by Chai Karve
USC — During last week’s operations management lecture on theoretical constraints, capacity, and forecasting, senior business major Lester Dowd just nodded his head like he knew what the hell was going on.
Dowd’s consistent head-bobbing allows him to keep up the illusion of competence while paying constant symbolic attention. His efforts might be artificial, but they are still better than those of his classmates, many of whom sleep in plain view of the professor, text the entire time, or don’t bother showing up in the first place.
“Dowd is great. He always seems engaged,” confirmed Professor Kang. “His eyes are lifeless, but he’s nodding so I must be doing something right!”
Although it may seem straightforward, Dowd’s classroom strategy is complex. After years of practice, he can generate a series of vague affirmative sounds including the bright-eyed “ah,” the revelatory “oh,” and the charming “mh-hmm.”
Though his tactics were nearly foolproof, Dowd’s facade was broken when Professor Kang sprung an expected trap: a question directed at Dowd, who did not see that coming. After several seconds of silence Dowd had no idea what to do and just continued nodding, hoping to ride it out.