Thursday, June 16, 2005

Sweat Equity

I am sitting in my sauna, contemplating the events of an unhappy afternoon.
I had to make a presentation to the executive suite of a large company, and my presentation did not go well. Having to get up to talk in front of a lot of people is not something I enjoy at the best of times. When I have to stand up in an executive boardroom full of tight faces, blues suits, and God knows how many cattle's worth of Italian leather shoes, I get the willies - which is a psychiatric term for deep blushing, nervous stammering, and generally making a public fool of yourself.
The Vikings and the North American First Nations peoples had it right, you know: you shouldn't do business with anyone until you've had a sauna - or sweat-lodge - with them. The First Nations people believe that the cleansing of the soul and body is essential if people are to talk and negotiate in good faith.
The Vikings believed that if they didn't like you, they wouldn't let you out of the sauna until you were done to a medium rare.
After this afternoon, I think the Vikings may have been on to something.
Anyway, one of the best things about saunas, and what ought to make taking a communal sauna a pre-conference requirement in boardrooms across the country, is that participants have to be in the nude - or at least in the near-nude.
It is not hard to look impressive and be intimidating when you are wearing a blue Armani suit, a red tie and a pair of Italian, calf-skin slip-ons, lounging in a boardroom, sipping cappuccino, watching a presenter squirm in the spotlight.
But get out of the suit, and sit in the nude in a sauna with a bunch of strangers, and you'll find that being imposing is much more difficult. Get people out of their corporate uniforms, and they suddenly become very conscious of their mid-riff jelly roll, and as they sit sweating bullets, swigging luke-warm water out of the sauna bucket, the corporate playing-field suddenly levels itself out very nicely.
Ideally, of course, the sauna experience should include a nude roll in the snow. The descendants of the Vikings believe this is good for the circulation - by which they may mean that the shock "circulates" people from this world into the next - and the Japanese know the value of a chilling dip after a steam bath in restoring business acumen.
The bottom line - if you'll pardon the expression - is that it seems unlikely that the chief executive officer of a multinational corporation will seem quite as frightening and aloof once you have seen him or her dashing naked through a snowstorm, luffa sponge and towel in hand.
Now there may, of course, be some concern in the business community that having saunas with the corporately inferior will lead to disrespect and unwarranted familiarity. This is not necessarily so. What is far more likely to happen is that we will all develop a shared meaning of the ridiculous. It is surely impossible for just about anyone to look at themselves - much less their boss - in the nude in a public sauna without almost instantly developing a sense of humour. And there is no question that during these tough economic times, we could all use a good laugh.
If there is a down-side to this whole sauna approach to "taking a meeting," it would be in the area of the potential for lost productivity. Having grown comfortable with the idea of a pre-meeting sauna, how long before the entire meeting is conducted in the nude in the sauna, interrupted only by a refreshing dip in the snow/company pool? And are we then far from tele-saunaing? Corporate Saunas around the world could be linked electronically to allow business people to "do meetings" without having to actually travel anywhere - or even get dressed.
This, of course, would open up a huge market for the entrepreneurs who first develop water and heat proof fax machines, portable computers and telephones - the possibilities are mind-boggling.
But you can forget about the sauna franchise. As soon as I find my pants, I'm going to corner that myself.
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