London, Centre Point office block at the junction of Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street, 17th floor above the rumbling traffic, glass-walled office, clean Scandinavian design chic; sitting around a table, six men, one of whom is playing for us all, the rest are playing variations of self-interest. He's young enough to think life's a game, and he keeps raising the ante.
"How much we appreciate the next sentence, will make us all millions."
With smiling eyes, he's been lighting up the room for half an hour and at that moment has no idea what is going to be said next.
Each man has his understanding as to why he is there, balanced on a knife-edge: the past-wise reasons are as plain as footsteps in mud, tracking all the way back; the future-wise purpose remains unknown, reserving judgement and biding their time to align and make sense of it all.
One way to read the power-play around the table is four against two: four are pitching a new product to the Managing Director and his Director of Marketing. Of the four, there's an old man who hasn't said anything beyond giving his name at the beginning of the meeting, a post-grad toted as the "genius"/"mad scientist" who has invented the prototype, a venture capitalist who might invest $250,000 in the project, and the incandescent young man who is leaning so heavily into the future, he's risking a tear in the fabric of space-time itself.
The MD is first to bat.
"This is not how we do business," hitting it out of the park like some kind of super-star sign-up, which is not so far from the truth; what he says has all the authority of a multi-billion-dollar company behind him. Meanwhile, his multi-million-dollar eyes are drawn to the £70 of notes on the table. "You haven't explained what that is for," talking about the money like it is a dirt pile at the corner of his otherwise pristine desktop.
The young man seems phased, double-takes the money — had the MD already perceived the illusion that was money? — then blinks himself back into the game. He edges forwards on his chair, ready for the cut.
"It depends on one very simple thing," he says carefully. He folds in his lips against his teeth, and takes a slow breath, really feeling the moment physically, the air barreling up his nose, his tongue pressed against the ridges of his lower incisors, embodied in the here and now, slowing it all the way down, calming all the mental reverberations, risking a mental stall.
"Basically," he swallows, "it comes down to this. Do. You. Like. The Idea?"
He stops and waits, watching for a response. Now he risks a stall between them. He has flipped to listening too abruptly, his listener suddenly finding himself up ahead and attended by everyone in the room. He accelerates and lays down a velvet ribbon of words once more.
"Your genuine response. That's what it comes down to. We wouldn't be here unless we thought there was genuine value in the idea. Forget about companies and boundaries and products, and experts and money. There is no risk to ecological economics: you leave with the money you put on the table — this is the failure state. What it comes down to right now, is — is this idea a good one? Or not?"
The MD leans back in his over-sized, leather chair. His eyebrows raise and his head rolls back slightly, feeling his neck tight in its collar as if he is attempting to shirk off his corporate responsibilities, his tie and suit, escaping from the constraints of his position. His eyes remain locked on the young man, still on the edge of his seat, open, receptive, waiting.
"Well, I can't say much for the presentation, I've seen better." He holds up a hand to the young man to stop further interruption. "If we ignore the amateur dramatics, I can say the idea itself is not a bad one. It is well conceived. But there are many considerations, the technical feasibility, cost of production, not to mention ownership, due diligence, and so on."
All in the room are impressed, but one. To be this early in the pitching processes, to get a clear and positive response is rare. The MD has responded favourably to the fresh and rather daring approach by the young man. The marketing director is pleased that he risked this meeting, given it is less than a week that the young man walked into his office. The PhD scientist is glad he hasn't talked business himself; left to his own devices he knows it would take him years to get to this point. The venture capitalist likes the young man's gumption, lending support to the tenuous but intuitive confidence he had in him. While the old man looks on with quiet eyes.
The young man, however, remains at the edge of his seat, expectantly. Has he not heard? Has he misread the MD's acknowledgement? What more could he want from a first meeting? A salesman would be happy with this result.
For him, it is not enough; he is not a salesman, and was never looking for a sale. He knows it comes down to this, the MD's next words, how this next moment unfolds between them. So he sits on the edge of his seat while the rest have relaxed. Like travellers who have reached a distant objective, a peak of sorts, they fall to either side tired from their collective efforts. And yet this young man, his gaze steady, does not let go.
His thoughts trace back to how this opportunity arose barely a week ago as if taking in a landscape, and re-re-replaying all the dreams over the months before like weather patterns superimposed upon one another. Now, here he is, mid-stream in time, history mountained behind him and blue-sky future ahead, in this dreamed-of office with its dreamed-of people with this dreamed-of social dynamic. Specific and real, and utterly beyond his control.
The MD purses his lips, glances around the room, stone faced all of them but for the sharp intent of the young man, and his eyes come to rest in the soft, assuring gaze of the old man, the elder amongst them.
And so, viewed from the point of an infinitesimal moment, with supreme superhuman effort that we take for granted so familiar it is to us, he opens his mouth to put words to thought. The exhalation caused by his diaphragm relaxing, curiously rising in his chest against the pull of gravity; the air fluting through his windpipe taking on the murmuration of over-tones, a chorus from ligament chords; aroused in his mouth and massaged by the 70g of meat flapping around in rooted elegance, pressing uvula and flattening soft-palate, tongue curling and tooth-tipping; to be whistled through his lips in a percussion of fricatives and stops; and the whole effect to produce a miraculously co-ordinated continuous sequence of sound while conveying the wordless mysteries of meaning.
All of it to be an extended aftermath of a decision, now long gone.
This concludes the first section of the Red Movement of the book, GIFT. Continue reading the whole book, and consider gifting-it-forward.
Oct 30th, 2013