So, How Many Will It Take???
by Lyle R. Hill
She had a pleasant voice and I really wasn’t all that busy, so instead
of cutting her short, I listened to her entire introduction and explanation
as to why she had called.
“Mr. Hill,” she began, “my name is Susan and I am calling on behalf of
the Minnesota Institute of Political Science. If you could spare just
a few minutes of your valuable time, I would like to talk with you to
get your opinions for a research project I am currently developing for
a very important doctoral thesis program.”
Well, I was instantly impressed. I mean here I was all the way down in
Chicago, Ill., and a doctoral thesis research person was calling me to
ask for my help. And not just any doctoral research person either, but
one from Minnesota. People from Minnesota are always so sophisticated,
so calm, so serious. How could I say no?
“I would be honored, Susan,” I replied.
“Thank you, Mr. Hill. Now here’s the way this will work … you have to
answer the questions I am about to ask with the first coherent thought
that comes to mind. Further, you cannot ask me any questions or request
any type of an explanation about any of the questions I ask. Do you understand?”
“Yes, I do,” I answered, hoping that I would be up to the challenge of
handling difficult doctoral research project questions. My hands were
already starting to sweat and my face felt flushed. My pulse was picking
up speed and my left foot began to twitch.
“Okay,” she continued. “The first question is as follows. How many governors
does it take to change a light bulb?”
“What did you say? Could you please repeat that?” I asked, thinking she
had said something about governors and light bulbs.
“Well, Mr. Hill, as I stated very clearly before, I am not supposed to
repeat any question twice but you are from Chicago so I will make this
one exception … but only this one time. So here it is again and please
listen closely. How many governors does it take to change a light bulb?”
To my complete surprise, I had heard the question correctly the first
time. But could this be a serious doctoral thesis type of a question?
From those always serious but ever polite people in Minnesota?
“Susan, is this a real question or some kind of a joke?” I asked.
“Mr. Hill … please … you are not supposed to be asking me any questions,”
she replied with a fair amount of agitation in her voice. “I ask the questions
and you answer them. Besides, I am from Minnesota and we never joke around
or exhibit anything even remotely resembling a sense of humor.”
Now I have known a lot of people from Minnesota and, while a couple of
them seemed to possess what might be described as a sense of humor, they
are for the most part a very serious bunch so I came to the quick conclusion
that I had better get serious, too. So I summoned up my most professional
voice and replied, “Is the governor in question a Republican or a Democrat?”
“Mr. Hill,” she snapped, “I have now told you three times that you are
not allowed to ask me any questions! And besides, what difference does
it make if they are Republican or Democrat?”
“It makes a great deal of difference, Susan. If the governor is a Democrat
he might change the light bulb but not until he has blamed the Republicans
for letting it burn out in the first place. He will then seek a federal
grant to pay for the new bulb and, if he doesn’t get the grant, he’ll
push for a tax increase to pay for the bulb while claiming that the money
is going to be used for education. If it’s a Republican governor, he will
immediately put in a call to a couple of powerful fund raising lobbyists
to consult with him on the problem of the burned-out bulb with hopes of
steering the work toward one of his large corporate donors. So you see,
it does make a difference.”
“Okay … okay, Mr. Hill. It’s a Republican governor, now please, before
you drive me right out of my mind, answer the question!”
Kinda edgy I thought. Maybe she’s not really from Minnesota. Maybe she
moved there from Michigan just to do the doctoral research thing. People
from Michigan are a little edgier than those from Minnesota. Or maybe
she knows that two of Illinois’ last three governors currently are changing
light bulbs in federal prisons.
“Is it an election year?” I asked.
“WHO CARES?” she shouted into the phone.
“I care,” I replied in my calm Illinois voice.
“YES … YES, it’s an election year … although it can’t possibly make any
difference and I am supposed to be asking the questions, not you!” she
“You’re not really from Minnesota, and this is not a real doctoral research
project, is it, Susan?”
“NO. I am originally from New Jersey and I am being paid by a political
action group to do these surveys and if I could get my hands around your
neck, I would ring it until you turned purple, Mr. Hill, so for the love
of all that is sacred to the political process in this country, please
answer the question!!!”
I knew it. There was no way Susan was from Minnesota, or even Michigan
for that matter. But I felt kinda sorry for her. After all, she was just
trying to make a buck and maybe I had been too hard on her.
“And, Susan, could you tell me please how long the Republican governor,
who is now in an election year, has actually been in office?”
Well, we apparently got disconnected and she couldn’t find my number to
call back. Too bad, I only had a couple of more questions. Oh well!
Within a week or so I had pretty much forgotten all about Susan and the
unusual call that I had gotten, but then one day I found myself listening
to a radio talk show wherein a recent productivity study had been performed
on Chicago city employees and, in a joking way, the announcer said that
maybe the question should be asked … “how many City of Chicago municipal
workers does it take to change a light bulb?” So I started to think that
maybe there was more to this whole light bulb-changing thing than I had
originally thought. So, after a few minutes of pondering, I decided to
do my own doctoral research project … and if you think about it, who would
be better at doctoring up a research project than me? So for a period
of exactly 48 hours, I asked each and every person who called me this
very simple but highly effective question … “how many people of your type
and profession would it take to change a burned-out light bulb?” Some
of those responses are as follows:
Banker: Sorry, if you really need a light bulb, we are not interested.
However, if you don’t need a bulb, then we’re your guy!
Teamster truck driver: We only deliver ’em, we don’t change ’em.
Hardware supplier: Sorry, we’re out of stock and we’re not sure
when new bulbs will be coming in, but would you like us to send you our
Architectural glass supplier: Eight to twelve weeks after sample approval.
And don’t go complaining when you get the bill and we hit you for boxing,
freight and an energy surcharge.
Lawyer: Listen, I don’t personally do light bulbs, but I’ll gladly
advise you on how, when and why to change the bulb as soon
as you tell me where I am to send my bill.
Doctor: Before we change it, I would like to run a few tests on it
and then perhaps prescribe something that might help or refer the bulb
to one of my associates.
Architectural aluminum supplier: Four. The first guy we send out
will forget to bring the bulb. The second guy will bring a bulb but it
will be the wrong color. The third guy will have the right color but the
wrong size. However, I’m pretty sure that by the fourth time we come out,
we’ll get it right … maybe!
Landmark preservationist: Don’t change it … let’s rebuild it!
Secretary (of 35 years) Bobbie Rovner: What burned-out bulb? If you’re
talking about the one in the conference room, I changed it three days
ago. The burned-out one in the mail room I got yesterday.
Consultant: Well, to determine that we’ll need to come out and
do a thorough study on your entire facility to evaluate not only the situation
at hand but the best possible method for dealing with it both now and
in the future. I think with enough analysis, we can present you with a
detailed evaluation and a bulb-changing methodology within about 30 to
45 days at a cost not to exceed $12,000.
Union bulb changer: It depends. If it’s a 50-watt or less bulb,
it will take three men. More than 50 but less than 100 watts would be
four men. From 100 to 175 would be five men. Now, if the bulb is bigger
than 175 watts, you gotta divide the number of curls in the tungsten filament
by the age of Thomas Edison when he invented the light bulb and then multiply
that by a factor of 6.75 divided by the square root of the union pension
fund’s current unfunded liability. Oh, and if you need to use a ladder,
add two more guys!
Architect: Forget about changing the bulb. Let’s put in a skylight
Typical sales rep: My friend, I am so glad you asked me that question
because I want you to know that I represent not only the best light bulbs
available today but also have agreements with a number of light bulb changers
who will change your bulbs in no time at all and offer a complete warranty
for their products and services. In fact, old buddy, we have bulbs on
sale right this very minute and I am sure I have the bulb for you. So
listen, compadre, I’ll be right over to show you my complete line of bulbs
and matching accessories. I know you’re gonna like what I’ve got to offer!
Shrewd sales rep: Take 10 percent off whatever my competitor said.
Johnny “The Mooch” Rago: Change your own “}=?&#@* light bulb,
Susan from Minnesota: Whatever Johnny “The Mooch” said!!!
So there you have it … the results of my study. And by the way, from this
point on, I would appreciate being referred to as Doctor Hill … especially
by those of you from Minnesota, now don’t ya know?
Lyle R. Hill is the managing director of Keytech
North America, a company providing research and technical services for
the glass and metal industry. Hill has more than 40 years experience in
the glass and metal industry and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can read his blog on Wednesdays at lyleblog.usglassmag.com.
© Copyright 2012 Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved.
No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.