Organization Shaman

When I was a Chemical Engineering Coop student at Corning Glass Works, I was assigned to a project in Medford Massachusetts.  The problem:  micron-sized holes etched into teeny tiny beads were not uniform.  These beads hold substrate used to test blood for disease.  Don't sweat, I'm not going to talk about the science of Radio-Immuno Assays (RIA).

There was a man named Blackie.

I needed to test samples of glass pellets in a HUGE oven, an industrial sized oven.  The inside of the oven is probably the volume of your kitchen.  Yea, that's one BIG oven!  The only non-production oven that size was "on the hill" in our Research & Development Center.  The only way access that oven was to review your plans with…Blackie.

Blackie had a reputation.  He had been in the industry for over 20 years….or was it 200 years?  I can't remember.  Anyway, the guy was ancient to this 21 year-old.  If you didn't have your experiment well-planned, he chewed you up (painfully) and spit you out (scornfully).  He wasn't going to let just anyone take up time in HIS oven.

I prepared.  Checked and re-checked the numbers of my fractional factorial experiment.  Ran my plan past a few engineers.  The day came.  For some reason, none of the engineers could go with me.  Fishy.

I drive to the R& D facility.  Head down the long hallway and into his office.  It was a modern-day alchemist's laboratory.  There he was, sitting in his chair behind a massive desk.  Bookshelves everywhere.  Papers strewn ALL over the place.  He eyed me up and down, unimpressed. 

I opened up my documents and begin reviewing them with him.  The ice melted and we had a FABULOUS session!  He warned me of spots in the corners of the oven which heated unevenly so I should avoid using those.  He made some tweaks to the experiment and I was READY!  The experiment was a HOT success!  (get it, HOT success?  oven)?

So, what's the point? 

Every organization has their Blackies.  These are men and women who have "dirt under their fingernails."  They've done the research.  They've experienced A LOT.  They are DEEP.  If you want to approach them, you better have your act together.  They have no time for the trivial, for the people who haven't done their homework.  They answer HARD questions.  They are your last resort.  They make you nervous, even intimidated, because they know SO MUCH in comparison to you.  They are not mean, but they are quite aware their time is extremely precious because their sole job is to solve the unsolvable. 

I wonder.  In your work world, have you known a Blackie?  That person that stretches you beyond your comfort zone?

Even better, are you ASPIRING to be a Blackie in your field of expertise?  Why not?  It only takes a couple decades!

Learn Deeply, my friend!


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