The Grasshopper And Van Zaant: A Fable
By Stanley Bing

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Once upon a time, there was a grasshopper who worked in a large corporation that didn't make anything, really, except decisions and money. This fellow had a job much like any other, in that he worked very hard, from dawn until dusk, even though there was little tangible to show for it at the end of his daily labors. "We are doing well, and I'm a part of that," he told himself, and once a year he received a bonus and some stock options that generally allowed him to maintain that perception of himself.

And at the end of each day, at precisely 6:30 P.M. if he could manage it, the grasshopper left the corporation, had a drink if he could swing it, went home to wherever it is that grasshoppers live, and forgot about virtually everything related to the corporation. This did not mean that he wasn't dedicated, mind you. He was. But he was also sane, unlike many of the other cockroaches, darning needles, worms, dragonflies, grubs, ants, wasps, butterflies, and gigantic dung beetles that populated his fertile corporate environment.

Once a month this busy, happy grasshopper was required to take stock of the amount of money and decisions the corporation had made in the prior 30 days or so, and circulate this news among the big, nonfungible bugs whose job it was to know these things. And up until one day last winter, this portion of his job went very smoothly, with barely a wrinkle from one month to the next. When our grasshopper came face to face with a difficult fact, or a situation that didn't look quite tasty enough, he used his powerful upper mandibles, or whatever it is that grasshoppers have in that region of their anatomy, and spun the offending fact in the air in a circular motion. This produced an enormous bolus of sputum, froth, and air around the fact, and made it more attractive and palatable for everybody.

"This is where I produce my added value," said the grasshopper, and felt very pleased with himself indeed.

Now on this one day last winter, the grasshopper was munching over the monthly facts and bit down on something hard and inscrutable. "Ouch," he said to himself, and spat it out. Sure enough, it was an indigestible nugget. "Oh, boy," he said, and one-two-three, before you knew it, there hung from the ceiling a gorgeous, brilliant bauble that would make everybody in the corporation very happy. "Nobody will see the hard, tasteless lump hidden beneath my glittering handiwork," said the grasshopper.

The phone rang.

"I'm looking at this," said Bortz, a caterpillar who was normally his next step in this kind of task. "And I'm wondering if you ran it by Van Zaant before you covered it with your usual spittle."

"Van Zaant?" said the grasshopper. The name was new to him.

"Yeah," said Bortz. "Van Zaant. He's an ant on the 23rd level. He looks at this kind of stuff. He's new. He's a good bug once you get used to his style."

The grasshopper wondered about this remark. He might have been wondering still, if the phone hadn't rung.

"Hello," said a deep, crisp voice at the other end of the vine. "This is Van Zaant, and I'm wondering why the hell I haven't had a look at the fact base yet. I understand there's a draft out already, and I haven't even seen the raw material. This is unacceptable. I have to be in the original loop evaluating the core material!"

"Okay," said the grasshopper. He didn't like to be spoken to in such a crisp fashion, and quite frankly he didn't fancy the idea of another bug in the mix, which he viewed as a big pain in the thorax. "I'm sure that won't be a problem."

"Grrrr," said Van Zaant, and hung up.

"Murfn brfn spzg frmzr," said the grasshopper, and e-mailed the requested material off to the new bug in the clearance loop.

There ensued, then, one of those massive gaps in activity that are normally pleasant, only this time the grasshopper didn't enjoy it very much. "What the hell is Van Zaant doing?" he thought to himself as the clock crept toward five, and then six. He called Bortz.

"Are we done here?" he asked.

"I don't think so," said Bortz. "Van Zaant is still chewing on it."

This was terrible. Six-thirty P.M. came and went. Then seven. The grasshopper called Van Zaant.

"I'm still digesting this," said Van Zaant with an implacable calm that made the grasshopper want to rip him segment from segment. "I will not be rushed. I'll be finished when I'm finished."

The grasshopper called Bortz and told him they might as well go home. There would be no closure that night--all because of one little ant who was stupidly obsessed with substance. The fool!

The next morning Van Zaant was still underground, masticating the facts. The grasshopper sat at his desk, pale with rage.

Finally, at 3:40 P.M., he was called to the main boardroom. At the table was Ned, the biggest bee himself, plus Bortz, a few mid-level crickets, one maggot whose name the grasshopper did not catch, and in the corner, a very tall, very thin red ant bent over an enormous pile of paper. The grasshopper went over to this clearly exhausted figure and introduced himself. "And you are..." he said, knowing the answer as he spoke it.

"Van Zaant," said the ant, holding up several of his legs for a shake. "You'll have to excuse my appearance. I've been up for 47 hours"--he looked the grasshopper dead in the eye--"doing my job."

"No problem," said the grasshopper. "Next time I'll get you the numbers earlier. That way you can have them back to me in plenty of time for me to pour air and sputum on them. Because...that's my job."

"I know," said Van Zaant, with a tired smile. And a moment passed between them, a moment of mutual comprehension, which is not all that common among insects.

So the report was issued, filed, and forgotten, as all reports are. And the next time everything will run much more smoothly, we are sure. Most important, the grasshopper had himself a brand-new friend, one just as stubborn, egocentric, and obsessed about his idiotic work as he.

Moral: We're all just bugs with a job to do. So look before you squish.

By day, STANLEY BING is a real executive at a real FORTUNE 500 company he'd rather not name.