Volume 47, Issue 5 - May 2012


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 screamed.

“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 new catalog?

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.

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.

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 instead.

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, you idiot.

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 lhill@glass.com. You can read his blog on Wednesdays at lyleblog.usglassmag.com.

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