“Thank you so much for making Toyota number one, ” the chairman of Toyota, Fujio Cho, said to Richard Wagoner, the CEO of General Motors, and leaned across the conference table to shake his hand.
“Think nothing of it, ” Mr. Wagoner replied, obliging the Japanese exec. “The credit belongs entirely to you and your quality-obsessed company. ”
“No, no, ” the Japanese CEO insisted. “We could never have done it without your reliable incompetence. ”
“On the contrary, sir, ” the GM CEO replied, eyeing the other American and Japanese executives arrayed around the conference table, “the credit is entirely due to your astonishing competence. After all, you and your company have figured out how to make cars people actually want to buy – form and function, attractively combined. ”
“Yes, I think that’s true, ” the CEO of Toyota conceded.
“And you’ve figured out how to make cars that are legendarily reliable, ” Wagoner went on.
“Yes, I must also agree with that. ”
“Then how is it possible that you are thanking me for helping to make you number one?” Mr. Wagoner wanted to know. “I do not deserve any of the credit whatsoever!”
“But, don’t you see, Mr. Wagoner? We owe our success to the fact that you have not quite figured out how to make cars that people actually want to buy!”
“We’re working on it, ” the CEO of GM replied.
“And have you figured out how to make legendarily reliable cars?”
“We’re also working on that. ”
“May I ask if you have been successful at either endeavor?”
“I said we’re working on getting there. ”
“But, Mr. Wagoner, how is it possible that after all these years of making cars you are still working on two such important objectives? Of course, I am not referring to you and your highly competent current executives, but only to your predecessors, and I am sure you will do much better. ”
“Thank you. I’ll tell you why we're having a difficulty or two. Your company came along, Mr. Cho, and set the bar higher than it was. ”
“I insist. Much higher. ”
“And how were we able to set it higher?”
“You tell me. ”
“Because you set it so wonderfully low. ”
“What other explanation can there be, Mr. Wagoner? And now you are struggling to catch up, which, if I may be frank, is another way of saying you have failed to do so. "
"– I beg your forgiveness, my distinguished friend, but if that isn’t incompetence, I don’t know what is. Of course, as I said, not your incompetence, only that of your predecessors. Yet, if I may be so bold, please, accept my gratitude. ”
Tom Attea, humorist and creator of http://www.NewsLaugh.com has had six shows produced Off-Broadway. Critics have called his writing “delightfully funny, " “witty, " with “good, genuine laughs" and “great humor and ebullience. "