Friday, June 22, 2012


Our training co-ordinator, Derrick, is a low key sort of bloke.

Which is unusual. People assigned to take training groups tend to be loud, gregarious, quote-unquote zany. In other words, they're normally totally insufferable.

But Derrick is a pipe of different colour.

For starters, he dresses conservatively, in dark slacks and plain business shirts. My new office is a pretty casual environment and nearly everyone, including the managers, comes to work in jeans and a t-shirt. But each day we've had him, Derrick has worn his slacks and a white, cream or off white collared shirt.

He's a trim man in his early fifties, balding with narrow spectacles, and the combination of outfit and appearance make him look like a benign high school English teacher.

He's also, mostly, eschewed games during training. Which is such a radical departure from what I've come to expect from having endured thousands of these inductions over the years that I think I'm still in a form of mild shock. Games - of the draw a picture that represents your dreams, tell us two lies and one fact and we have to guess variety - are usually king in the training room, to the extent that they almost push out the stuff you're supposed to be learning about.

People that know me well will probably not be shocked to hear that I also find these games totally insufferable as well.

So the absence of them while we've been with Derrick is something he will have my eternal gratitude for.

Without games, we've mostly stuck to a learning program Derrick has come up with. A ten day crash course in the ins and outs of home solar electricity systems; installation, testing, metering and billing. Which is what we'll be taking calls on when our training is completed and they turn us loose on the floor.

Derrick has gone through the program quietly, in a no nonsense but still gently paced fashion. Running through examples and power point presentations competently and with minimum fuss. It's been fairly dry, but well presented.

But this is not to say that he's without a sense of humour.

As well as taking the bulk of the training, Derrick is also one of the four supervisors who will be looking after the teams we'll be assigned to. And Friday afternoon, while he's wearing his T/L hat, Derrick reveals that he does, after all, have a little game that he likes to play.

Although calling it a game is, perhaps, a bit misleading. It's more like a lateral thinking exercise.

About Friday lunchtime, Derrick sends out a bulk email to everyone in our unit, subject heading: THE LOBSTER REPORT.

The email reads something like this:

As usual, Friday afternoon finds us with a juicy lobster in the tank, ready to be given away to a deserving staff member.  To nab yourself this beauty, provide an answer for the following question. What is this a picture of?

Submissions to me by 4pm.

As we're not really part of the team proper yet, and we're doing training room work and often away from our computers, no one in our group notices this email until after four. And then the obvious question is forefront on everyone's mind.

'What's a lobster report?'

To which Derrick answers with another question.

'Well, what's lobster?'

'A kind of shellfish?'

'Yes, but what else? I mean, what could I mean by a lobster in a work environment?'

We puzzle over this for a moment, all of us except my excitable colleague Steph who says;

'Oh my God, I totally can't eat lobster! One bite of it and I just get totally sick. But I love it, so I eat it, but I shouldn't, but I do. So I get sick. I hate it! But I love it. One time...'

Finally, someone else says, 'What, you mean... twenty bucks?'

'Exactly,' Derrick says, looking pleased. ' Twenty bucks. So, this is like a little Friday afternoon competition. Or a puzzle. However you want to think about it. You look at the picture, answer the question, email me and the answer I like best earns twenty bucks for the author. The lobster report.'

All of us, except Steph and the girl she's sitting next to, are silent for a moment while we absorb this.

'Well, can we see who won today? Which one you liked best.'

'Of course.'

Derrick's computer desktop is being displayed on a large white screen at the front of the room and he skims through the million or so emails he has in his box and quickly lands on one from a billing consultant none of us have heard of. He clicks it open and we can see the answer.

Where babies come from.

There's another brief pause in the room and then a few people, including myself, have a bit of a chuckle. The rest of the training group look mystified.

A couple of them say, 'I don't get it,' and shrug.

One of them, this girl Allison, looks amazed more than puzzled.

'I can't believe it,' she says, stunned. 'That someone guessed it. I would never have gotten that in a million years. The guy that guessed it must be some sort of genius!'

Now it's Derrick's turn to look puzzled.

'Er, how do you mean?'

'Sorry, I'm just really surprised. That someone would get such an obscure answer.'

'Obscure? Answer?"

'Yeah. When I saw the picture I thought it might have been Australia's oldest car. Or maybe somewhere this company (name withheld for the usual reason) gets coal or gas from. I would never have guessed that that's what you were driving at. Where babies come from. Are you and the guy who gave the answer good friends? I mean, does he know you well?'

Derrick frowns.

'No, I think you might have misunderstood. I didn't give the answer. Each person in the team gave me an answer.'

'Right. And this is the one that matched your answer.'

'No, no. I didn't have one.'

'You didn't have one... what?'

'An answer. I just sent out the picture, you see? I send out the picture and then everyone sends me a response.'

'Response? What do you mean, response?

'I mean... well, response. Whatever the picture made them think of.'

So what, you mean... there is no answer?'

'Well, strictly speaking that's right. There is no formal answer. No right answer.'

'If there's no answer... then how do people get it right?'

'People just respond to the picture however they like. And I pick out the response I like best.'

Allison looks confused, and a bit like she's in pain. Her eyes whip round the room.

'Am I the only one who doesn't get this?'

It's almost like she's fallen over and she's looking to us to help her up. The half of the group that gets the idea try and get her back on her feet.

'There's no answer, it's just like a sort of a joke.'

'You can say whatever you like. You know, something funny.'

 'Whatever the picture makes you think of.'

And we all fail miserably.

'Well it doesn't make me think of babies!' Allison snaps, clearly irritated now. 'That picture is, like, the total opposite. It's a bloody wasteland! It doesn't have anything to do with children!'

The part of the group wanting to help her understand is quietened by this outburst. We look at her, wanting to reach down and pull her upright, but none of us sure how to do so.

Someone, in a very quiet voice, says 'That's why it's funny.'

In his unruffled way, Derrick smooths it over.

'Well I would have been very curious to see what it did make you think of. Anyway, Lobster Report, watch out for it. Now, moving back to what we were talking about, this solar tariff chart...'

And we move on. Or, some of us do.

At the next break, as we're walking towards the kitchen in a loose group, I can hear Allison behind me.

'No answer? How are you supposed to answer something with no answer? The whole thing is ridiculous!'

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