Mark X's The Spot

Perhaps the greatest consulting story ever told involved an incident in the career of Charles Proteus Steinmetz, the great electrical engineer.

"In the early years of this century, Steinmetz was brought to General Electric's facilities in Schenectady, New York. GE had encountered a performance problem with one of their huge electrical generators and had been absolutely unable to correct it. Steinmetz, a genius in his understanding of electromagnetic phenomena, was brought in as a consultant -- not a very common occurrence in those days, as it would be now.

Steinmetz also found the problem difficult to diagnose, but for some days he closeted himself with the generator, its engineering drawings, paper and pencil. At the end of this period, he emerged, confident that he knew how to correct the problem.

After he departed, GE's engineers found a large "X" marked with chalk on the side of the generator casing. There also was a note instructing them to cut the casing open at that location and remove so many turns of wire from the stator. The generator would then function properly.

And indeed it did.

Steinmetz was asked what his fee would be. Having no idea in the world what was appropriate, he replied with the absolutely unheard of answer that his fee was $1000.

Stunned, the GE bureaucracy then required him to submit a formally itemized invoice.

They soon received it. It included two items:

1. Marking chalk "X" on side of generator: $1.

2. Knowing where to mark chalk "X": $999."

Most Spooky Action readers know Mark Brady, aka Fouro, the Creative Director and bricoleur at Alchemy LLP. Like Charles Steinmetz, Mark has recently been working on a seemingly unsolvable problem. In Steinmetz'a case it was an underperforming generator; in Brady's case it is underperforming organizations. But both needed to figure out how to dramatically increase output.

We don't have insights into Steinmetz's thought process as he struggled with his challenge, but you can watch the run-up to Mark's X-marking by reading this, then this, then this poetic X, followed by this pictorial version. There's one for every learning style!

Or, if you have an organizational problem in need of X-ing, you can just call Mark. But us engineer-types enjoy using someone else's theories to solve our own problems. I wanted to alert non-Fouro-readers to some brilliant stuff they might want to try out.

And I liked the post title.

Addendum: Something tells me that meme crafting may be a useful tool in solving Fouro-class problems. Hat Tip to always thought-provoking Steve for bringing it up.

posted by Mike at 6:32 AM


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