We were asked to write a story about luck. There were no other hints or suggestions which made the whole thing quite difficult of course.
I started thinking about games of chance because we'd had a brief discussion in the class about gambling. I wondered about writing a story where someone could manipulate the odds in a casino so as to make a lot of money. But that didn't lead anywhere and besides, I don't really know very much about the mechanics of gambling in a casino. Gambling is not a vice that attracts me. So then I considered other games of chance perhaps involving dice or coins. I'd already used dice in an earlier story, so that just left coins. I began to think about the question of a coin that is tossed and comes down heads 10 times in a row. What are the chances that the coin will come down heads on the eleventh toss? The actual chances, of course, are 50/50. Every time you toss a coin it will come down either heads or tails (and let's not get sidetracked with what happens if it lands on its edge). A lot of people don't realise that. They seem to think that because the coin has landed heads ten time in a row there's a better than even chance that the next time it will come down tails. That's not true. The way the coin comes down this time has no relationship with how it came down earlier. Every time you toss a coin the chances are always 50/50 that it will come down heads. (Fallaciously thinking that previous results will have some sort of effect on the current chance is why casinos make such a massive profit on games of roulette).
So anyway, then I started pondering 50/50 chances. And suddenly, just like that, there was the outline of the story in my head. All I had to do then was write it. Easy...
I went into Gerald's office where I found him sitting at his desk tossing a coin and entering the results into a spreadsheet. "What are you doing?" I asked.
"Oh, hello," Gerald said. "I'm preparing the business plan for the next financial year."
"By tossing a coin?"
"It's not a coin," said Gerald. He sounded peeved. "It's a management decision tool. I use it every time I have to make a decision. It never fails to work. You ought to get one for yourself."
He handed it to me so that I could see for myself how it performed its responsible task. The decision tool was about the size of $2 coin and made of a similar gold-coloured metal. The word "Yes" was engraved on one side of the tool. Unsurprisingly, the other side had the word "No" on it.
"Oh come on, Gerald," I said, giving it back to him. "There's a lot more goes in to the making of a business decision that that. Management is actually quite a complex skill. People study the subject for years at university. And business plans really do take quite a lot of work to get right..."
"Rubbish," said Gerald. "You don't need any of that airy-fairy academic nonsense to run a company. It's dead simple. All business decisions are 50/50. Either they work or they don't. So as long as you've got a properly tuned decision tool, like I have, all your business problems are easy to solve. Look, I'll show you."
He tossed his decision tool into the air, caught it, and slapped it down on the back of his left hand, keeping it covered with his right hand so that he couldn't see how it had fallen yet. "Now," he mused, "I wonder if the Information Technology budget for next year should be $500,000." He raised his right hand and glanced at the decision tool. "Yes, it should." He typed 500,000 into a cell on his spreadsheet. "See? It's very straightforward."
"Where did you get the $500,000 figure from?" I asked.
"That's what the Information Technology manager told me he needed. All I had to decide was whether or not to use it."
"Where did he get the figure from?" I asked.
"I presume that he just made it up out of thin air," said Gerald. "That's what I did when I had his job."
"That explains a lot," I said. "However I must admit that I find there is a certain attractive logic to your revolutionary technique. But perhaps it needs a more pragmatic test, just to prove that we can have our cake and put two in the bush. So to speak."
"What do you propose?" Gerald sounded suspicious. He knows me far too well. He has suffered at my hands before. Teasing him helps alleviate the boredom.
"Well," I said, "before you distracted me with the wonders of your management decision tool, I actually came in here to show you this letter and attached CV. It's an application for the Director of Marketing position. What do you think?" I passed the letter and CV over to him. He read it all the way through, without once moving his lips. I was quietly amazed.
"This does look really impressive," said Gerald enthusiastically.
"Yes," I agreed. "Perhaps it is too impressive. If everything he says in it is true, he'd be the kind of Marketing Director that could sell camels to Saudi Arabia!"
Gerald leafed through the papers again. "I didn't notice that he'd ever worked in Western Australia."
"What's Western Australia got to do with anything?" I asked.
"There's huge herds of camels roaming the Nullarbor Desert," explained Gerald, "and the Western Australians really do export the camels to Saudi Arabia."
"Gerald," I said, "I am constantly amazed by the trivia you store in your pointy head. But before I get sidetracked again, what do you think about this chap's application? Should we invite him for an interview?"
Gerald tossed his management decision tool and examined the results. "No," he said. "We shouldn't."
"Thank you," I said. I retrieved the papers from Gerald and went back to my office where I read them again. The chap really did have an impressive CV. It almost seemed too good to be true. In my experience, when something seems too good to be true it very probably is. Finally making up my mind, I turned my computer on and began to compose a rejection letter...
And that was the end of that, for a couple of years or so. Then one day I was sitting in the staff canteen drinking a cup of coffee and reading the newspaper. There was a fascinating article in it about a man who'd just been found guilty of embezzling so much money from the company he worked for that they'd gone spectacularly bankrupt before his crimes came to light. I'd been following the case avidly for weeks. But now that he'd been found guilty, name suppression had been lifted and for the first time, I found out who he actually was...
I called to Gerald who happened to be walking past carrying a cup of herbal tea that smelled like an infusion of privet hedge. "Gerald, come and look at this. Does the name ring any bells?"
Gerald sat down and read the article carefully. "No," he said. "I can't say that it does."
"That's the chap who applied for the Marketing Director position a couple of years ago. He was the one with the really impressive CV."
"Oh yes!" said Gerald. "Now I remember. Isn't it lucky that we didn't employ him? We could have been in a lot of trouble if we had."
"Luck had absolutely nothing to do with it," I said firmly. "It was all because of your superior, and elite management skills."
Gerald flushed with pleasure. "Gosh, thanks," he mumbled as he took a fortifying sip of his privet hedge. Clearly I had made his day. I resolved to lay the sarcasm on less thickly next time.