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The Joys of Lateral Thinking

a Phoenix Centre Tale from Uncle Wayne

This article was written in 1999. Technology has changed, but the point hasn't!!

techieOf course I know best! I'm a techie!

I've spent the last 18 years of my life as a psychotherapist, corporate trainer and educator. I suspect my sense of humour has seen me through a myriad of weirdness, which seems to be increasing as the millennium approaches.

I'm really into high tech toys and approaches. I have a good sized web site and also send out a weekly e-Zine. I consider myself to be fairly "with it" technologically. I have periodic lapses, however. Then, I wonder what the "technologically unprepared" must go through. Given that I understand techno-speak, it must be quite a trip to call a tech centre with no skill set in that area.

I'm writing this because of an experience I just had, during which I found all of my resources being tested. Let me preface this by stating that one thing I teach is lateral thinking – both to clients and to companies. My recent high tech "week from hell" is an illustration – and is a wonderful demonstration of the power of lateral thinking. It also demonstrates the danger of "the experts" thinking "inside the box."

Let me tell you about my computer. It's a couple of years old. I'm running Windows 98 on it, and am connected to the Internet via a cable modem. I read an article in an e-Zine I subscribe to, indicating I could speed up my cable modem by tweaking some registry settings. Now, a cable modem is quite fast, but we techno-junkies salivate at the word "faster." So, I installed the patch.

Mistake. Suddenly, I couldn't send e-mail with attachments (such as my e-Zine). I actually missed an e-Zine deadline, unheard of in my world. (I'd click on "send, " the meter bar would move, would say "47% sent" and stall. We'll call this the "47 %" problem.) I also had spotty connections on the web and I couldn't connect to my bank – and I do ALL of my banking on line. I was cut off, and not happily.

So, I tried to fix it. I rolled back to an older registry set, effectively making my computer into a former version if itself. 47%. Bummer. I manually edited the registry. 47%.

I called technical support at the @home network. I got Ravi. Over the next week, we got to be friends, if time spent talking on the phone determines such things.

In order, we tried:

  • resetting the registry again. 47%.
  • Ravi configured his computer to have my computer's identity. He could send e-mails just fine.
  • We changed Netscape's settings on my computer. 47%.
  • Ravi then had me reinstall Windows 98 (that took 10 hours, as all of the rest of my software had to also be reinstalled.) 47%.
  • The techies Ravi was talking to suggested reformatting my hard drive,
    to remove a mysterious "rwin" file. I demurred.
  • I called Microsoft. For 45 bucks, I found out there was no such file.

I proposed to Ravi that I swap in a new computer at my end. That way, if the new computer also had problems, we could figure that the problem:

  1. wasn't at the @home end, and
  2. wasn't in my computer. He thought this was a good idea.

I borrowed a friend's computer, and sure enough, the new computer had the same problem. 47%. Hmm.

I called @home the next morning. Horrors, Ravi was not there. I, instead, got the techie from hell. In short order, in a disparaging voice, she indicated that

a) I was a customer and my ideas about the problem were worthless,
b) I should just shut up and reformat my drive, and
c) didn't I know the problem was with my computer?

Now, I did refrain from tearing a strip off of her. I calmly pointed out that I had replaced my computer with another, and didn't she see that this meant the problem had to be either the ETHERNET card, the modem or the cable itself? SHE demurred. In her most professional voice, she trilled, and I quote, "Every technical support person here will tell you that the problem has to be with your computer." I terminated the call.

I got in my truck to drive north to my other counselling office. I decided not to spend the entire drive plotting the demise of the techie from hell. She couldn't see my logic, but I could. So, I decided to do some lateral thinking.

All the way along, we'd been blaming the registry tweaks for the problem. Except switching computers at my end eliminated that possibility, as we were dealing with a new registry. Ravi had exonerated the main system. That, indeed, left the ETHERNET card, the cable modem, and the cable itself.

Mentally, I worked up the line from my computer.

Couldn't be the card. What about the modem? Bingo. A cable modem is just a faster, larger version of a phone modem. Data is transferred by handshaking, which means the modem sends a packet, the other computer says "Yup, got it, send the next one," and on we go. In my case, the 47% represented one packet. Somehow, the handshake wasn't happening. As Ravi could send large e-mails into the system, using my identity, that meant it HAD to be my modem.

I called my main partner and love of my life, and asked Darbella to unplug the modem. Four hours later, I called and asked her to plug it back in. Then, to send e-mail. Poof. Fixed. The modem must have "locked up" when I tweaked the registry. (Ravi, by the way, just called me back. I'd left him a message that I'd fixed the problem, and he was curious. Good for him!)

Here's the moral of the story: The technical people and their mantra "It has to be your computer" are thinking "inside the box." Lateral thinking means going "outside the box." Lateral thinking simply asks questions and looks for the logical stream, which often lies just outside of our experience. Lateral thinking cannot be reduced to a rule book. Bad news for people looking for easy answers. No assumptions. No "It always. . ."

I'm sure the techie from hell would not understand. The sadness is, more and more people are exactly like her, secure in their rule books, secure, actually in their ignorance.

She'll probably end up Premier of Ontario.

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