Comic Relief for the MITM

This page shows keystones and middle managers a way to have have some fun with their tormentors. What’s more fun than letting your adversaries hoist themselves on their own petards? The exhibition borrows a page from our 1988 book, Have Fun at Work, still available on Amazon. Practically speaking, if you don’t have fun at work it’s your own fault.

The intellectual exercise of the procedure requires that you are well passed angst blowdown and have some of your act together. The reason is that the subconscious minds of the audience will detect these traits instantly and if found wanting, turn off. There’s nothing you can do about the invariant subconscious mind of homo sapiens, Stone Age model. Stay with what you can do to score on its recognition algorithms. You will be amazed that it never fails to work.

This circus is staged for and enacted by Plan A people with high opinions of themselves, their disciplines, and their knowledge of their collective’s operations. The name of the procedure, penetrations, was lifted from our design engineering work in the nuclear powerplant industry. Elaborate fail-safe conduit configurations are required for each penetration though the containment wall that connects the world of humans to the world of lethal radioactivity. It takes a lot of knowledge to engineer this safeguard to standards. Chernobyl  and Fukushima have no containment vessels, therefore no penetrations, relying on the concrete shield building for protection, built for radiation not for pressure containment.

The audience should be more than eight and less than thirty individuals. Its makeup can be anything. For whatever reason, you are the master of ceremonies. All you will need is a large whiteboard. You begin by drawing a circle, representing the steel containment wall, in the middle of the board to represent the “social envelope” of their organization. Ask the audience to shout out the names of entities within the circle that communicate with entities outside of the circle as routine business. All you do is write the names of these entities on the board. Many of these entities will come as novel information to the attendees and debates amongst the members volunteering the information are likely. You keep going until the audience is exhausted and in agreement.

Typical outsiders are suppliers and maintainers. Typical insiders are the head shed, engineering, quality control, the general staff, and sales. Of course, these entities and their outsider counterparts are fractal themselves, so you step in when it’s necessary to assure consistency in details. The entity network of operations inside the “containment” is represented by dotted lines. Same for the external agencies that have business with each other.

Then, you draw a solid line between an inside and outside entity that “penetrates” the containment circle you drew at the outset. You then ask the originator of the connection to identify what sort of information and/or material is transmitted, both ways. Some of the information is sent inside containment process itself. The stage is then set for the standard Failure Modes and Effects Analysis (FMEA) menu of questions, a discipline within the engineering field. The audience cannot quarrell that the information/material is not important. If it wasn’t, the great expense and fuss of installing a failsafe penetration would be unnecessary.

Note that running this scheme only requires that you know the routine and its questions. You don’t have to be an engineer or know the process in detail. What you do is write the response from the audience on the whiteboard and ask the next standard FMEA question. The suite of questions:

  • What information or material is being transmitted and its purpose?
  • What happens to the process when the information or material flow is defective?
    • Stopped, too little, irregular, too much
    • Off-spec material
    • Information flow is stopped, erroneous or suspicious
  • How is the failure detected and which responders get the information?
    • What is the appropriate response?
    • What happens if it is not done?


You repeat this ensemble of questions for each penetration. Yes, it’s tedious but you are only the scribe. In less than a half-hour the audience will be up at the whiteboard arguing with each other. When the melee starts, you sit down, you’re done. The debating group at the whiteboard will determine the rest of the “penetrations” exhibition and bring the gathering to a close. The audience has learned that nobody really knows how the process really works. It’s more complicated than anyone appreciated. No one wants to finish the penetrations exercise and have their ignorance revealed in public. Nothing will come of this exhibition. The implications are too great. It never happened.

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