Article, as it appeared in the Second Quarter 1986 issue of Enterprise, a magazine for the employees of Southwestern Bell Corporation.
"Whatever it takes"
SWBT's most recognized innovators talk about what it takes to invent in the corporate environment.
by Steve Friedman
Inventors dominate the 1985 Rider Service Awards, and each one has plenty to say about how and why inventors invent and what they think it takes to become a successful inventor in the corporate environment. The Rider award memorializes Charles Erwin Rider--a Guthrie Okla., station installer--who, on June 5, 1923 repeatedly crossed a river ablaze with burning oil to restore telephone service linking Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas. A train carrying petroleum products had derailed and exploded on a bridge over the river, knocking out service. The award commends employees' innovativeness and dedication in providing service for Southwestern Bell Telephone Company customers.
Here's what SWBT's nine most recognized inventors of 1985 think about inventing in the corporate environment.
Whatever it takes
Frank Locker, manager-special services; Mike Reid, network services supervisor; and Ted Palmer, repeater technician, purchased, programmed, and installed a computer system in the Fort Worth special services center. The system collects data and tracks the status of trouble tickets. Virtually all paperwork was eliminated, and work order record details became immediately accessible.
Locker coordinated the purchase of the computer that was used. Palmer wrote the programs to meet the organization's needs, and Reid served as liaison between Palmer and the management team.
Locker: "Since divestiture, the real key is controlling your own destiny. In a stand-alone company, I didn't have to go to somebody outside and ask for a program change and not get it till next year. The project was totally under my control. If I want something done now, I know I can get it now.
"I think it was Jim Adams (Texas Division President) and Joe Hunt (SBC chief operations officer) who said we have to be more willing to let people take some risks and not crucify them if they don't succeed. None of us wants to fail. I can't deny it. It was on my mind. The company upper-level people let us have $100,000. What if we didn't succeed?" Locker says you have to just do what you know is right.
"I received an Army commendation medal in Vietnam. The battalion commander didn't use the same helicopter every day. So we were having to carry the three radios he needed to the helicopter of the day and hook them all up separately. I came up with a way to put all three radios in one portable rack with an elaborate switch. By flicking one switch, the commander could get on any radio, and he wouldn't have to have three different headsets, and at night, when he got off the chopper, there was only one jack to unplug.
It never dawned on me I didn't have to do that. If we recognize there's something that needs to be done, then it's something we should do."
Palmer: "I'm dependent on adrenalin. So when Frank told me a proposal for our system had been approved and we had to make the project operational within 30 days, I was thrilled.
"Many nights, I couldn't force myself to sleep more than four hours. Or I would wake up at four in the morning, sit up wide awake, and I would think, you can lie here and try to sleep or you can get up and work on the program. So I'd start writing some program code just with a pencil and eraser. All of a sudden, I'd hear the alarm go off on the other side of the house. I'd think, I gotta quit working and get ready to go to work.
"I was so convinced and so cognizant of the benefits, I absolutely subordinated all the other events in my life.
"'Whatever it takes.' that's the slogan the Pittsburgh Steelers used when they beat the Dallas Cowboys. That's the attitude you have to have. I just get totally involved in these projects."
To explain what motivates people, Palmer says, "I went to see the movie Star Wars, and there's mention made of 'the force.' I guess it's like trying to describe the color red to a person who has been blind since birth. To get what I mean by 'the force,' you have to have seen the movie. It's that quality of human character that motivates people to do things."
Reid: "It was such a great opportunity to pioneer in our own field. We did our own job studies, researched different vendors who could supply different computer equipment, had control over the entire program from initial development to testing to final modifications.
"My job is to improve the business. That's what I get paid for. Recognition was never even thought of. We needed something, and that's what we set out to do. We needed to improve our customer service and do it in a more business like manner.
"I hope this shows other people you don't need a fantastically new idea. All you have to do is say, 'This is the way we're doing it now, but we don't always have to do it this way.' I think the Rider award program is helping develop that kind of thinking."