A Big Opportunity
Some years ago I worked for a computer company that was (at that time) the sixth largest computer company in the world. We had just won a contract to supply 22,000 color computer work-stations to one of the biggest government departments in Australia. This was pre-Internet, and almost pre-PC. Microsoft was selling MS/DOS (probably 2.2) and a good computer had one floppy- disk and a 10Mb hard-disk.
Our sales department had made some foolish compromises to win the contract, one being free training. Training is one area that companies like ours actually made money in, and it had been given away. We needed a smooth transition to the new equipment.
A Big Problem
Then the Union got involved. The keyboards for the new terminals where too stiff. Staff would get RSI (repetitive strain injury) from using the new, stiff keyboards. The keyboards had to be modified.
The keyboards were a new type, much like the typical computer keyboard today. They had extra dedicated function keys, but were similar in design to the keyboard you probably have in front of you now. Key pressure was controlled by a spring under every key. changing the key pressure required replacing the springs in 22,000 workstations, 2.64 million springs.
The company was fighting for it’s life. The government department wanted its terminals installed, and the Union (like most Unions) would not be moved. We had a meeting of all parties to try and resolve the issue.
The Union representatives sat and typed. Sorry, too hard on the hands, we need a solution. The three parties went to and fro for an hour with no solution. We were looking at the biggest financial disaster in the company’s history.
Then the service technician, who was on hand to make sure there where no problems with the terminal during the meeting stepped up and offered to provide a solution.
He sat and made a couple of changes and the stepped back saying “that should do it, but I can go a bit further”. The Union rep sat and typed. Then she called in her number two, who also sat and typed for a minute or two. They agreed it needed a little more work. The technician went back to the terminal, unruffled, and made another change.
This time the Union reps where unanimous, the changes where acceptable. Crisis averted. We left the meeting relieved but puzzled. What had our tech. done?
A lateral Solution
He admitted that he had simply lowered the volume of the click that was produced through the terminal speaker to make up for the lack of a physical click by these new keyboards. It had made no difference to the feel of the keyboard, the effect was purely psychological. Nonetheless, the workstations went into service and lived a long life.
A sudden piece of lateral thinking had changed a potential disaster into a victory. And that thinking had not come from the sales department or management, it had come from a field technician with an idea.