Each person in the conference room held a Magic 8 Ball, trying to decide why our chief counsel had given them such a strange gift.
A former NFL lineman, his physical size intimidated, but Rich brought a good-natured humor to his job of leading our corporate attorney team. The simple toy created laughter as he explained to the audience, “If you cannot reach one of the lawyers to advise you, you can consult this Magic 8 Ball for guidance.”
Understanding contracts was a critical component for the people in the room – the top finance people in our regional offices. Each office worked with hundreds of customers, complex corporations with unique needs memorialized in customized contracts. The smallest contracts covered three years with annual billings of a million dollars. Over 90% of our customers renewed the contracts – with revisions – when that term was up, requiring rewrites of those contracts. The finance team was responsible for monitoring all of those contract changes and keeping us in compliance.
Rich’s presentation skills and humor took the dry topic of contract law and made it entertaining at these annual meetings. Several times during his presentation, he would raise a legal question, consult the Magic 8 Ball, and give its answer. The prop brought levity while making the point of consulting with our in-house lawyers when questions arose.
In case you have never seen one, the Magic 8 Ball is a simple toy. The idea was first patented in 1944 but evolved into a pool ball look in 1950. The holder asks a question and turns the ball over so a small glass panel is facing up. An icosahedron – a 20 sided plastic die – floats in a bluish liquid until one of its sides presses against the glass. The die has 10 positive answers, 5 negative answers, and 5 neutral answers. Every attendee to the meeting had received one as a humorous gift.
Our three-day meeting wrapped up with the legal presentation. Tired, everyone packed their carryon bags for flights home. We had had the meeting in the central location of Chicago since people traveled from all over the U.S. and Canada, so the corporate team packed as well. Presentation materials, including a case of Magic 8 Balls, had been shipped from our corporate offices to the meeting location, but those same materials were going home with the attendees.
A chartered bus transported the entire group to the O’Hare airport, stopping at each terminal as our finance team scattered for their flights. Rich and I joined a security line in one of the terminals, many of the meeting attendees in front of us. We discussed the meeting and I congratulated him on the Magic 8 Ball idea. What a memorable way to make his point.
Everyone at the meeting flew dozens of times a year, so no one checked luggage knowing carry on was both safer and faster. Those same carry on bags were now stuffed with presentations from the meetings – and a Magic 8 Ball.
The first member of our team reached the security scanners in front of us. He unpacked his laptop, removed his shoes, placed his plastic baggie of liquids – each bottle 3.4 ounces or less – in a security tray. The TSA is quite strict on the liquid limit.
He stepped through the scanner as his bag rolled through the machine. A security agent grabbed the bag as it exited. I couldn’t hear the exchange, but had had my bag searched often enough to know what was happening. The agent carried the bag over to a station, opened it and removed the Magic 8 Ball.
I turned to Rich, “How much liquid is in a Magic 8 Ball?”
He shrugged. “I have no idea.”
“Uh, Rich, I think I need my lawyer. I just sent my entire finance leadership team through TSA lines with liquid hidden in a toy.”
Rich looked up in horror at the various security lines – most with people holding up a simple black toy to puzzled TSA agents. One agent was laughing and asking the 8 Ball questions. Another was scratching his head.
“Do you have yours?” Rich asked.
“No. I threw it in a box being shipped back to the office. What about you?”
“I didn’t bring one for me.”
“Oh, great, it will just look like we set them all up.”
We watched in horror. Too late to stop the madness. We waited. Waited.
I was expecting detainments. Arrests. SWAT teams dropping from the ceiling. Lockdowns of airports. Grounding of flights. National news. My image on TV screens world-wide with the caption “Magic 8 Ball Mastermind.”
Instead, the first TSA agent returned the Magic 8 Ball to the carryon luggage. Our finance person picked up his suitcase and headed to his gate.
The second finance person went through.
And the third, fourth and so on.
Once I cleared security, I called people who had gone to other terminals. Not a single person had the toy confiscated.
The next day, a box of supplies from the meeting arrived on my desk. I opened it and removed my personal Magic 8 Ball. “We were lucky, weren’t we?” I asked.
I shook the Magic 8 Ball and turned it over. The die floated to the top, its message clear in the window, “It is decidedly so.”