February 24, 2011

FUBAR’s parable

Once upon a time there was a kingdom with a long coastline by the sea. The king’s otherwise idyllic life was much disturbed by just one fact; the kingdom had a long connection with the oceans- and maritime trade- going back thousands of years, but hardly anybody wanted to work on ships anymore. This was a big problem. Other kingdoms threatened to eat into our kingdom’s maritime manpower market share. It was a matter of prestige and tradition, not to speak of money, that this trend be reversed immediately.

This state of affairs could not be allowed to continue, the king decided. The Minister of the Merchant Navy was summoned and told to find out what the hell was going on. Go forth, the king commanded, and do not return until you have found, as per our ISO manuals, the root cause of the problem and recommendations to stem the rot. You have six months or it will be off with a lot of heads, including yours.

The agitated Minister immediately and as usual formed an expert committee of rich ship-owners, ex-Captains who had not even stepped in a bathtub for twenty years, teachers who taught because they could not do and assorted body shoppers, and loudly read out to them the kingdom’s marine riot act.

In turn and as usual, the committee immediately appointed consulting firm MBAss (so named because it was started by not one, but two management school graduates) to prepare a report with recommendations that would immediately make the kingdom’s mariner market share go through the high roof of the king’s royal court. The court jester did briefly wonder how outside consultants, with zero direct experience, would have better knowledge about shipping than the collective wisdom of thousands of ship-owners, shipping administrators and other experts within the kingdom, or the thousands of seamen who were subjects, but these doubts were not even whispered. Heads would roll all over the main deck if the consultancy was questioned.

In any case, after five months of intense brainstorming and not before ensuring that all the latest business school techniques had been exhaustingly applied, MBAss produced a white elephant before the expert committee. Of course, they did not say it was white, or even an elephant: instead, they called it FUBAR- short for Fugitive Underappreciated Bosun Archetypically Represented.

MBAss told the committee that a) FUBAR was the prototype of a typical seaman and had been programmed with the complete life experiences of a 12-year-at-sea Bosun. He would react like an experienced seaman and be, in all ways, a representative of that animal profession b) The committee could now examine this typical seaman- FUBAR- and see for themselves what the market share problems really were, and what the solutions could be, and c) The term FUBAR should not be confused, as the court jester was seen sniggering, with the other identical acronym which, pardon MBAss’ French, meant that the situation was Mucked Up Beyond All Recognition, so to speak.

The experts went out of their minds with joy (Actually, they were out of their minds earlier, but never mind). At last they had the problem dead in their sights! They could not wait to examine FUBAR for themselves and find out for themselves the (ISO approved) root causes of the market share issue!

The court jester was threatened with burning oil (to be poured simultaneously into all his orifices) after he quipped that since the committee had not gone to FUBAR, then the mountainous FUBAR had come to them. They also were uninterested in his fable about the many blind men and the elephant.

One ship-owner approached FUBAR and examined him closely. “See how his tail is too short and does not wag?” he said. “He is not loyal. That is the reason why our market share is dropping. Bad elephant! If only we had loyal FUBARs there would be no problem. We would flood the market, get market share and, incidentally, lower FUBAR’s banana wages too.”

“He is not smart enough,” piped up another expert who hired seamen for the King’s fleet. “See, his eyes seem almost closed! That is actually the root cause! We need more intelligent FUBARs at sea, even if we there is no need for rocket scientists. In any case, rockets have not been invented yet.”

A third official from the King’s Ministry suddenly shouted in disgust, “See, FUBAR is defecating on the floor! Even after the hefty fees charged by our maritime institutes, he has not been properly trained!” He looked accusingly at the teachers. “We need better training!! Sailors from other kingdoms don’t crap on the floor! That is why they are preferred!!”

A senior faculty from a well known maritime college in the kingdom piped up, all defensive and dismissive, “Nothing is wrong with our training. We train well, but we are not the Wizards of Oz. We do not get FUBARs of any potential, but we still produce products that are fit for purpose (We even have yet another acronym for them FFPFUBARs). The real problem is that too many of the FFPFUBARs are without jobs. The kings fleet must employ all of them day after tomorrow. End of problem”.

An ex-ex-ex Captain spoke next. “All of you are giving FUBAR no respect; that is the real problem. Besides, with subjects in the kingdom prospering ashore, FUBAR probably does not need to sail anymore to earn his bananas. It is also possible that he wants to spend more time with Mrs. FUBAR or in his harem with the other lady FUBARs, as we do. Or with his child, little FUBAR. And of course he is used to the internet and mobile phones ashore, which also haven’t been invented yet, but that he still doesn’t get at sea”.

“He looks dissatisfied,” another FUBAR-shopper confirmed. “He is probably telling the truth to other subjects about his life at sea and discouraging them from taking up the profession. And he stomps his legs angrily at us, so he is certainly looking to stop sailing soon. That is the real problem- these FUBARs leave after a few years. They should stay on ships even if they want to quit. They should also lie to others about the actual conditions in the King’s fleet, or we should chop off their trunks.”

The Minister of the Merchant Navy spoke last. “On not-so close examination, it appears to me that FUBAR is male. That is the real issue. We should have more female FUBARs at sea- it would dramatically and prettily increase our mariner market share. After all, so many of the King’s subjects are female. What a waste to exclude them! And who knows, females may make life at sea more interesting for the male FUBARs and solve retention issues.”

The meeting wound down. The committee and MBAss representatives left for cocktails and dinner, satisfied that they had identified enough root causes to keep the King happy for awhile while simultaneously retaining their own heads on their respective shoulders.

The court jester was the last to leave. Idly, he looked at the elephant and wondered, muttering to himself, “I wonder what FUBAR thought about the problem. After all, he has a dozen years of sea experience behind him”.

FUBAR finally opened his eyes wide and looked at him. “You will never know until you ask, will you?” he said, and closed his eyes again.

The Minister reported to the King the next day. “All is figured out, Sire,” he said. “To increase mariner market share, I recommended this: We need seamen who are properly FUBARred. They should be smart- preferably MBAs- and loyal, like dogs. They must continue to sail even when they don’t want to, and they must lie about their profession to everybody, especially females, more of whom must be sent to sea immediately. They must not be dissatisfied no matter what. We must respect them and employ them by Tuesday- or at least say that we do and we will. They must be trained properly; I recommend that particular stress be given to toilet training.”

“Hang it all,” said the bewildered king, using an expression that had the blood draining from the Minister’s face. “I never realised that the problem was so jumboesque and complicated.”

“I will do one thing immediately, though. I will decree that every seventh male and every sixth female born in the kingdom from midnight tonight must join the merchant fleet after eighteen years of rigorous education, including potty training. Failure to comply will mean off with many parts of the anatomy slowly.”

The king paused. “But will this mean we will end up with far more FUBARs than we actually need?”

“That doesn’t matter, Your Majesty,” the Minister replied. “We give bananas only to those who are signed on and working on ships anyway. As for the others, we get money for nothing and elephants for free.”

And everybody lived happily ever after in the kingdom of FUBAR.


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