Friday, January 13, 2006

A Lesson at Harvard

I hope I haven’t told this story before, but, heck, my memory or lack of same is one of my weak points. There was a large group of us attending a summer course at the Harvard Business School on managing Research and Development. There were 60 or 70 of us from all across the country and overseas residing in a dormitory building. The building was on a corner where a local road crossed a bridge over a sunken highway. A characteristic of the course we were taking was the tremendous load of homework we had each evening. The evening when this story took place was “hotter than the hammers of hell” This was before air conditioning was popular and we were all studying in our skivvies with windows wide open and fans spinning at max velocity.

Suddenly, there was the sound of a tremendous explosion! It echoed on and on, mixed with terrifying after-sounds. My first thought was on an atomic bomb and my family. In an instant, everyone was out of their rooms and asking what had happened. Someone ran to the edge of the sunken highway and yelled that there was a horrendous accident. That got our attention and this mob of self anointed Research Directors climbed down to the highway below. (I have no memory of how we did that.) Every one of the 60 or 70 of us sought to take charge. We saw that a truck had found its way on to the “cars only” highway. At high speed it had stripped its top off trying to go under the three feet too-low bridge. Cars following and cars going in the opposite direction were flattening their tires on the wrinkled sheet metal. Out of control, they were crashing into each other and the sides of the depressed highway. Some of we pseudo-executives ran back in both directions to stop on coming traffic. Others sought out the injured and performed first aid, others were tossing debris to the sides of the road.

Believe it or not some order came out of the bedlam. Things quieted down and were well under control when a single voice cried out, “Who called the police?” “Did anyone call the police?” OOOPS! In an instant realization struck and five or six ran for the dorm phone. They must have given a livid report because in no time an army of police and ambulances were there. And that is when the students got a real, live lesson in management and organization! Those officers were great! They were all fully dressed and each performed his function efficiently without panic or fuss. Soon the students filed back to the dorm in their skivvies to mull over the fact that while our performance wasn't that bad for amatuers, we had each forgotten the obvious first, simple step: Call in the professionals. Lesson learned.

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