Things Left Unsaid

Pop Quiz

You show up at an accident scene and see two patients. One is screaming in pain about a broken arm. The other is propped up against the wall seemingly fine, not saying a word. Which one do you check out first?

Many will answer, “the one screaming in pain about the broken arm, the other person is fine.” The experienced responder will most likely check out the 2nd person. Why? Because they’re NOT saying a word.

Here’s the thing. You know the 1st person has a pulse and an airway. They’re breathing just fine. Perhaps a bit too fine. A broken arm, by itself isn’t going to kill them.  But what about that 2nd person? Are they breathing? You don’t know. Perhaps they’re not saying a word because they’ve stopped breathing.  If you take the time to splint the broken arm and then get to the 2nd person, they may have died. So, check out the 2nd patient first, then determine your course of action.

We’re Safe! Really, we are. Trust us, because we keep repeating it!

I saw this because in problem solving, I often find what’s NOT said is often far more important than what is said.  Several years ago my son received a letter saying he had been nominated for a program that took children to other countries on basically extended field trips. It actually sounded really interesting. We went to the presentation. I sat through it thinking, “this is really cool.” But, two things struck me. First, they kept emphasizing how safe it was. At first pass, and the first time they mentioned it, I wasn’t bothered. I mean as a parent, you want to know your kid is going to be safe if you put them in the hands of strangers for an extended period of time. But, they kept emphasizing it. It got to the point that all three of us (my wife, my son and I) started to wonder, “why the hell are the dwelling on this point?”

The other thing that was bothersome was once we got out of the lecture hall and tried to speak to some of the individuals, we asked them “How did our son get nominated?” “Oh it must have been a teacher at his school.” Which sounded great until we thought about it and thought it strange that no teacher had mentioned this to us or our son.

So, when we got home, we did some digging and found out there had been several incidents of accidents happening to students while overseas with this group. On one hand, nothing struck me as too statistically terrible, but the reports of the handling and the fact that we were only reading about the ones reported made me even more paranoid about how unsafe the program really was. I mean why emphasize safety unless you really feel like you have to?

The other detail we uncovered was most parents had the same experience about “your child has been nominated” without any word of by whom. The most troubling was at least one or two parents who chimed in who said that their child had been killed in an accident or otherwise died after their name had appeared in the newspaper for being on the honor roll. i.e. a fact that a teacher who might be in a position to nominate the said child would be well aware of. As far as we and other parents could determine, the “nomination” process was solely a matter of the group scanning the newspapers for honor roll students and the like.

So, relating this back to IT

As a person who loves troubleshooting, one of the things I’ve learned is NOT to trust what the user initially reports to me. “I haven’t changed a thing and this stopped working!”  That generally means, they changed something. 🙂

I once had a client, that had a problem that took at least two winters to diagnose. Why so long you might ask? Because the problem only happened in the winter. The first year it was complaints of “ever since you networked our computers, they reboot without warning.” Now, I had networked them several months previously and they only started to report the problem come the late fall/early winter. I tried several things, but nothing really fixed the problem. I had an idea of what it was, but they wouldn’t listen.  So, among other things, I ended up rewiring their entire network (sounds like a lot of work, but it was a total of 4-5 computers and I moved from thinwire Ethernet to 10baseT (I did say this was a long time ago, right?)

Eventually I sort of gave up. Until the next winter rolled around and they started to call again. Again, I told them what I thought the problem was. Again, they dismissed it.  I’m not sure what finally convinced them, but they finally took me up on my suggestion and put in a humidifier and had their office carpet treated with anti-static spray.  Yes, despite all their instance that “I was just sitting there typing and it rebooted” what was really happening and they weren’t saying was, “I just walked from one office to the other, across the carpet, in the drier than normal air and as soon as I touched my computer it rebooted.”  It was the static build-up all the time.

So this week’s moral of the story: Look beyond what’s being said and pay attention to what’s NOT being said. It might shock you.


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