Management Meeting – with Giant Robots

This is a result of the Hangout I was part of on the morning of Tuesday, July 9th. We were talking about how you organise your personal business and having team meetings with yourself. I thought it’d be something a bit different from a dry set of minutes!

Five sets of eyes – or optic sensors – turned as the door of the main entrance to the meeting room opened once more. With a rumble of engines, the red truck with silver detailing slowed to a halt behind the vacant seat at the table, then unfolded itself into a massive robot. It placed a manipulator on the back of the chair, then turned it slightly so that the robot could sit.

“Thank you all for coming,” it said in a low, resonant baritone, “especially at such short notice.”

One of the other figures at the table stirred. “Only one minute, early, boss? You must be slippin’!”

“I don’t like to squash any chances for my team to get to know each other by looking in the background,” the truck robot replied. “On that subject, we’ll start this meeting off now. We’ll go around the table. Can each of you identify yourselves, please? Name, where you’re from, what you’ve been doing here, what you need.”

The red robot nodded to a smaller, yellow one on its left. “Bumblebee, will you start us off, please?”

The yellow robot that looked as though it had once been a compact car turned to face the table, a little unsure of itself. “Uh, yeah. Hi, everyone. I’m Bumblebee. Normally I’m Autobot reconnaissance, but lately I’ve been lookign after the admin side of things here. Um…”

Bumblebee looked at the red robot and brandished an Autobot-sized datapad. “Sir, things are a mess. There are a lot of good ideas in here, but this business isn’t organised. There’s no consistency, no real plan for where things go or how to flag them to do at the right time. A couple of humans I know would say it’s very ‘push,’ very little ‘pull.’

“There’s some hope, though. We recently started putting any next actions in a book; we’ve got a couple of calendars and a diary which we’re using more often now – I just need some more time to get on top of organising things so that we can keep track of the bigger projects, not just individual tasks.”

“Your overall summary?” The red robot asked.

“It’s working, but I need it to work better. Give me, maybe, an hour a week to go over things, a couple of hours soon to clear up the basics.” Bumblebee looked at another yellow figure across the table. “I think I might need some help with Facilities to make some more places to store vital info, re-organise what we have, throw things we don’t need any more out so they don’t take space.”

“Thank you, old friend,” the red robot said. “Now to a newer friend. Saotome-san?”

Alto Saotome’s VF-25F Messiah.

The figure next to Bumblebee in the seat would have looked slender if it weren’t for the fact that it towered over even the red robot. It sat straight in its chair, if uneasily. Its face was blank and featureless, save for an optic visor over where its eyes would be. The markings on its white armour plating gave the impression that, if it so chose, it could become a fighter jet much as the red robot had recently been a truck.

The human who sat within it looked uncomfortably at the robots about the table. “Alto Saotome,” he said, “New Unitied Nations Space force, although I’ve been assigned as marketing director here. It has been… challenging.”

“Yeah, well, it’s a bummer getting promoted for your looks, Princess,” the other white robot at the table said.

“Please do not call me that,” Saotome replied, sending his robot into a standing position, hands flat on the table’s surface. “I had enough of it in high school.”

“Whoa, easy,” the white robot said. “I was talkin’ ‘bout our chassis, not your, y’know, organic looks.”

Alto Saotome in cockpit.

The robot straightened, then underwent a conversion of its own, flipping its torso around like origami so that it became the fuselage of a jet fighter whilst retaining its arms and legs. The cockpit cover opened, and a young man, barely out of his teens, took off his flight helmet and placed it next to him in his seat.

The other human at the table raised her eyebrow, but kept silent.

“Continue, please,” the red robot said.

“I’ve read the material produced so far,” Alto said. “It’s mostly blogging, and not with any particular direction. The company made an abortive attempt at a service offering a year or so ago, but pulled it shortly afterward.

“General presentation is mostly a web site, and it’s a fine site for blogging. I quite like its look; very home-y. But it still has rough edges, it doesn’t integrate with additional features well.

“We’re also not levering any face-to-face opportunities as best we can; we have no business cards.”

Alto leaned forward in his seat. “I believe we need to redesign our presentation, from site to business cards, and that will need time and manpower. But we need something to unify them so that we can ensure they all spring from the same design philosophy. We need our articles to also reflect a philosophy, something we can get behind. This we must have first, or else any work we do will be wasted.”

The second human spoke up. “Is there anything you can accomplish now?”

Alto took in a breath. “Business cards, perhaps. We may be able to produce a limited run with current resources. There is also a local firm who may trade some phone service product for cards, although I would prefer to wait until we have our direction established before we engage them.”

The red robot nodded. “Thank you, Alto.”

There was a rumble as the colossal machine next to Alto shifted in its seat. The floor at its edge of the table dropped away beneath it just so that it had room to sit. It seemed composed of at least five separate machines.

The Autobot combiner, Computron.

“I AM COMPUTRON,” it intoned. “AUTOBOT COMBINED COMPOSITE OF THE TECHNOBOT TEAM. I SPPEAK FOR SCATTERSHOT, NOSECONE, LIGHTSPEED, STRAFE AND AFTERBURNER. I HAVE BEEN ASSIGNED THE ROLE OF CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER.”

The red robot inclined his head. “Your progress so far?”

“BRIEF,” Computron responded. “I HAVE MADE ENQUIRIES REGARDIGN THE ESTABLISHMENT OF A BUSINESS ACCOUNT, BUT HAVE YET TO REVIEW THE LITERATURE FROM THE BANK I CONTACTED. THAT SAID, I STILL HAVE A SEPARATE ACCOUNT IN WHICH I CAN STORE THE COMPANY’S LIQUID FINANCES.

“THESE ARE MINIMAL AT CURRENT. FINANCES ACQUIRED THROUGH RECENT CLIENT WORK HAVE BEEN LARGELY DEPLETED BY PURCHASE OF AUDIO EQUIPMENT IN THE LAST WEEK. IN ORDER FOR THE BUSINESS TO EXPAND, WE REQUIRE ADDITIONAL CAPITAL.”

“That’s a concern,” Alto said. “Our current team doesn’t have the skills necessary to implement a re-styling of the website to the degree required. I could commence research, but rapid results need either education or outsourcing. I also think that, one way or another, we need to invest in a professional theme or framework for WordPress to base any future works on.”

“Understood,” the red robot replied. “I think that logically brings us to Operations.”

The Autobot Jazz.

The other white robot, whose armour plates looked like chunks of a high end sports car, nodded. “You got it, boss. Greets, all. Jazz is the name, culture’s the game. I’m normally Ell-Tee for the boss, but right now I’m handling Ops for the company.

“We ain’t doing bad here,” he said, pulling up a datapad of his own. “We’ve been getting out and spreading the good word. Some nibbles, some folks lookin’ to get us helpin’ them. Not too sure on the price points, though. I like makin’ sure we get our time’s worth, but it doesn’t do much good if we’re scarin’ people off, yeah?

“Still, early days, early ways. Did some research and got some names and numbers of peeps could use some good voice. Local video production firms, that sort of thing. People who do corporate videos, documentaries, yeah?

“Got another project going, too. We’re thinking audiobooks could be where it’s at. So, best way to get some audiobook work? Make an audiobook, right?”

Jazz tapped his datapad, and the holo display lit up, showing a PDF of a book entitled The Little Book of Contentment. “It’s short, it’s sweet, it’s all about helpin’. Best of all, it’s completely copyright free, so we can do an audio version, credit the writer, who, between you, me and the Internet, is pretty damned cool.

“We might need to check out some hosting for it, though,” Jazz continued. “Lemme have some words with Marcus, see how we’re doin’ for server space, not to mention if FTP is workin’ again.”

“By the way, I can account for that expenditure,” Jazz continued, shooting a look at Computron. “Mic stand and a pop filter. Should help us get some sweet sound when we’re bringing voice.”

“COULD YOU HAVE FOUND ALTERNATIVES?” Computron asked. “SOME SOUND EXPERTS CLAIM THAT A STOCKING OVER A COAT HANGER IS AS EFFECTIVE AS A STORE-BOUGHT POP FILTER.”

“That’s as may be, my man,” Jazz replied, “But have you seen the result? When you’re lookin’ at pro kit, you wanna use it more, yeah? Lift your game.”

Ellen Ripley, resurrected.

The other human cocked an eyebrow again. “Easy for you to say, Jazz. You don’t have to store it.”

“Which makes this a good place to introduce you,” the red robot said to her.

The dark-haired woman strapped into the yellow powerloader smiled. “They call me Ellen Ripley,” she said, “although a few have called me Number Eight. I used to be a lieutenant in the merchant marine. Starship crew. Now, I’m part that, part… a few other things.

“Still, I remember enough about my old lives that I’m assisting with facilities here. Like Bumblebee said, we’ve got a lot of disorganised rack space that I need to strip out. Find better ways of stacking what we need, dispose of what we don’t. A microphone stand mightn’t seem like it takes up much space, but it does when you open it out.

“I’d like to re-work the office area, too; I’ve got some ideas about a standing work space that might free things up. Still, that’s a low priority; what we have right now works.”

Ripley touched a key on the power loader’s keypad and the main holograph changed, this time showing a picture of a house. “Then there’s the rest of the facility. There’s general maintenance – lawn, cleaning. There are several spots that need paint detail, and we’ve another project on to re-furbish the bathroom. Budgeted for separately, before you overheat your brain,” she said to Computron.

“We’ve contracted some of the lawn maintenance out, but we need time and manpower on the other priorities.”

“Thank you,” the red robot said. “Which brings us back to me. My name is Optimus Prime. I’m the high commander of the Autobots. Here, I believe the closest title is CEO.

“All of you have asked for time, and I’ll get a schedule to you at the earliest opportunity. But some of you have also asked for a direction.”

“That informs everything I do,” Alto said.

“IT IS REQUIRED FOR US ALL,” Computron intoned.

“Yeah, man,” Jazz said. “I can sell services all day long, but it’d help to know how it al hangs together.”

“Can’t dump things out of the airlock until I know what I’m dumping,” Ripley said.

Optimus nodded, then drew up his shoulders.

“Confidence,” he said.

Jazz pushed his optic shield up into his helmet. “Come again, boss?”

“I’m not sure what that has to do with mecha,” Alto said.

“A human asked me once,” Optimus replied, “what it felt like to be as big as I am and bulletproof. I had no real answer for him. What does it feel like? Standing against the Decepticons must feels much the same as any human soldier does when he stands in the line with his comrades, facing enemy fire.

“And then, I thought, perhaps the problem isn’t being what we are. It’s what it means to face challenges that seem impossible.”

Ripley’s eyes became distant. “When you think you’re outdated. No good to anyone any more.”

Alto nodded. “When the only way to protect those you care about is to make yourself bigger.”

“When you gotta make a little more noise than you think you got in you,” Jazz said.

“When you think you’re the least of everyone, but you meet people who think they’re even weaker than you,” Bumblebee said.

“WHEN YOU MUST BE MORE THAN JUST ONE TO SOLVE THE EQUATIONS YOU CANNOT,” Computron answered.

Optimus nodded, a smile in his voice. “No matter whether you face Decepticons, Zentraedi -”

“Vajra nowadays,” Alto interrupted.

“Thank you, Alto,” Prime said. “Vajra, or other hostile organisms,” he nodded to Ripley, “Or even your own kind. Sometimes, people need to be more than they are.

“We’re going to help them.”

Ripley let go the contorls of her loader and folded her arms behind the crash cage. “How do we do that, Prime? There’s only us. We can’t be everywhere.”

“Simple,” Prime said, and tapped a button on the panel in front of his chair. The hologram changed once more, showing a human being with a wrench. “We’re going to help them build their own giant robot. Metaphoricaly speaking, of course.

“Humans have told stories for centuries about greater powers. Gods. Golems. Now, it’s giant robots. I believe that we can help people tell their own stories. We become metaphors for the thigns they need.”

He gestured to Alto and Ripley. “When you need to bring fire on a Vajra or throw an alien queen into an airlock, you climb into your suits. I say, we help one human being make his own suit. Let him discover the capacities he feels he falls short in and what he needs to build in order to compensate for those shortfalls. Let him test his robot in battle, learn how to maintian it. Perhaps his story can help others who don’t feel they have what they are yet.”

“I dunno, man,” Jazz said. “We ain’t talkin’ Decepticons or aliens here. It’s not llike a giant robot has a place in an office.”

“Maybe that’s the point,” Ripley answered.

“THAT DOES NOT COMPUTE,” Computron spoke.

Ripley cocked her head at Optimus. “I can’t go back to being just ship crew again. I don’t know who I am, how much of me is from which of my genetic donors and how much of me is new, but I know I can’t fit in without making myself less than what I am now.

“Part alien or not, I still like me.

“So maybe once these people build their robots, they’ll start looking for the challenges they were meant to face. They’ll adjust, modify as they go. Maybe even build another robot or two.”

Optimus nodded. “Exactly. But no matter what or who they face, people will still be fighting battles, against others. Against themselves.

“I may have a bias, but I believe that we all need a giant robot now and again.”

“Sometimes,” Bumblebee said, optics focused on something only he saw, “we need something outside us to bring out what’s in us.”

“I like that,” Alto said. “That’s something I can work with for the site.”

Optimus nodded. “All right, team. I’ll develop your schedules and issue them soon.”

“I’ll brainstorm the basic idea, create notes for the design,” Alto said. “I like the idea of a giant robot trying to sit at an office desk. Then there’s an editorial calendar to create. I think I’ll start by turning this into an About page. The rest will flow from that.”

“I’ll go over the notes and materials we have already,” Bumblebee said. “Ellen, can we work together on storage and disposal?”

Ripley cocked an eyebrow. “Sure. We’re already colour matched, after all.”

“Meantime, I’ll start thinking about what I can make as a mailing list incentive,” Jazz said, pushing up from the table. “And try and get my head around MailChimp. Computron, I think we can safely lay off your wallet for a while.”

“IN THAT CASE,” the building-sized robot said. It got to its feet, then promptly fell apart. In a blur of motion five separate robots formed themselves out of Computron’s limbs and torso.

The largest of them waved a salute and said, “We’ll be aroudn when you need us. All right, Technobots, let’s roll out!”

In five more blurs of motion, the robots became an assortment of vehicles and departed the facility.

“Isn’t that your line, Prime?” Ripley said.

“As Bumblebee said,” Optimus replied, a smile in his voice again, “sometimes we need to be a little bigger than we think we are.”

With apologies to the folks at Hasbro, Big West / Studio Nue and Twentieth Century Fox, not to mention James Cameron.

Images sourced from Archimedes Chen (Bumblebee) Behance (VF-25F Messiah), We Remember Love (Alto Saotome), the Woven blog (Ellen Ripley), Kim Cummins’ blog (the power loader), the TFW2005 forums (Jazz), the Comic Art Community (Computron) and mdverde’s Flickriver stream (Optimus Prime).