RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
One Wednesdays, our business report focuses on the workplace.
Today, a satiric look at office life, told in a new novel comprised entirely of e-mail messages. The book is called, Who Moved My Blackberry? and it gets inside the mind of the imaginary Martin Lukes, a 40-something middle manager striving to break into the top ranks of corporate life.
Taken as a whole, Martin's e-mails to his boss, his wife, his secretary, his best friend, and not least, the hard-driving American executive brought in to re-brand the company, lays bare the absurdities of office life and lingo.
Author Lucy Kellaway first introduced Martin in her column for the Financial Times Newspaper in London.
Ms. LUCY KELLAWAY (Author and Columnist for the Financial Times, London): He's viciously ambitious. He thinks he's great fun. He thinks he's got a terrific sense of humor. He's desperately un-PC, but thinks he's a huge diversity champion.
But the most important thing of all is he has no self-knowledge at all.
MONTAGNE: He has no clue.
Ms. KELLAWAY: None.
MONTAGNE: …you might say.
Ms. KELLAWAY: Absolutely clueless.
MONTAGNE: But he thinks he does.
Ms. KELLAWAY: Definitely thinks he does. I think because he's got such a thick skin, he's rather good at playing the political game. Because, he doesn't notice how other people are responding to him.
MONTAGNE: For instance, at the beginning, this big company is going to re-brand itself, and, you know, it turns out that he actually does come up with the new name of the company.
Ms. KELLAWAY: He feels that he's come up with the new name for the company. In actual fact, all he's done is contributed a couple of meaningless accents on top of the name. And he feels that this has been incredibly significant, and feels furious that he doesn't have the credit.
You know, a lot of this, in corporate life, is when a team does something, it's about taking the credit for yourself. And Martin's very, very good at that.
MONTAGNE: Yes, and while he takes the credit in his e-mails, but he doesn't really get the credit.
Ms. KELLAWAY: The CEO will say, you know, we've successfully re-branded our company. Thanks to the whole team, and especially to Cindy, and then Martin. Cindy is a sort of powerful American woman in this book. And these sorts of things, the order that names are put in an e-mail are hugely important. So he will go absolutely ballistic is his name hasn't come first.
MONTAGNE: He does something too, several times in the book, that is the great horror moment of anybody whose ever sent an e-mail. He sends a couple of e- mails to the wrong people.
Ms. KELLAWAY: Oh boy, we have all done that, haven't we? But Martin has done it catastrophically.
MONTAGNE: The first one being, to Cindy.
Ms. KELLAWAY: Cindy has just come in with this re-branding initiative, and this big thing where brands have personalities. She says, this is going to be an inclusive bottom-up re-brand, and I want to hear from you. I want each of you to come up with five unbeatable words that you think describe the A&B Corporate DNA, going forward. These will form the building blocks for our new identity. I'm smiling at you, Cindy.
MONTAGNE: So he, he responds to her, it's all chipper, you know, welcome to London town. Then, you turn the page, and I actually gasp, because I could see on the page, from Martin Lukes to Cindy Czarnikow, and I went, oh no!
Ms. KELLAWAY: And it goes, Graham, five traits of a certain person. Dumb, big bum, phony, devious, dangerous. I'm leering at you. M.
Ms. KELLAWAY: And then, this kind of, you know, there's a break on the page, and you just do think, oh my God. And the idea is that the reader feels a bit sweaty-palmed and that sort of, chilly shiver, running down the spine. And then, the panicky trying to make it alright. We have, from Martin to Cindy again: Hi Cindy. I think I may have sent you something in error. It was meant for Graham. Please ignore. Martin. Which we all know, is just way too late. That's not going to make it any better at all.
MONTAGNE: There's this constant striving for creativity and innovation, and yet, it's sort of anything but. I mean, you get the language - talk to us about that language.
Ms. KELLAWAY: Yeah, that is really, really funny. I mean, the point is that, you know, creativity and innovation are the two great things all corporations make such a song and dance about. If you step back a bit and you look at what they're actually saying and doing, it couldn't be less creative.
They all talk in this sort of ghastly way, which is sort of offering us a substitute for thinking. And when they come up with an idea that they genuinely think is creative, it's laughable. So the example from this book is that Martin's huge, big thing that he comes up with is a whole new concept, which he seeks trademark protection for, called Creovation - half creativity and half innovation. And you put them both together and, hey, presto! You have Creovation.
Now, you and I know this is laughable. But Martin launches this idea with such conviction that everyone else follows on. Now, people who I showed the book to who didn't know anything about the corporate world, said, I think that's just too far fetched. And with glee, a couple of months later I saw that GE, General electric, had come up with this concept called Ecomagination - half ecology, and half imagination. And they took out full-page ads, they were so pleased with it. So Martin and I had a lot of laughs over that.
MONTAGNE: Well, this is a novel's worth of e-mails. I'm just wondering, does anything really get done?
Ms. KELLAWAY: I would pay very, very good money to any reader who can spot what this company, A&B Global, actually makes. They're all working 24/7, 3-6-5, as Martin would himself put it. They're dashing around and around, faster and faster, chasing their own tails and each others' tails, in managerial initiatives; none of which actually create any value for their shareholders, whatsoever.
MONTAGNE: What might we take from Martin's e-mails and Blackberry messages, and, you know, the totality of his life?
Ms. KELLAWAY: If people can take a step back and laugh at some of the initiatives that they themselves are having to put in place in their companies, that's not a bad thing. But I didn't write this book to change the world. I wrote it to reflect on what goes on in offices and give people a bit of a laugh.
MONTAGNE: Lucy Kellaway is the author, with Martin Lukes, of Who Moved My Blackberry?
By the way, Martin Lukes is sure that he's on the verge of getting a new high- paying new job. You can find out if he does, by following a trail of his e- mails at npr.org.
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.