and balding Steve Jobs. The Board of Directors sat in the front row, then Marketing behind them, followed by everyone else. I was invited to attend, but I had to observe from the wings.

The house lights went down as a spotlight focused on Williams. Polite applause came from the audience.

“I am here today to present to you our game-changing product that will revolutionize the industry!” He waited for the applause, then held up his hands to quiet the audience. “You have to appreciate that the milestones we have set in these swim lanes provide a road map for this flow chart. When we get to toll gates, we’ll assess where we sit in the waterfall.” Williams is prone to giving birth to baby metaphors, mixed with the world’s most amazing hyperboles and sprinkled with analogies like a sno-cone.

“With this marvel, we will be positioned to be a next generation leader! I give you… drumroll please… the ground breaking, king making, ass kicking Williams Universal Kelvinator!!!”

More applause and some hoots and whistling.

“As I humbly stand here before you,” he continued, “I open my kimono and admit that I don’t know much about this.” (It should be noted that the corporate ecosystem has generally abandoned the kimono phrase, as it’s very cringe-worthy.) “So to demonstrate this marvel of ingenuity, I’ve asked the beautiful and lovely Miss Mitchell from the Marketing Group to take the lead on this. Miss Mitchell? This baby is in your wheelhouse.” He extended his hand to guide her to the machine. She complied with a look of disgust at his sexist attitude that not only offended her, but also violated the company’s code of ethical workplace conduct - as proposed but never actually implemented.

“Ok, Miss Mitchell, please tell us what is so special about the ‘Williams’ - air quote -Universal Kelvinator.” He winked towards the audience. General laughter. Williams was pleased with himself for being so clever.

Nervously fumbling the list of buzzwords that Marketing had supplied earlier, Mitchell talked at length, in a quivering voice, about leveraged synergy, neural expansion and eco-aware sustainability.

“Yes, yes, that’s good, but tell us what results-driven applications we can expect from the future-proof Kelvinator. Let’s drill down and take a look under the hood.”

Mitchell’s eye roll was the equivalent of ‘whatever’. But she winged it. “So, the Kelvinator, um… I mean the Williams Universal Kelvinator, will allow end-users to focus on the critical infrastructures of corporate viability.” She smiled faintly as she finished the sentence. “Once integrated, it will enjoin the resources to pivot the needle of strategic symbiosis towards the sweet spot of line-item productivity and, of course, human capital efficiency.” Williams led the room with a resounding round of applause.

“That’s awesome! Wow! So please do us the honor of starting this baby up, ok?” he said. “I want it to go from zero to sixty in three seconds!”

Mitchell stared at the machine for a few seconds having no idea what to do, and then firmly pushed the power button. A few console lights came on and a low hum from the machine could be heard.

“Perfect!” shouted Williams. “Now, if you please, show us an example of what the Kelvinator can do. Go ahead.”

Mitchell froze. The proverbial deer in the headlights. She mumbled something, but Williams couldn’t hear what she said. The two stood there silently as the audience nervously looked on. Soon she repeated, “The engineers… no one showed me… I don’t know…”

Williams shot her a scowl and then gave an uncomfortable smile to the audience and said, “Just one moment, folks.” Under his breath he growled to Mitchell, “Either get moving or get packing… please.”

Mitchell, rattled by this threat of impending career doom, randomly pushed a button and pulled a lever. Within seconds, a printout came streaming out of the machine. Williams, ignoring Mitchell, grabbed the printout and read it out loud.

“The Kelvinator says: Synergistically transform fungible data to credibly harness covalent e-markets

“How’s about that, folks!” and the audience went wild. “Do it again, Mitchell,” he snapped.

With a little more confidence this time, she pushed the button and pulled the lever. Williams read the printout: “Actualize high-payoff e-commerce to effect intrinsically integrated market shares.

More raucous applause as the audience jumped to their feet. Williams was on a roll now.

“Do it again! One more time!” He was shouting excitedly to be heard over the roar of the audience. Pulling the next printout from the machine as quickly as possible he read loudly, “Dynamically iterate economically sound deliverables to holistically foster turnkey alignments.

Now the whole place went wild. Two of the Directors were dancing in the aisle, jumping for joy, as everyone applauded, cheered and high-fived. Life in corporate America seemed grand that day.

If only they knew the trouble that was lurking. The rest of corporate America was quick to realize that the emperor’s clothes were in the spin cycle. The Kelvinator earned the moniker The Klunkinator. At Best Route Technologies heads rolled like wheels flying off a truck.

Follow up, a year later: Yesterday I spoke with Gunderson from IT, who had been a skeptic from the start. He had always known this project was doomed. More accurately, a joke. So twelve months later he’s watching the prototype - this massive assembly of metal and silicone and buttons and buzzers - just sit there and collect dust. I’d like to say that the Sales Group couldn’t move a single unit, but that’s not exactly true. Gunderson told me they did sell one Kelvinator to the government of Lesotho, but within weeks it was angrily returned as unusable. Soon the others followed it to the junk heap.

I’ll do another follow-up report on the Williams Universal Kelvinator after the pending civil lawsuits go to trial. My colleague, Samantha “Sam” Woodling will cover the criminal trials.

Peace out.


Technical jargon was pretty much lifted from Wikipedia. For the corporate slang I relied on an article in Psychology Today and The Corporate B.S. Generator.