BILLERICA, Mass. It’s Friday afternoon at Whimsy Diddle, a start-up that is building an on-line platform for cats who sleep on their owners’ computer keyboards to communicate with each other. “It’s important in the social media space that you have a unique name for branding and trademark purposes,” say Todd Stroy, the firm’s Chief Whimsy Officer. “It helps if it sounds really stupid, that seems to attract investment officers at pension funds who are bored with their jobs.”
Friday is “blue-sky” day at the company, when employees leave their offices in the afternoon and gather in a conference room to float untested ideas that are duly recorded on a “white board,” then picked apart by the combined brains of the young men and women who are working for less than they could make in the world of finance, but who hope to score big when–and if–Whimsy Diddle goes public.
“So we would award points for each unique page view a cat attracts, multiplied by its ‘stickiness'”–a vogue term in web circles for the length of a visitor’s stay at a site–“and the cat could redeem them for toys or catnip or whatever with a discount pet store partner,” says Jeanie Weed, a newly-minted MBA from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth.
“So Jeanie,” a voice pops up from the rear corner of the long table around which the group is gathered, “aren’t you really saying you want us to become something different from what we told our A-round investors? The premiere cat-to-cat portal on the web–not a generic, low-margin hawker of cat chow?”
The proponent hesitates for a moment, and the man who asked the question–Jeff Fleagle–takes the opportunity to continue his disquisition masquerading as a question, making a little church-and-steeple with his fingers, droning on in a nasal whine that has people checking their phones under the table after a while.
The meeting breaks up–inconclusively–around 5:15, with everyone standing up and stretching, then heading for the exit. “I’m going to pop into the stock room, pick up a pad of pink Post-It Notes for my wife’s birthday,” says Stroy, and he is seconded by several others including Weed, who says “I’m going to get a long legal pad–I think I’ll practice my calligraphy this weekend.”
“Boy, you guys are nuts!” Fleagle exclaims pleasantly. “I’m going to check my email, I’ll meet you out in the parking lot.”
“Sure,” Stroy says as he and the others go through a non-descript door into a room with an exit to the outer hall, where they frantically push the elevator button and disappear down the shaft once it arrives. As Fleagle finishes scrolling through his phone, he looks out a window and sees his co-workers get into their cars and head off to a pre-selected designation that they have deliberately concealed from him in the hope that they can finally have a conversation without the Harvard M.B.A.’s running commentary on what they really said when they said something and thought they were saying something else.
“I don’t know what it is,” Fleagle says, as he watches with a hang-dog look as the cars drive away. “We’re best buds at work, then everybody scatters.”
Fleagle is a victim of SGRS–Smartest Guy in the Room Syndrome–a debilitating ailment that, like Asperger’s Syndrome and other similar disorders, impairs victims’ social skills. “A man–and SGRS sufferers are overwhelmingly men–with this disease goes through life unaware that the guy who is technically the smartest isn’t necessarily the smartest guy in the room,” says labor psychologist Michael Derensis of Marquis On-Line University. “The smartest guy in the room is the smartest guy in the room who doesn’t let other people know he thinks he’s the smartest guy in the room.”
There are support groups for those who suffer from SGRS, and today finds George Walkins of Lynnfield lined up for the third annual “Fun Run for SGRS,” a five-kilometer race/walk that raises money for research into a cure. “I like to run on cloudy days,” Lynn Walkins says to her husband, who is stretching his Achilles’ tendons by leaning against a tree.
“Well, you probably think you do,” George begins, “but afterwards you’ll find that the lower barometric pressure will mean you’ll have a splitting head . . .” before his wife cuts him off.
“George,” she says, “put a sweat sock in it.”