Knowlton was sitting alone in the conference room of the laboratory. The rest
of the group had gone. One of the secretaries had stopped and talked for a
while about her husband's coming enrollment in graduate school and had finally
left. Bob, alone in the laboratory, slid a little farther down in his chair,
looking with satisfaction at the results of the first test run of the new
to stay after the others had gone. His appointment as project head was still
new enough to give him a deep sense of pleasure. His eyes were on the graphs
before him, but in his mind, he could hear Dr. Jerrold, the project head,
saying again, "There's one thing about this place you can bank on. The sky
is the limit for a man who can produce!" Knowlton felt again the tingle of
happiness and embarrassment. Well, dammit, he said to himself, he had produced.
He wasn't kidding anybody. He had come to the Simmons Laboratories two years
ago. During a routine testing of some rejected Clanson components, he had stumbled
on the idea of the photon correlator, and the rest just happened. Jerrold had
been enthusiastic: A separate project had been set up for further research and
development of the device, and he had gotten the job of running it. The whole
sequence of events still seemed a little miraculous to Knowlton.
shrugged out of the reverie and bent determinedly over the sheets when he heard
someone come into the room behind him. He looked up expectantly; Jerrold often
stayed late himself and now and then dropped in for a chat. This always made
the day's end especially pleasant for Bob. It wasn't Jerrold. The man who had
come in was a stranger. He was tall, thin, and rather dark. He wore
steel-rimmed glasses and had a very wide leather belt with a large brass buckle.
Lucy remarked later that it was the kind of belt the Pilgrims must have worn.
stranger smiled and introduced himself. "I'm Simon Fester. Are you Bob
Knowlton?" Bob said yes, and they shook hands. "Doctor Jerrold said I
might find you in. We were talking about your work, and I'm very much
interested in what you are doing." Bob waved to a chair.
didn't seem to belong in any of the standard categories of visitors: customer,
visiting fireman, stockholder. Bob pointed to the sheets on the table. "There
are the preliminary results of a test we're running. We have a new gadget by
the tail and we're trying to understand it. It's not finished, but I can show
you the section we're testing."
up, but Fester was deep in the graphs. After a moment, he looked up with an odd
grin. "These look like plots of a Jennings surface. I've been playing
around with some autocorrelation functions of surfaces -- you know that
stuff." Bob, who had no idea what he was referring to, grinned back and
nodded, and immediately felt uncomfortable. "Let me show you the
monster," he said, and led the way to the workroom.
Fester left, Knowlton slowly put the graphs away, feeling vaguely annoyed.
Then, as if he had made a decision, he quickly locked up and took the long way
out so that he would pass Jerrold's office. But the office was locked. Knowlton
wondered whether Jerrold and Fester had left together.
morning, Knowlton dropped into Jerrold's office, mentioned that he had talked
with Fester, and asked who he was.
down for a minute," Jerrold said. "I want to talk to you about him.
What do you think of him?" Knowlton replied truthfully that he thought
Fester was very bright and probably very competent. Jerrold looked pleased.
taking him on," he said. "He's had a very good background in a number
of laboratories, and he seems to have ideas about the problems we're tackling
here." Knowlton nodded in agreement, instantly wishing that Fester would
not be placed with him.
don't know yet where he will finally land," Jerrold continued, "but
he seems interested in what you are doing. I thought he might spend a little
time with you by way of getting started." Knowlton nodded thoughtfully.
"If his interest in your work continues, you can add him to your group."
he seemed to have some good ideas even without knowing exactly what we are
doing," Knowlton answered. "I hope he stays; we'd be glad to have
walked back to the lab with mixed feelings. He told himself that Fester would
be good for the group. He was no dunce; he'd produce. Knowlton thought again of
Jerrold's promise when he had promoted him -- "the man who produces gets
ahead in this outfit." The words seemed to carry the overtones of a threat
Fester didn't appear until mid afternoon. He explained that he had had a long
lunch with Jerrold, discussing his place in the lab. "Yes," said
Knowlton, "I talked with Jerry this morning about it, and we both thought
you might work with us for a while."
smiled in the same knowing way that he had smiled when he mentioned the
Jennings surfaces. "I'd like to," he said.
introduced Fester to the other members of the lab. Fester and Link, the group's
mathematician, hit it off well and spent the rest of the afternoon discussing a
method for analyzing patterns that Link had been worrying over the last month.
6:30 when Knowlton finally left the lab that night. He had waited almost
eagerly for the end of the day to come -- when they would all be gone and he
could sit in the quiet rooms, relax, and think it over. "Think what
over?" he asked himself. He didn't know. Shortly after 5 p.m., they had
almost all gone except Fester, and what followed was almost a duel. Knowlton
was annoyed that he was being cheated out of his quiet period and finally
resentfully determined that Fester should leave first.
was sitting at the conference table reading, and Knowlton was sitting at his
desk in the little glass-enclosed cubby he used during the day when he needed
to be undisturbed. Fester had gotten the last year's progress reports out and
was studying them carefully. The time dragged. Knowlton doodled on a pad, the
tension growing inside him. What the hell did Fester think he was going to find
in the reports?
finally gave up and they left the lab together. Fester took several of the
reports with him to study in the evening. Knowlton asked him if be thought the
reports gave a clear picture of the lab's activities.
excellent," Fester answered with obvious sincerity. "They're not only
good reports; what they report is damn good, too!" Knowlton was surprised
at the relief he felt and grew almost jovial as he said good-night.
home, Knowlton felt more optimistic about Fester's presence in the lab. He had
never fully understood the analysis that Link was attempting. If there was
anything wrong with Link's approach, Fester would probably spot it. "And
if I'm any judge," he murmured, "he won't be especially diplomatic
described Fester to his wife, who was amused by the broad leather belt and
the kind of belt that Pilgrims must have worn," she laughed.
not worried about how he holds his pants up," he laughed with her.
"I'm afraid that he's the kind that just has to make like a genius twice
each day. And that can be pretty rough on the group."
had been asleep for several hours when he was jerked awake by the telephone. He
realized it had rung several times. He swung off the bed muttering about damn
fools and telephones. It was Fester. Without any excuses, apparently oblivious
of the time, he plunged into an excited recital of how Link's patterning
problem could be solved.
covered the mouthpiece to answer his wife's stage-whispered "Who is
it?" "It's the genius," replied Knowlton.
completely ignoring the fact that it was 2:00 in the morning, went on in a very
excited way to start in the middle of an explanation of a completely new
approach to certain of the photon lab problems that he had stumbled on while
analyzing past experiments. Knowlton managed to put some enthusiasm in his own
voice and stood there, half-dazed and very uncomfortable, listening to Fester
talk endlessly about what he had discovered. It was probably not only a new
approach but also an analysis that showed the inherent weakness of the previous
experiment and how experimentation along that line would certainly have been
inconclusive. The following day Knowlton spent the entire morning with Fester
and Link, the mathematician, the customary morning meeting of Bob's group
having been called off so that Fester's work of the previous night could be
gone over intensively. Fester was very anxious that this be done, and Knowlton
was not too unhappy to call the meeting off for reasons of his own.
next several days Fester sat in the back office that had been turned over to
him and did nothing but read the progress reports of the work that had been
done in the last six months. Knowlton caught himself feeling apprehensive about
the reaction that Fester might have to some of his work. He was a little
surprised at his own feelings. He had always been proud -- although he had put
on a convincingly modest face -- of the way in which new ground in the study of
photon measuring devices had been broken in his group. Now he wasn't sure, and
it seemed to him that Fester might easily show that the line of research they
had been following was unsound or even unimaginative.
morning (as was the custom) the members of the lab, including the secretaries,
sat around a conference table. Bob always prided himself on the fact that the
work of the lab was guided and evaluated by the group as a whole, and he was
fond of repeating that it was not a waste of time to include secretaries in
such meetings. Often, what started out as a boring recital of fundamental
assumptions to a naive listener, uncovered new ways of regarding these
assumptions that would not have occurred to the researcher who had long ago
accepted them as a necessary basis for his work.
group meetings also served Bob in another sense. He admitted to himself that he
would have felt far less secure if he had had to direct the work out of his own
mind, so to speak. With the group meeting as the principle of leadership, it
was always possible to justify the exploration of blind alleys because of the
general educative effect on the team. Fester was there; Lucy and Martha were
there; Link was sitting next to Fester, their conversation concerning Link's
mathematical study apparently continuing from yesterday. The other members, Bob
Davenport, Georgia Thurlow, and Arthur Oliver, were waiting quietly.
for reasons that he didn't quite understand, proposed for discussion this
morning a problem that all of them had spent a great deal of time on previously
with the conclusion that a solution was impossible, that there was no feasible
way of treating it in an experimental fashion. When Knowlton proposed the
problem, Davenport remarked that there was hardly any use of going over it
again, that he was satisfied that there was no way of approaching the problem
with the equipment and the physical capacities of the lab.
statement had the effect of a shot of adrenaline on Fester. He said he would
like to know what the problem was in detail and, walking to the blackboard,
began setting down the "factors" as various members of the group
began discussing the problem and simultaneously listing the reasons why it had
early in the description of the problem it was evident that Fester was going to
disagree about the impossibility of attacking it. The group realized this, and
finally the descriptive materials and their recounting of the reasoning that
had led to its abandonment dwindled away. Fester began his statement, which, as
it proceeded, might well have been prepared the previous night, although
Knowlton knew this was impossible. He couldn't help being impressed with the
organized and logical way that Fester was presenting ideas that must have
occurred to him only a few minutes before.
had some things to say, however, which left Knowlton with a mixture of
annoyance, irritation, and at the same time, a rather smug feeling of
superiority over Fester in at least one area. Fester held the opinion that the
way that the problem had been analyzed was very typical of group thinking. With
an air of sophistication that made it difficult for a listener to dissent, he
proceeded to comment on the American emphasis on team ideas, satirically
describing the ways in which they led to a "high level of
this time Knowlton observed that Link stared studiously at the floor, and he
was very conscious of Georgia Thurlow's and Bob Davenport's glances toward him
at several points of Fester's little speech. Inwardly, Knowlton couldn't help feeling
that this was one point at least in which Fester was off on the wrong foot. The
whole lab, following Jerry's lead, talked if not practiced the theory of small
research teams as the basic organization for effective research. Fester
insisted that the problem could be approached and that he would like to study
it for a while himself.
ended the morning session by remarking that the meetings would continue and
that the very fact that a supposedly insoluble experimental problem was now
going to get another chance was another indication of the value of such
meetings. Fester immediately remarked that he was not at all averse to meetings
to inform the group about the progress of its members. The point he wanted to
make was that creative advances were seldom accomplished in such meetings, that
they were made by an individual "living with" a problem closely and
continuously, in a rather personal relationship to it.
went on to say to Fester that he was very glad that Fester had raised these
points and that he was sure the group would profit by reexamining the basis on
which they had been operating. Knowlton agreed that individual effort was
probably the basis for making major advances. He considered the group meetings
useful primarily because they kept the group together and they helped the
weaker members of the group keep up with the ones who were able to advance more
easily and quickly in the analysis of problems.
clear as days went by and meetings continued that Fester came to enjoy them because
of the pattern that the meetings assumed. It became typical for Fester to hold
forth, and it was unquestionably clear that he was more brilliant, better
prepared on the various subjects that were germane to the problem being
studied, and more capable of going ahead than anyone there. Knowlton grew
increasingly disturbed as he realized that his leadership of the group had
been, in fact, taken over.
the subject of Fester was mentioned in occasional meetings with Dr. Jerrold,
Knowlton would comment only on the ability and obvious capacity for work that
Fester had. Somehow he never felt that he could mention his own discomforts,
not only because they revealed a weakness on his part but also because it was
quite clear that Jerrold himself was considerably impressed with Fester's work
and with the contacts he had with him outside the photon laboratory.
now began to feel that perhaps the intellectual advantages that Fester had
brought to the group did not quite compensate for what he felt were evidences
of a breakdown in the cooperative spirit he had seen in the group before
Fester's coming. More and more of the morning meetings were skipped. Fester's
opinion concerning the abilities of others of the group, except for Link, was
obviously low. At times during morning meetings or in smaller discussions he
had been on the point of rudeness, refusing to pursue an argument when he
claimed it was based on another person's ignorance of the facts involved. His
impatience of others led him to also make similar remarks to Dr. Jerrold.
Knowlton inferred this from a conversation with Jerrold in which Jerrold asked
whether Davenport and Oliver were going to be continued on; and his failure to
mention Link, the mathematician, led Knowlton to feel that this was the result
of private conversations between Fester and Jerrold.
not difficult for Knowlton to make a quite convincing case on whether the
brilliance of Fester was sufficient recompense for the beginning of this
breaking up of the group. He spoke privately with Davenport and with Oliver,
and it was quite clear that both of them were uncomfortable because of Fester.
Knowlton didn't press the discussion beyond the point of hearing them say that
they did feel awkward and that it was sometimes difficult to understand the
arguments Fester advanced, but often embarrassing to ask him to fill in the
basis for his arguments. Knowlton did not interview Link in this manner.
months after Fester's coming into the photon lab, a meeting was scheduled in
which the sponsors of the research were coming to get some idea of the work and
its progress. It was customary at these meetings for project heads to present
the research being conducted in their groups. The members of each group were
invited to other meetings that were held later in the day and open to all, but
the special meetings were usually made up only of project heads, the head of
the laboratory, and the sponsors.
time for the special meeting approached, it seemed to Knowlton that he must avoid
the presentation at all cost. His reasons for this were that he could not trust
himself to present the ideas and work that Fester had advanced because of his
apprehension about whether he could present them in sufficient detail and
answer such questions about them as might be asked. On the other hand, he did
not feel he could ignore these newer lines of work and present only the
material that he had done or that had been started before Fester's arrival. He
felt also that it would not be beyond Fester at all, in his blunt and
undiplomatic way -- if he were at the meeting, that is -- to comment on his
[Knowlton's] presentation and reveal Knowlton's inadequacy. It also seemed
quite clear that it would not be easy to keep Fester from attending the
meeting, even though he was not on the administrative level of those invited.
found an opportunity to speak to Jerrold and raised the question. He told
Jerrold that, with the meetings coming up and with the interest in the work and
with Fester's contributions to the work, Fester would probably like to come to
the meetings; but there was a question of how the others in the group would
feel if only Fester were invited. Jerrold passed this over very lightly by
saying that he didn't think the group would fail to understand Fester's rather
different position and that Fester certainly should be invited. Knowlton
immediately said he agreed: Fester should present the work because much of it
was work he had done, and this would be a nice way to recognize Fester's contributions
and to reward him, because he was eager to be recognized as a productive member
of the lab. Jerrold agreed, and so the matter was decided.
presentation was very successful and in some ways dominated the meeting. He
attracted the interest and attention of many of those who had come, and a long
discussion followed his presentation. Later in the evening -- with the entire
laboratory staff present -- in the cocktail period before the dinner, a little
circle of people formed about Fester. One of them was Jerrold himself, and a
lively discussion took place concerning the application of Fester's theory. All
of this disturbed Knowlton, and his reaction and behavior were characteristic.
He joined the circle, praised Fester to Jerrold and to others, and remarked on
the brilliance of the work.
without consulting anyone, began at this time to take some interest in the
possibility of a job elsewhere. After a few weeks he found that a new
laboratory of considerable size was being organized in a nearby city and that
the kind of training he had would enable him to get a project-head job
equivalent to the one he had at the lab with slightly more money.
immediately accepted it and notified Jerrold by letter, which he mailed on a
Friday night to Jerrold's home. The letter was quite brief, and Jerrold was
stunned. The letter merely said that he had found a better position, that he
didn't want to appear at the lab any more for personal reasons; that he would
be glad to come back at a later time to assist if there was any mix-up in the
past work; that he felt sure Fester could supply any leadership that the group
required; and that his decision to leave so suddenly was based on personal
problems -- he hinted at problems of health in his family, his mother and
father. All of this was fictitious, of course. Jerrold took it at face value
but still felt that this was very strange behavior and quite unaccountable, for
he had always felt his relationship with Knowlton had been warm and that
Knowlton was satisfied and, in fact, quite happy and productive.
was considerably disturbed, because he had already decided to place Fester in
charge of another project that was going to be set up very soon. He had been
wondering how to explain this to Knowlton, in view of the obvious help Knowlton
was getting from Fester and the high regard in which he held him. Jerrold had,
indeed, considered the possibility that Knowlton could add to his staff another
person with the kind of background and training that had been unique in Fester
and had proved so valuable.
did not make any attempt to meet Knowlton. In a way, he felt aggrieved about
the whole thing. Fester, too, was surprised at the suddenness of Knowlton's
departure. When Jerrold asked Fester whether he preferred to stay with the
photon group instead of the new project for the Air Force, he chose the Air
Force project and went on to that job the following week. The photon lab was
hard hit. The leadership of the lab was given to Link with the understanding
that this would be temporary until someone could come in to take over.
from a case originally written by Alex Bavelas.)