Fable Friday: I’m a safe bet, Part II

[Today’s post will make sense only if you read last week’s Part One. Click the link above in blue and have a look if you missed it.]

When I arrived, the Diebold man was trying various combinations of the four numbers he had set, and I could see at once he could not open the vault that way, as he had nothing written down.  So let me give you the problem.  You are given four different numbers and told they are the combination to a safe but you don’t know in what order. What would you do?

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedHere’s the solution I came up with.  Since the total number of combinations of those numbers must total 24 (remember no repeats), the best way to open the safe is to write down all the combinations, and as you try each one, you cross it off your list!

Let me illustrate.  Suppose the four numbers were simply 1, 2, 3 and 4.  Your list would look like this:


1234 2134 3124 4123
1243 2143 3142 4132
1324 2341 3214 4213
1342 2314 3241 4231
1432 2413 3412 4312
1423 2431 3421 4321

So I sat down at a desk and wrote down all the possible sequences on a pad of paper, then took it over to the vault and set to work. I figured it would take me an hour to open it if the numbers were right.  In fact it opened much sooner than that, and I became the hero of the bank, having saved them tens of thousands of dollars.

The bank rewarded my wife and me with a three-day weekend at a luxury hotel for this feat, and we got to see Jay and the Americans.  Remember this was back in the early 70’s.  (Cara mia, why, must we say good-bye…”)

When I returned to work, the buzz continued and I got frequent requests to open safes, unlock doors and perform other Houdini-like tasks, but I never succeeded at any of them.  In fact, I was never very good at anything, just lucky on two occasions, and those two occasions created an impression about me within the company that I kept for my entire career there, about ten years.

There’s a moral to this true story.  Have you ever worked with people who succeeded, were promoted, or simply continued to be paid by your company based mostly on the impressions of competency they created?  I have, and I bet you have too.  “How does this guy get away with it?” you ask yourself.

So in my next post, I’m going to give you trainers a workshop tip for management training programs.  You’ll learn how to help your participants see beyond impressions, and help them with techniques to identify performance issues and coach more effectively.

But for the next couple of weeks, I’m going to give you a break from all this thinking about number combinations, coaching techniques and business issues. I want you to do what I plan to do, spend time with family and friends, give thanks that you have an opportunity to contribute, and do something kind for others.  I’ll rejoin you in January.

Happy holidays friends.  And remember to…

Think Like Your Customer

Fable Friday: How to become a safe bet? Get lucky!

Everything I ever succeeded at in life was due to good luck. Branch Rickey once said about a ballplayer making a lucky play, “luck is the residue of design,” but I believe it’s better to be lucky than good.

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedIn my first year of banking I was promoted to Operations Manager at our big mid-city flagship branch. I got this job for two reasons.  First, I reported to the smartest Operations Manager in the bank, a guy named Buddy M. and I learned a lot from him.  Second, Buddy ended up getting fired for doing the stupidest thing imaginable, so they gave me the job. Thinking back on it, you don’t see too many top bankers named Buddy.  Maybe he was unlucky to have that name.

So here’s what happened.  Christmas fell on a Monday that year and we were closing the bank Friday night and setting the timer on the vault.  On a normal weekend we would set it for about 62 hours, winding all three of the Diebold clocks on the inner door.  But for a three-day weekend we needed another 24 hours, so Buddy wound the clocks for 96.  Whoops!  Turns out Buddy didn’t do the math right, but he realized his error before closing the door.

“Here’s a trick I learned,” he told me.  “I’ll wedge this small piece of pencil into the clock mechanism, which will keep the clocks disabled so we can open the doors any time.”  And then he shut the door and twirled the big wheel.

Then to test it, he tried to reopen it and that’s when he realized his mistake, that he had wedged the piece of pencil the wrong way, keeping the clocks from releasing the locking mechanism and permanently locking the vault.  It took two days for Diebold to cut a hole in the vault to open it from inside, which was not a pleasant way for us to spend the Christmas weekend, taking turns manning the empty branch while Diebold worked.

But now I was the Operations Manager and Buddy was no more.  Lucky me, not so lucky Buddy.

One day the head teller came to me to say that the note teller had gone on vacation and no one could get into her cash vault as she was the only one with the combination and no one knew where she was. So while everyone stood around wondering how we would wait on loan customers for payments and renewals, I went upstairs to HR and got the birthdates of the note teller, her husband and her son.

And with that, I quickly opened her cash vault and we were in business.  So this episode, along with the known fact that I had once worked for Buddy M., began an unintended reputation for me that I knew how to open a vault, crack a safe or do other mysterious tricks, all of which had no basis in reality.

Later that same year, I got a call from the Regional Exec.  She said that Diebold had gone to our busiest mall branch and changed the combination to the main vault, but couldn’t get it open again.  They wanted me to go over there and give it a try.

When I got there the Diebold guy was still trying to open it but with no success. He told me he knew the four numbers he had set, but for some reason didn’t remember their sequence.

I told him I could open it and he skeptically handed me the numbers.  And next Fable Friday I’ll tell you how I did it and became one lucky banker.  Meanwhile…

Think Like Your Customer