Tuesday, May 22 , 2018, 10:56 am | Partly Cloudy 63º


Paul Burri: Putting a Bright Idea to Work

Company manager brainstorms a creative way to convince his boss

My friend, Gus, was always great about coming up with creative solutions to problems.

At one time he was the engineering manager of a company that manufactured equipment for the telecommunications industry. Gus had 12 engineers under him whose job was to design and engineer various components that the company would subsequently produce and sell. But one time he found himself with a particularly knotty engineering problem.

Now for those of you who may not know, engineers in general are linear thinkers. “If we attach a 6- to 12-inch tooth bevel gear to the drive shaft and engage it with a 30- to 48-inch tooth face gear driving the secondary shaft to the differential, we’ll achieve a four times power increase and ... .” Well, you get the idea. Much of this kind of thinking is mental or while doodling ideas on paper or on a computer screen. Often an engineer will sit staring into space seemingly doing nothing while his mental “machinery” is working at full speed.

On the other hand, the president of Gus’ company was a high-powered salesman-type of individual, and he was the person to whom Gus reported.

Sales-oriented people think entirely differently than engineers. They are more global in their thinking. “If we can paint these units with some ‘hot’ colors, we’ll be able to motivate our customers and sell more units.” Sales people just don’t understand engineers (and vice versa).

So every time Mr. President walked through the engineering department, all he would see was a bunch of engineers sitting in their individual offices apparently doing nothing except daydreaming. And, of course, he would usually complain to Gus about it. Gus would try to explain to him that his people really were working, but the guy never seemed to get it. Then Gus got a bright idea.

I’m sure you’ve seen the cartoon character that is shown having a bright idea and a light bulb lights up over his head. Gus went out and bought a bunch of construction helmets, one for each of his engineers. Then he fitted the top of each helmet with a battery-operated blinking light bulb and told his engineers that he’d tell them when to put them on.

The next time Gus got the word that Mr. President was about to make another of his irregular visits to the Engineering Department, he quickly alerted all of his engineers to put on their helmets. With the lights on and blinking, it was obvious they were all hard at work.

Mr. President? He never again complained that the engineers weren’t working.

— Paul Burri is an entrepreneur, inventor, columnist, engineer and iconoclast. He is not in the advertising business, but he is a small-business counselor with the Santa Barbara chapter of Counselors to America’s Small Business-SCORE. The opinions and comments in this column are his alone and do not represent the opinions or policies of any outside organization. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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