Sunday, October 18, 2009

Bring me a rock

"Bring me a rock" is a phrase often used in the aerospace industry. I have never heard it used anywhere else. The phrase commonly arises during the writing of a proposal. Here's how it works: sections of the proposal are parceled out to various authors, who write up their assigned sections and then bring them to a senior technical team for review. If the reviewers request a substantial rewrite, the author may complain, "They said, 'Bring me a rock.' I brought one, but they didn't like it. Now they want a different rock."

If the author does the rewrite, returns for a second review, and is told to make further changes, you can bet that he'll gripe, "I brought them a rock. They didn't like it. I brought them a second rock. They didn't like that one either. Now they're asking for a third rock. Who knows what they want!"

The reason for this frustrating situation is not that the reviewers are capricious or cruel -- in most cases, that is. The more common reason is that as the reviewers look at all sections of the proposal, they have a growing sense of how the overall themes and proportions of the proposal are taking shape. If the reviewers' vision of the whole proposal is evolving faster than the frequency of a particular author's revision cycle, the guidance given to that author may be outdated before the revisions can be made and brought back for review.

I am currently working on a proposal section that will be reviewed for the third time tomorrow morning. (Sundays are work days during a proposal effort.) The guidance from my first review was that I was too wordy and had introduced extraneous material. I trimmed my section to the bare essentials. The guidance from my second review was that I was too terse and needed to restore the "extraneous" material I had taken out earlier. I have no idea what tomorrow's guidance will be. I will bring them a brightly polished rock and hope for the best.