photo credit: minxlabs @ flickr It took him twenty years of playing corporate politics and climbing his way up, but Scott had finally made it to the top. Not the tippy-top, but close. He was the Director of Applications Management at an international, ten-thousand employee, forty-billion dollar company and was responsible for running a department of a few hundred people.

Long gone were the days of doing anything technical or even supervisory. Instead, Scott focused on positioning, synergy, mindshare, projection, and everything else you’d expect to see in Buzzword Bingo. He also played an important role in the “$100 million initiative to streamline and centralize global processes across key, strategic applications.” Or, in other words, build and/or buy a bunch of enterprise software to help the company run better.

One of the first steps for the big technology initiative was the Executive Summit. It was a three-day meeting in Atlanta that brought together key leaders from the company’s numerous business units throughout the globe. The fourteen attendees were handpicked for not only their extensive business knowledge and expertise, but for their technological acumen and experience in implementation similar initiatives within their own units. It was nothing short of the best of the-best-of-the-best.

The First Day

The Executive Summit was held in a mid-sized meeting run stocked full of coffee and pastries. When the clock struck eight o’clock on Monday morning, the meeting had officially begun, and that meant only one thing. It was time for the PowerPoint slides.

“Sorry gentlemen,” one of the executives said while fiddling with a laptop, “I’m having some technical difficulties hooking this up to the projector.” He was going around the table and plugging in one Ethernet cable after another.

“Maybe try plugging it directly to the overhead,” someone else mentioned, pointing to the projector mounted on the ceiling.

After realizing he didn’t have the proper cable, the other executives fished through their bags to find one that would connect the two devices. But when he reached up to plug in the computer, he discovered another problem: the cable wasn’t long enough to go from the table to the ceiling.

“We could try to raise the laptop on a box or something,” another executive suggested, but quickly retracted after realizing that the only prop tall enough was a chair. “Actually, let’s just call up the electrician.”

Thirty minutes later, the electrician arrived and assessed the problem. He then picked up the laptop, carried it the front of the room, and placed it on the podium next to the screen. The projector immediately came to life when he plugged it in.

Later That Day

After returning from lunch, it was time for another round of PowerPoint slides. Prior to leaving, the presenter had already set-up his laptop on the podium so that they could dive right in. Of course, that didn’t quite happen.

“I think the projector fell asleep,” he said, “can someone reach up and turn it off and on?”

Although the projector projected its “boot” screen on the board, it went black again. The laptop’s signal was nowhere to be seen.

“You need to press FN+F4,” someone suggested. The presenter audibly slammed the keys.

“Dammit,” he huffed, “I thought it was FN+F5, or maybe CTRL-F5?” He pounded several different permutations of keys and offered quite a few colorful words, but nothing seemed to do the trick. It was time once again to summon the electrician.

Within a few minutes, the electrician arrived and assessed the problem. He picked up the video cable and plugged it into the back of the laptop. And once again, the projector returned to life.

Locked In

As they were leaving up for the day, one of the executives noticed something rather troubling. “We seem to have a problem,” one of the executives said. “My visitor badge won’t activate the elevator.”

Not wanting to activate the stairway alarm or, for that matter, walk down thirty flights of stairs, the executives returned to the conference room and called up the building superintendant.

“I thought you guys left,” the super said, confused. “I was gonna yell at you for not turning in your visitor badges. They were deactivated for security reason, you know? But I called up every single meeting room to try to find you guy.”

“We’ve been in here all afternoon,” one of the executives replied, “the phone must be broken.”

“Err,” the super paused, “you’re talking to me from it now, right?”

The executive sheepishly acknowledged that fact, but then concluded that it must be the ringer that’s broken. He insisted the superintendant call them back and, indeed, the phone didn’t ring. Either way, no one wanted to work out what the problem was at that hour, so they deferred the solution to the next day.

Thirty minutes into the following morning, the phone still hadn’t been fixed. Wary of being locked in and not having the superintendant respond, they called back the electrician.

Later that morning, the electrician arrived and assessed the problem. He looked at the phone, slid the “ringer volume” dial up, and verified that the ringer still worked.

The Darkness

The following day, after the morning presentation ended, someone made a poignant observation: the meeting room was uncharacteristically dark. Worse still, when he walked to the switch and flipped it a few times, the lights still wouldn’t come on.

“Let me try,” one of the executives said. He walked to the wall and flipped the switch a few times himself. He then tweaked the air conditioning switches and flipped the socket switches. Still, nothing.

“No, I don’t think it works like that,” another executive said. He then proceeded to flip the exact same switches in a slightly different order. To his surprise, it didn’t help.

“Wait, wait,” yet another executive interrupted. With everyone watching, he climbed onto the table and looked closely at the lights. “Yes, see, these aren’t instant-on lights; the self-starter has to heat up, and that could take ten minutes.”

After fifteen minutes of darkness, the executives did the one thing they knew would work: they called the electrician.

Just before lunch, the electrician arrived and assessed the problem. He walked over to the light switches, flipped them to the “on” position, and then slid the dimmer button to full. The lights came on instantly.


Despite all the technical difficulties, the Executive Summit went well. Among other things, it answered the Big Question: twelve executives are definitely not enough to change a light bulb.

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