The Failing Desklamp and the Total Blackout

I had packed all my bags (there weren’t that many, really) and I took the last check of the room. It was still dark outside. If I hadn’t so keen to get as soon as possible at the airport, I wouldn’t have waken up so early.

Satisfied that I didn’t miss anything, I reached to turned off the table lamp. As I pushed on the button, suddenly there was a flash of white light from the bulb, and the all the lights in the room went dark. As I recovered from the slight shock, I realized that the burnt bulb must have had tripped a fuse.

I considered for a moment whether I should report the incident to the front desk. I was checking out anyway, and there wouldn’t be much harm if I just walked out of the room. I decided to call the hotel staff.

Luckily, I had left the curtains open, so I had some faint light from the window that guided me to the phone. “Hello, the lightbulb in the desk lamp just blew off, and I think it tripped a fuse in the room. Could you send someone up to fix it, please?” I told the front desk staff. He promised an engineering staff would come to take care of the problem.

A few minutes later, there was a knock on my door. The technician quickly worked, and in a short minutes, the lights were back on.

While sitting in the dark waiting for the engineer, a thought crossed my mind. I knew there was something wrong with the desk lamp as soon as I checked in. After dropping my bag, the bellboy proceeded to show me how to turn on all lights in the room. When he clicked the desk lamp button, it stayed off. “The bulb needs changing, huh?” I pointed out. Of course, changing light bulbs was not in the bellboy’s job description. And apparently, neither was the task to report the problem to the proper authority. He simply excused himself and left.

The lighting setup in the room was dim, and missing a desk lamp reduced the brightness quite significantly. Anticipating the possibility of having to work on the desk later, and being left on my own to take care of the desk lamp, I began to tinker with it. I tried to loose the light bulb a bit, and voila! The desk lamp was on!

The next night, it was off again. I called housekeeping to send an engineer up. After putting down the phone, again I tried to tinker with the desk lamp, and behold! It was on again! I quickly cancelled the engineer, and was happy for the night. Until the fateful early morning when the bulb blew.

Doesn’t something like this often happen in an organization? Somebody noticed something that was wrong. He reported the problem through the proper channel, but no action was taken. So he tried to work the problem out himself, but it did not solve the problem at the roots. It keeps happening again and again, until the problem becomes too big and shut down the entire system in the organization.

This is the importance of having an open communication channel in the organization. And on top of that, it must be equipped with sufficiently authorized personnel who can quickly take action once a problem arises. If the personnel is not able to solve it, he or she must have a direct channel to a higher authority who can, and who is quick to make a decision. Otherwise, the problem will stay hidden until it gets to big and brings down the entire organization.

Learning from the colossal failures of giants like Barings and Enron, ethics play an important role when dealing with problems. When there is no ethics, then whatever chain of command or channel of communication in place will not work.

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