I did this for the first time last week, and enjoyed it a lot.
Last Wednesday's words were:
Here is my contribution.
In those dying days Alan took calls from a hundred desperate clients. They rang at all hours, in a panic, some weeping. There were others he called, who were unable to make a decision, silent on the other end of the phone in their shock. Some were still strategizing, taking a hit here or there to crystallize a loss for a write-off, or scanning value stocks with a buyer’s eye even as everything went to hell. In the office things were frantic for a couple of weeks, and then quiet, as the money ran out and the phones stopped ringing. Some of the advisers took a holiday, or stayed home. But Alan was salaried and anyway had nowhere to go. So he stayed at his terminal, watching the lines of red numbers with morbid, daily obsession.
There were moments, even days, where things seemed to pick up, as a few stocks bounced up from rock-bottom and the market pounced. When these bounces lasted more than a day, the office became vibrant. Even though everyone knew it was nothing it was good to be busy; good to remember the excitement and the happiness from past times – the sweet fragrance of wealth. It was easy to cling to that buzz and that hope, and everyone did.
Alan was young and had missed the bull market. “You’ll catch the next one,” they told him. They even said his timing was perfect because he was building up clients and knowledge right now, and when the market took off – as it would, finally – he’d be in on the ground floor.
But meantime the perks were all gone. The cars, the lunches, the drinks, the gym memberships, the couriers and the dry cleaning – not to mention the cash bonuses. All gone. They were never coming back, everyone said. Of course, they probably would, eventually. Just not to this generation.
Companies struggled not to sink and withheld that truth from their staff. All over the city, companies sank or merged or were bought out, and people lost their jobs. Alan had no idea how his company was faring. No one did, either inside or outside the dealing room. Internal communications insisted all was well. Prospects were good, said the emails, and the company’s strengths and market share were keeping them in the black even as others sank around them. Things were tight, no question – and it was true that some serious cuts would need to be made. But if everyone stayed focused and kept doing what they were doing, then the company would continue to do well, buoyed by its greatest asset: its people.
The communications never mentioned the company’s balance sheet. They were light on detail and never included a specific dollar amount, target figure, future date or indeed any number of any kind. They were all words – words and no numbers. In an industry which was usually, proudly, all numbers and formulae, someone had changed the language.
Outside the dealing room and away from the numbers, priorities had changed in an instant. Gone without mention were the old roadmaps, goal sheets and mission statements. The policies and procedures page kept moving on the intranet, and whole sections were gone. The only direction now was to survive. The blueprint was secret.