A modern day fable (with apologies to Hans Christian Andersen), by Trevor Punt, managing director of TBG Group.
Once upon a time there was a trade show organiser who loved numbers.
He loved numbers more than anything else. Every year at his event, he would ask for an increase in numbers. In fact, all the organiser ever wanted was bigger numbers.
The organiser loved numbers so much that he dreamt of halls full of them. And he loved numbers so much that he would check them 12 times a day.
One day, two strangers arrived at the organiser’s office.
“We can make your numbers the best in all the world and everyone will want numbers like yours,” they said, bowing low to the organiser.
‘Ah, this is what I’ve always wished for,’ thought the organiser. ‘To have the best numbers in all the world.’
“You shall make me beautiful numbers!” he declared.
For weeks and weeks, the strangers worked on new technology and systems to increase the numbers and wouldn’t let anybody see what they were doing.
The organiser grew impatient; he wanted to see the results immediately. One day, he demanded to see them. When the strangers showed them to him, the organiser looked, but, try as he might, he couldn’t see the new numbers anywhere.
“Where are the new numbers I have paid you to make?” he demanded.
“They are right here,” said the first stranger. “What do you think? Haven’t they grown, haven’t they the best demographics, aren’t they of the most delightful quality?”
The organiser looked around confused; he couldn’t see anything.
“I can’t see any numbers at all,” the organiser said.
“These,” the strangers said, “These numbers are so special and rare that only the cleverest people can see them. They are too good to be seen by stupid and ignorant people; that is the magic of these amazing new numbers.”
“Oh, of course, of course,” said the organiser quickly, not wanting to appear stupid or ignorant. “They are fantastic; this is just what I’ve always wanted. I’m sure my new numbers will be greatly admired. Can you get me more?”
“Well,” said the strangers, “we’re not quite finished yet. But if you could pay us a bit more money, I’m sure we could have more for the next event.”
The organiser promised to pay the strangers anything they wanted if they would have the new numbers ready for his next event. He wanted everybody to see them.
The day of the event came and the two strangers said to the organiser: “Everyone will admire you. The new numbers look most wonderful.”
By this time, word had got out that the organiser’s new numbers were so special that only clever people could see them. Not wanting to appear stupid or ignorant, other organisers in the events industry said: “How wonderful. Your new numbers are magnificent.”
“Oh dear,” thought the organiser. “Everyone can see my new numbers but I can’t. Does this mean I’m stupid and ignorant and not fit to be an organiser? I must pretend I can see them so that nobody thinks I’m stupid. No-one can know the truth!”
When it was time for the event, the organiser said: “Follow me,” and marched out into the halls. The other organisers at the event had all heard that only clever people could see the organiser’s new numbers and, not wanting to appear stupid or ignorant, they all said: “How wonderful the organiser’s new numbers are!”
The organiser was very pleased that everyone was admiring his new numbers, even if he couldn’t see them himself.
Suddenly, an authoritative voice from the crowd shouted out:
“Hang on! The halls are empty! The organiser doesn’t have any visitors at all, nor any exhibitors!”
A hushed silence fell over the organisers and the event stopped…then…everyone suddenly burst out laughing!
“The consultant is right,” they said. “The organiser doesn’t have any numbers at all!”
The organiser blushed and went red. They were right. He didn’t have any numbers at all.
“Get me someone who knows what they’re talking about,” he ordered. “I should never have trusted those strangers who only wanted to flatter me, turn my head with new technology and take my money!”
From that day on, the organiser gave the consultant an important job. He was the only person that had told the truth. And, whenever the organiser needed advice, he would always ask the consultant first.