Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Thick-Headed Inarticulate Experts

My company’s headquarters are in New Jersey, a state that doesn’t have much of a reputation for sophistication or intellect. However, my company is in a highly technical, very complicated industry, and the good people of New Jersey have risen to the task – sort of.

There’s a certain class of person that I seem to run into over and over again in my day-to-day work; a person that I call the Thick-Headed Inarticulate Expert.

Often, these employees rose through the ranks of the company into management positions. They know their jobs intimately and thoroughly. But you can’t ask them a question about their work, because they don’t understand the question. If you somehow manage to penetrate the concrete encasing their brains, they can’t explain how things work in their department. They can do the work, they just can’t tell you how they do it.

    Me: “What’s an RSAA account?”

    Expert: “That’s an account we use.”

    Me: “What do you use it for?”

    Expert: “What do you mean?”

    Me: “I mean, how do you use the account?”

    Expert: (irritated): “We dump the excess from a 917 in there until the intra-days are cleaned up, except if the 917 is an aged claim and then it goes to AML.”

    Me: “Huh?”

    At this point, the Thick-Headed Inarticulate Expert becomes loud, repeating the same coded nonsense as though I’ll understand if he turns up the volume. If I try to reduce the problem to simple pieces, I often find out that the simple pieces include land mines.

    Me: “Let’s start over. What does ‘RSAA’ stand for?”

    Expert: “What do you mean?”

    Me: “The letters ‘R-S-A-A.’ What do they stand for?

    Expert: “I don’t know. ‘Registered’ something. MIKE! What’s ‘RSAA?’”

    Mike: “What do you mean?”

    Expert: “What do the letters spell?”

    Mike: “I don’t know. We just call it ‘RSAA.’ I think it means 'Registered' something.”

    Expert: “Call Jerry in Corporate Services. He’ll probably know. Are we done here?”

    Me: “No, I …”

    Expert: “Call Jerry. I’ve got a meeting. If you need more information we can talk next week.”

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