Back Legs Matter or The Little Seat Co-op: An Allegory for our Times

Once upon a time, in a place much like this one, in a time not so unlike ours, there was a little company.  It wasn’t a big concern, just a few people pursuing their passion for well made seating, primarily sturdy stools that could be easily moved from place to place and comfortably applied to stable seating on a variety of surfaces.

Their three legged stools, simple, but well made and precisely crafted, were, at first, not much noticed by their owners, but well used and long lived.  Over time, these qualities raised the humble stools to visibility and even acclaim.

For one reason or another, people began to want from these work-a-day stools something more than the quotidian portion of stability and support. Paint and stain colors became important.  The style and turn of the legs, the dish of the seat, the choice of woods, all became matters for discussion and decision.  And the small company of a few people grew to something more, but, thankfully maintained the consistent passion for well made seating.  At least for a while.

As time and fate would have it, a certain fashion arose for using the stools in a certain way, with one of the legs always in front.  How the leg put forward was chosen is lost to the fogs of history. Over time, even the possibility of any other way of placing the stool fell from the common mind.  And, as is the way with fashions and habit, there started a kind of race or competition for adornment of the front leg, first as a post purchase kind of thing, a way of asserting one’s individuality or creativity, I guess.

Eventually the little seating concern grown large saw an opportunity to better serve its customers and began offering customized front legs, adorned with uploaded pictures, special materials, or fantastical color schemes.  And the new stools were a tremendous hit, pushing aside all other of the company’s product so the Front Legged Stool as it had become to be known was simply the accepted norm for seating.

Perhaps it is the Universe’s love of balance, perhaps some inherent foolishness in humankind, or maybe even just random reality, but eventually, inevitably, we seem to find a way to retreat from every peak we summit, and so it was with the FLS, so called by all in the know.  With all the investment and attention paid to the front leg, the quality and design of the off legs (off what some radicals asked) began to lag and suffer.  There were a few nasty incidents, first covered only in leftist rags, of sudden off leg failures, a crack followed by a precipitous tumble.

Then one dark day, a leading light of our little community was unceremoniously pitched on her delicate posterior and suddenly even the most sober of news outlets were editorializing on the problems of the off legs. There were many studies done and reports published, charitable music festivals for the victims of off leg collapse, and many marginally successful government programs to remediate the effects of off leg collapse.

The leaders of the seating co-operative, being ever so much invested in the quality of their product, also dove deeply into the situation, examining all the processes and suppliers and staff of the various off leg departments with a microscope.  Initiatives were launched, study groups started, re-organizations suggested, but the trouble continued.  Try as they might, the co-op couldn’t seem to turn things around.

Budget seasons came and went.  More investments were made in the thriving front leg department, but the spiral continued and expenses were cut and staffing tightened in all departments, though front leg design and manufacturing were spared because, after all, that’s were the real money was being made.

Over time a certain factionalism took root in the design offices and factory floor and suddenly it wasn’t just front leg and off legs, but focus sharpened to the back leg, because, you see, if one leg is put forward consistently, then one leg is also consistently put back.  And as is the way of things, it happened that it was the back leg that was failing most consistently as shown by the weekly, monthly and yearly quality statistics.

Across the co-op a clamor arose for improvement in the back leg department.  Front leg designers and engineers were brought in to assess back leg practices but left shaking their heads at the investment and changes required.  A kind of malaise fell across the company and especially in the back leg department.

Then, one day, one of the shop floor supervisors in back leg hit upon an idea, a kind of boot strapping approach to raising the quality of back leg production even in the face of staffing cuts and budget constraints.  The next morning, when her team arrived, they found a simple poster affixed to each of their machines.  “Back Legs Matter” was all it said.

It drew a few wry grins and maybe even a dismissive chuff or two, but who knows how change begins deep in the human heart, and slowly, that one production line began to see a real change in the back leg component it produced.  That component fell off the failure mode event analysis charts and climbed the quality metrics.  They still faced the same staffing challenges and funding strictures, but they persevered, buoyed by the surety of having done their part.

One day, some how, nobody knows how, one of the little posters showed up off the line in the cafeteria, over in the corner where the back leg department commonly gathered.  It wasn’t a big moment, no coverage in the company newsletter or the like, but the little poster stayed there and then one day, Jerry, I think it was, from Side Leg happened by to have lunch with some friends from Back Leg.  He saw the little poster and because of the time he spent with Back Leg folks, and his general awareness of the co-op’s situation, he got it and nodded his head approvingly.

Wanting to show his support for his friends in Back Leg, Jerry made up a copy himself and pinned it to his cubicle wall.   Slowly, Back Legs Matter posters began to appear everywhere in the company.  At first the workers and leaders from Back Leg were overjoyed to see some indication of sensitivity and support for turning Back Leg around.

But then it sees the darker side of human nature took a hand.  Quietly at first, but then openly there were comments about how all legs mattered, that a stool with only two legs would be wobbly and unsatisfactory so all legs mattered. Why should Back Leg think they were more important than Side Leg or even the obviously more productive Front Leg?  Never mind that no one had ever suggested that Back Legs Matter More.  No such poster was ever thought of, much less actually displayed.  And yet, beyond Back Leg, there was much chatter and distress that this Back Legs Matter campaign was somehow a threat to the position and funding and staffing of other departments, even to the existence of the Little Seat Co-op at all.

Some of the very same designers and engineers from Front Leg that had been overwhelmed by the challenges faced by Back Leg, were at the front of the All Legs Matter counter campaign. They vociferously pointed past the reduced funding, limited staff, and restricted development to the people of Back Leg, suggesting that somehow they, independently of the rest of the co-op should raise themselves up to the lofty standards obtained by Front Leg through its own grit and creativity and hard work.

Alas, the chronicles do not record the fate of the Little Seat Co-op.  Whether the laws of social and tangible physics, or simple human decency released the light of reason, restoring the balance of funding, staffing, and resources between the leg departments is not written down, but we wish it so.  We hope that all the employees of Little Seat are well trained and compensated, that being reasonably sustained, they have linked arms to address the common issues of the company and achieved new pinnacles of productivity, quality, and satisfaction.  Yes, we surely do wish it so.

About blglick

Story Teller, Path Finder, Peace Maker
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