He's A Real Nowhere Manager
By Stanley Bing

(FORTUNE Magazine) – I am sitting around doing what I do for the most part, which is very hard to describe, so I won't try at this moment, when the phone rings. It's Potter.

"How you doin', Potter," I say, my general greeting when the ball is in the other guy's court. I won't try to synopsize my conversation. What's important is the end of it, in which I inquire of Potter where in the world he might be.

"Are you upstairs in your office?" I ask him, now curious, or at least as curious as I get these days.

"No," he says. Then there's a pause. "I'm in Petaluma," he says, not very convincingly, and I realize that Potter is operating from where he actually wants to be. He's in virtual executive space. He's nowhere. I want to be there too.

Today, as I sit here and write, it is possible to be nowhere and get the job done. That is a positive development, I think, particularly for people for whom being somewhere has gotten to be a burden. This ability was demonstrated most recently by reporter Jayson Blair of the New York Times, who made a career of filing reports and, more importantly, his expense accounts from nowhere, making up stuff for the paper while sitting in Brooklyn having a cup of coffee on the company, then claiming he had been in, for instance, Virginia, where he was supposed to be.

The unscrupulous Mr. Blair was just a very public example of what is possible for anyone seeking to operate in the new nowhereness. Across the length and breadth of this great mercantile nation, executives and working people alike can conduct whatever orchestra they wish to in the comfy confines of virtual space, thanks to the maturation of several intersecting technologies that render the entire concept of being someplace out of date.

First, of course, is the cellphone, which confers powers land lines never dreamed of. Not only can one be in St. Louis or St. Paul or St. Lucia while talking about the usual drivel, but one can also truncate conversations at will while going into a tunnel, entering a downtown cavern of skyscrapers, or, in Los Angeles, something about the Valley, I'm not quite sure what. That creates enormous flexibility for someone who wants to be nowhere while talking about either anything or nothing.

Even more important is the remote handheld device, which for most of us is the BlackBerry. In the older days, like two or three years ago, it was necessary to check in at the office in person every so often. Now no such contact with analog reality, if such it be, is necessary, especially for busy, busy managers with zero attention span who don't really have time for people qua people.

With a BlackBerry, one may do a number of things from nowhere: read and answer e-mail, get interoffice gossip, and perhaps most revolutionary, manage subordinates who themselves are nowhere from one's position in nowhere. Best of all, the BlackBerry makes explanations and coherence unnecessary.

The other day I got a long e-mail from somebody who works for me who wanted what they almost always want: to make me do something. He had tried to reach me in my office, first by dropping by, then by leaving me a note, and later by depositing several messages in my voicemail. I did what bosses have every right to do because, you know, we're so frightfully busy: I ignored him. By midweek the poor guy needed a decision, and truthfully, what he wanted me to do was reasonable. I just didn't want to do it. It gave me a bad feeling. I decided to go nowhere on it.

At any rate, he sends me this enormous justification of his idea with a push to give him the green light. Now, if I were somewhere, I might have had to talk to him, even explain my reluctance. But since I am nowhere, I simply BlackBerried him, "No, Burt. Let's revisit this when I'm not out of pocket." That was that. Nobody expects a big, bloated response from a man typing with his thumbs.

There are other tools, of course. The fax, when necessary. Voicemail, which comes from nowhere and is stored there too.

Most crucial, however, is one central nontechnological development that makes it all possible: Now that nowhereness has been discovered as an operating strategy, everyone wants to attain it. If lots of people were somewhere, trying to reach a few nowhere men and women, it would be difficult for us all. But a large group of people seeking to operate from nowhere are in complete synergy. They feast on each other's nowhereness--communicating, delegating, managing, and being managed from the comfort of virtual space.

The other day I got a call from Larry, who runs the cosmos. "Hey," I said to him. "I thought you were on vacation."

"I'm not on vacation," he said with a full measure of scorn in his tiny, digital voice. "I'm reachable on BlackBerry and cell."

"Where are you?" I said. Just call me old-fashioned.

"I'm here," he said tersely, and changed the subject. And he was too. If by "here" you mean "there," which could be "anywhere" or "everywhere." Does it matter? Nohow, I think.

By day, Stanley Bing is a real executive at a real FORTUNE 500 company he'd rather not name. He can be reached at stanleybing@aol.com.