As our readers are no doubt aware, classicists and philosophers around the world are rejoicing at the news of a fragmentary Platonic dialogue, previously unknown and discovered in the papers of an Abbasid court functionary. It has been titled “Terry,” in reference to Socrates’ interlocutor, an Athenian shipwright contracted to manufacture triremes for the polis.
We are proud to present the bulk of the surviving text to our readers in a novel English translation below.
SOCRATES: And so it is a great benefit to the city, is it not, that they have contracted you, and not some other shipwright, to expand the public fleet?
TERRY: Well I certainly think so, Socrates! My team’s approach to ship-building embraces innovative techniques and broad, multi-disciplinary perspectives to ensure that our solution will exceed expectations and deliver impactful mission outcomes.
SOCRATES: These “outcomes” will be better than those which would have been achieved by other shipwrights?
TERRY: I believe so.
SOCRATES: How exactly will they be better?
TERRY: Well, we’re still very early in the process; I think at this stage it’s a bit premature to discuss specifics, but rest assured that we will be incorporating stakeholder feedback throughout, so if and when new concerns or possibilities arise we will be ready to incorporate them. I’d also be happy to touch base again with you later on to make sure we’re on the same page.
SOCRATES: So, you think the ships you build will be superior if you “incorporate feedback”?
TERRY: Peer review is an essential part of my team’s culture; we’re not afraid to share ideas and take some hits to develop the best approach possible. We believe success is a team effort, not an individual result.
SOCRATES: But many of the men who provide you with “feedback” will be neither wise nor learned, for very often men volunteer their opinion rather more for their own vanity than in pursuit of some noble end. What will you do if someone suggests something which is absurd or harmful to the whole enterprise? Will you “incorporate feedback” from such an one?
SOCRATES: Have you nothing to say?
TERRY: I … think there can be a strong temptation, especially for high-profile efforts like this, with a lot of visibility and a lot of pressure to get results as soon as possible, to start pointing fingers when things go wrong. But I think if we take a deep breath and step back, we can appreciate that this is a challenging process for everyone .
SOCRATES: What is a challenging process?
TERRY: What? This dynamic user-facing project.
SOCRATES: Building triremes?
TERRY: That is what we’re doing here, yes.
SOCRATES: Building triremes is a challenging process?
TERRY: Surely you agree!
SOCRATES: Is this not your profession? Why do you speak of it as though it were some ill-understood aim?
TERRY: That’s a great question and I’m really glad you asked it, because it highlights some things that I think are really key to understanding the whole situation here. As you know, thanks to our ongoing conflict with the Lacedaemonian regime, we are currently dealing with the biggest investments in naval spending since the Themistoclean reforms. That’s a lot of resources, but it also comes with a lot of public scrutiny. What we are looking at is a demand to deliver a very advanced piece of equipment to our city’s warfighters on a very tight schedule, and if we’re not careful that can lead to some cutting of corners, which might be tempting in the short run, but in the long run means that we may risk ceding some of our naval dominance to the Dorians. That, of course, is unacceptable, both in terms of our own security and the commitments we’ve made to our allies around the sea. But in addition to the challenges we’re facing, we’re also looking at a lot of potential opportunities. Given the extensive testing that our existing designs are undergoing throughout the project, we can capture lessons learned in order to make our next-generation solution better than ever. In that respect, frankly, there’s never been a more exciting time to be a shipwright. Sorry for the long-winded response, but does that answer your question, or did I lose you? Socrates?
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