Do you work for a company that suffers from performance dysfunction? Then this may be the time to get a fresh surge of energy with a breakthrough treatment from the consulting world: corporate Viagra. It's a new remedy that's getting a hard sell from some overstimulated consultants who provide a "dose of Viagra" for businesses that have gone soft.
Take, for example, Thomas A. FitzGerald, author of an article on corporate Viagra for the consulting newsletter the CEO Refresher: "FLACCID!" the article begins, as a fictional female board member loudly interrupts a presentation by the board's chairman.
"IMPOTENT!" she bellows. What the company really needs, the screaming board member suggests, is "a strong dose of VIAGRA!"
"Corporate Impotence, especially the early stage, is the first indicator of deep-rooted problems," FitzGerald explains.
To help limp companies, FitzGerald offers a Corporate Vitality Profile (CVP) and a dose of corporate Viagra. But FitzGerald isn't the only consultant who's been flogging this metaphor. The Houston, Texas - based consulting firm Extreme Achievers claims to offer better results than Viagra does: "Unlike with the male anti-impotence drug Viagra, the Extreme Achievers Quotient Survey is the amazing pill that lets both men and women achieve amazing feats of performance — with no adverse side effects!" asserts the company Web site.
The Consultant Debunking Unit (CDU) decided to go after some hard facts and find out whether this metaphor is capable of sustaining itself.
First stop: Giles Brindley, professor emeritus of physiology at the University of London. Brindley, a true pioneer in the world of urology, is one of the best-known researchers in the area of impotence, due to a prominent demonstration he made at a urology conference in 1983.
At that convention, Brindley injected himself with a drug that he'd been testing and offered a full monty to an audience of colleagues. It was the first time that urologists had witnessed an "erection by injection." Boston University Medical Center urologist Irwin Goldstein recalled the experience in a New York Times Magazine article last year: "He walked down the aisle and let us touch it. People couldn't believe it wasn't an implant."
What about corporate Viagra? "The problem is that Viagra is a temporary treatment," Brindley points out. "Viagra doesn't treat the problem itself — just the symptom. And I wouldn't recommend taking Viagra every day. It's a new drug, and you just can't know what the side effects might be."
Does Brindley have a better suggestion? "If I were a consultant, I might consider saying that I'm like an injection of pro- staglandin E-1, which men are more likely to respond to than they are to Viagra," he says. "Prostaglandin E-1 gives you an erection no matter what, provided your blood system is intact. Of course, the drug still produces only a temporary solution."
Next stop for the CDU: the vacuum erection system, arguably the oldest and most American of impotence remedies. In the mid-1970s, Geddings Osbon, who had founded a successful tire-retreading business, invented the vacuum pump by hooking a bicycle pump to a truck-tire valve, reversing the cylinder to create negative pressure, and applying it to his nether parts. His tire rose, and an invention was born.
Osbon has since passed away, but his son and grandson carry on the family tradition of manufacturing vacuum systems. "The pump allows you to achieve the fullest erection physically possible," says grandson Michael Osbon. "It gives you the firmest results."
What about Viagra for companies? Does it hold up? "I'd think that if you were in business, you'd want a solution that was surer than Viagra," young Osbon says. "A lot of men contact us after they've had an unsuccessful experience with Viagra."
For the final word, the CDU turned to David M. Friedman, author of A Mind of Its Own: A Cultural History of the Penis, due out in November from the Free Press. Friedman first formally contemplated the subject in 1996, when he injected himself with an anti-impotence drug and chronicled the ensuing four-hour erection for Esquire.
"For the record, those shots really do work," Friedman says. "The pump makes you cold, purple, and kind of dead. As for Viagra, it doesn't take into account the fact that there are two people in a sexual relationship. It treats the penis as the patient. There's a word for having sex with the penis alone: 'masturbation.' "
Which may be what consultants know how to do best.
A version of this article appeared in the March 2001 issue of Fast Company magazine.