It Doesn't Have To Make Sense

Ken Dunckel
Safe & Vault Service in SF Bay Area and Northern California

Note: Don't know what happened, this one was already posted and got taken down by mistake. Here it is again, for what it's worth.

This one is purely anecdotal, no helpful how-to or anything like that in here, and I suppose you could sum it up with "Much Ado About Nothing." Recently I did what has so far been the dumbest job of the year for me. Two years ago I installed a high security combination lock on a room door for a well-known Bay Area corporation.

Did I already say “well-known?” Their CEO is among the richest people on the planet,
and the company’s name is legend. All of which might lead one to conclude there
are no dummies in their upper echelons. But wait, there’s more . . .
Two years earlier my job was to remove an identical existing lock and install a replacement they supplied. The lock in question is a high security, high tech, and high-priced lock that has to go on doors to “security rooms” (for lack of a better term here). I won’t put you to sleep with deeper
explanations, but this is the kind of thing used by military, government agencies, and companies with Department of Defense contracts.
Nobody willingly opts to install and use one, because it’s costly, and it doesn’t allow instant access to the room it secures. Users have to stop and dial a combination. Worse, they have to dial it correctly, which in turn means remembering the numbers and (horrors!) paying attention to what they’re doing.

It seemed there had been complaints about the way it worked. I didn’t pay much attention to the complaint description then, because it wasn’t me who originally installed the original misbehaving lock. Hey, whatever . . . Ours not to question why; Mr. Customer s always right, and all that good stuff.
On last week’s job, however, I paid closer attention, because according to the customer the lock I’d installed was now misbehaving. The job order on this most recent visit was to remove the lock I’d installed, and then reinstall the refurbished lock. The original lock had been returned to its maker, checked out, and returned with a clean bill of health.
In order to do that job I needed the existing combination for disassembly. When I asked for the numbers, my escort made an uncomfortable face, then said, “I can’t give out the numbers.”

This is typical thinking about security regulations (The Rules). The first rule about The Rules is that The Rules automatically supersede logic. The Rules unequivocally state that nobody but the Authorized Users be given the combination. No ifs, ands buts or maybes; No Infidels shall know the combo, for any reason, even if we have to do any repairs or service. It’s not covered by The Rules, so it’s not happening.

This blind and inflexible adherence to The Rules is an ongoing hindrance when the kind of work I do needs doing. But Jesus, why can’t seemingly intelligent people think their way around the stupid stuff? There are times when common sense should prevail.

I took pity on him and gave him the solution: “I understand what you’re saying, but I need a combination to work with, or I can’t work. So now you have three choices.
One: Give me the existing combination and let me work, then change it after my work is done.
Two: Don't tell me the existing numbers. Change them now to the factory setting (50-25-50), and let me use that while I’m here. After I say I’m done change the numbers back to whatever you want. Three: Do neither, and just show me to the door, because without numbers I can’t do anything.”

Based on the problem solving skills I routinely encounter, it’s hard to believe one of the basic requirements for getting a job like his at a company like that one is a college degree. No wonder so many hours of what might otherwise be productive time get squandered in meetings. Meetings seem
more about groups of supposedly responsible and intelligent people getting together for hours on end to spread responsibility for any decision.

I knew why he didn’t want to be forced to choose 1, 2, or 3. First, this wasn’t a meeting, so he would have to make a decision, and take ownership of it. Sole ownership of any decision and its results is anathema to the corporate mind. Having a meeting about what to do would help spread blame for
any bad results that occurred.

If he chose 1 or 2, he would be responsible for the physical act of setting a combination, because that was required after I touched the lock (The Rules again). Choosing Option 3 would forestall any of the bad things that could happen if he chose 1 or 2, but then he wouldn’t be fulfilling his assignment, which was to have me do the lock installation. So that wasn’t going to fly either. Jesus/God, how do
companies like his get to be worth gazillion$?

I was half hoping he’d choose 3, but he reluctantly chose Number 2, and set the lock to 50-25-50. The first thing I did was test it on that setting. The dial turned as smoothly as I could have wanted, and the lock worked flawlessly. I couldn’t help asking, “what is it about the way this one works that makes anyone think it needs to be replaced?”

The answer was that it worked too easily. Double take here . . . When I asked what he meant by that, he answered that the lock’s main user didn’t like the way it was so easy to dial past the desired
settings. I observed that it sounded like the complainer was an executive who was perennially in a hurry and didn’t like being slowed down by silly procedures that required not only hand-eye coordination but also paying attention to some mundane task. My escort got an uncomfortable look, then said that my assessment was a pretty good one.

I said, “This problem could be solved by somebody just telling the user that he has to slow down and pay attention when he dials.”

Wrong answer. Apparently the complainer was the type of person who was not only impatient, he was also so God-like to his employees that no one dared tell him anything he didn’t want to hear because it might cost the teller his job. People like that suck. My escort said his boss wanted the lock
to dial more like a nearly-identical lock of the same make that was installed on a safe in the adjacent room. That one, he said, had enough turning resistance that the complaining user was forced to dial slower, which in turn made it more likely that he would dial correctly on the first try. I went to that unit and gave the dial a few turns. It did have more resistance. In fact, more than I’d have wanted to feel on something I installed. I asked, “How long has this one been in place?” “Eight years” was
the answer I heard. And when I asked “when was it serviced last?” he said, “to my knowledge never.” Perfect.

Back to the “misbehaving” lock. I said, “This lock works fine. In fact, it works better than the lock on the file in the other room. If you want me to, I’ll remove it and replace it with the one you had checked and reconditioned. However, if I do a good job and everything comes out right, chances are good that the replacement will work as well or better than this one. No guarantees on how hard or easily it will turn, but the object when installing one of these is that it turn easily. Tell me what you want and I’ll do it."

He asked me to go ahead and install the reconditioned lock.

When I was done, the replacement also turned about as easily as the one I’d removed. I had him try it, but he thought he noticed that it was slightly stiffer to turn. It really wasn’t, but I think it was the
psychological effect of having ordered the work and having sat and watched it get done, that the just-installed lock must be different. At least he could now swear on a stack of Bibles he’d carried out his assignment to the letter.

I hoped the High Muckety-Muck liked it. Wrote an invoice for the travel and labor and left.
Like I said, my dumbest job so far this year. I’m sure there's a dumber one in my future, but it’s going to have to top this one.


Note to readers: Please feel free to comment and post your thoughts about this and any of my posts. Don't worry, I'm pretty thick-skinned. Thanks.


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