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April 15, 2024

The Magic Fans

By Michael G. Mears

The lot of us maintenance guys, five in all plus Mr. Jim Hammond, were sitting around the table at the warehouse one day. It was stifling and we were all sweating because, though the warehouse was converted office space, the air conditioning had been off for years and the circulating fan did nothing to alleviate the condition.

The warehouse was mostly full of office furniture resting between applications and it suddenly occurred to Jim that it might be harmed by the heat. "We can't let Terry think that we're letting the furniture delaminate." ("Terry" was Terry Reverb, seldom seen Department Head , denizen of the Home Office in Capital City, 200 miles away.)

"We need to get some floor fans," he concluded.

I had not yet learned the utter futility of trying to tell him anything, so I commented that blowing hot air on hot furniture would not cool it since furniture, unlike living things, does not sweat. "What we need," I said, "is some ceiling fans to get the air moving when we're here working."

He paused politely as I spoke, then continued, "So you guys go to Granger's and get two big floor fans and bring them back here."

I knew when I'd been intentionally ignored, so I went out and bought the fans, brought them back and assembled them. Jim was gone by then so we suffered from a lack of his genius as we tried to decide how to set these fans up for maximum effect -- knowing they'd have no effect in any case. We aimed them at the racks of furniture and turned them on. Then we left.

The next day, we all had notes left for us telling us not to leave the fans running as that was a "fire hazard!"

We attempted to decipher this. We couldn't have ceiling fans to keep the air circulating for our comfort, however, we must have floor fans to cool the furniture though we were not allowed to turn them on.

We had several guesses as to what purpose these fans were intended to serve:

Perhaps, we conjectured, should the big boss from Richmond come to the warehouse unaccompanied, seeing the fans in place would indicate to him that we were doing our best to preserve the integrity of the furniture even though said fans were not running -- hoping, we assumed, that he would be unaware that they'd be useless even if they were running. Or, perhaps, furniture only "delaminated" when there were people present to monitor the running fans for their fire hazardness.

Then it was always possible, we guessed, that the mere presence of the fans, running or not, would cool the furniture below the delamination point through some yet-to-be-determined natural or unnatural phenomenon.

We got a lot of mileage out of this story for some few years. The laughter was bitter yet satisfying.

But we all knew well what the truth of the situation was. Once Jim had made up his mind, all reason was of no use. He had not opened a discussion for the purpose of learning anything from the Physical Sciences. He had given an order which was to be obeyed.

As I see it, there are two basic philosophies of management. Either you hire competent people to do jobs for which they are qualified and then allow them to use their skills, or you hire fools to make you look smart.

A third, hybrid possibility is that you hire competent people -- then realize that, left to their own devices, they make you look like a fool. In this case, you either fire them, indicating that you'd made a mistake in hiring them in the first place, or you disagree with everything they say in order to display your own intellectual superiority.

The predominant repercussion of the latter attitude is the inevitable reaction of your staff to, whenever possible, completely ignore you and, as a point of honor, defy you at every turn.

Guess which course my ten-year tenure took?

Article © Michael G. Mears. All rights reserved.
Published on 2007-05-21
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