MASTERS OF INVENTION©
This rare breed of workplace wizards has the uncanny ability to immobilize a problem and make it disappear. When challenged with difficult, sensitive, and life-threatening situations, these masters magically reach into a bag of tricks to pull out illusions and alter perceptions. Their unsung sorcery has saved many faces and sometimes lives as well. Few outside the inner circle have been privy to secrets they are about to share.
Reed was worried as picketing employees jeered and shouted outside his window. The strike at the chemical plant had been going on longer than usual. Management and union officials continued to negotiate, hammering out each part of the contract with slow deliberate motions. Progress had been too slow for the employees. They were angry at their union representatives and furious with management. Tempers grew shorter as each day passed. With Christmas less than twenty days away, Reed instinctively knew that they would have to settle soon or something would blow.
The morning's mail confirmed Reed's fears. It contained an anonymous threat on management lives and a promise to sabotage plant equipment. Since the plant produced hazardous chemicals, he could not dismiss the letter. Sabotage meant potential loss of employee lives, destruction of millions of dollars of equipment, and danger to the surrounding community. If someone intentionally tried to blow up the building, chemicals could ignite and release a toxic cloud into the atmosphere. Reed would need to alert the state police so they could plan an evacuation if it were necessary.
Three sides of the plant were well-guarded and protected by a twelve-foot barbed wire fence. The west side was worrisome. There was no fence at that entrance, and Reed was concerned that someone would try to slip in. He didn't want to hire armed guards, because the west side faced a busy street and onlookers would become curious. The whole thing would attract too much attention and would be bad public relations. The last thing Reed wanted was for the company to appear as though it were using Gestapo tactics. He needed a simple, effective solution to keep the picketers away from that west entrance.
Reed smiled as the answer came. Since it was 1971 and the community was rural, virtually none of the employees knew what satellite communication dishes looked like, much less their purpose. Reed got on the phone and located a manufacturer. He explained his need to the manufacturer and his urgency for immediate delivery.
The next morning the dish was on its way. The regular band of picketers stopped their chanting as they saw the flatbed truck approach and hiss its air brakes at them with its ominous-looking cargo towering above them. A crane was engaged to set the dish down a few feet in front of the west wall of the building. The big snout projecting from the dish pointed directly across the expansive lawn and toward the picketers who marched along the sidewalk.
The delivery company's crew busily appeared as though they were installing and connecting massive wires to a junction box attached to the wall. The picketers' curiosity kept them quiet for over an hour. Once all the wires were "connected," Reed came out with a bull horn in hand.
"Gentlemen, as you can see we have just installed a new rodent control device," he announced. "The company has recently experienced a severe rodent problem along its west perimeter. This equipment is designed to be sensitive to motion. If any object gets within forty feet of the west perimeter, the device is programmed to emit radioactive waves that will fan out to about two hundred fifty feet. We do not know what impact these waves have on humans, but research has shown they effectively cause sterility in animals. We caution you to avoid getting anywhere near the west wall if you value your reproductive organs. We are not sure about any other damage that might happen, since this equipment has not been tested for any length of time on humans. So, for your personal safety, be advised to conduct all picketing at the front gates. I am about to engage the equipment, so I'd appreciate your moving from the area immediately. Thank you for your cooperation."
The strikers grabbed their placards and ran to the front gate. Throughout the duration of the strike, outside monitors revealed that no one ever came near the west wall again.
This ingenious solution seems to be a successful, short-term public relations alternative. However, there are some very real negative possibilities in the long term. As time marches on and the ruse becomes apparent, the work force is likely to discredit anything management tells them in the future.
While the company's activity might be viewed by the National Labor Relations Board as a technical interference with the protected rights of employees to picket, that is a fairly remote possibility.
Excerpted from Outrageous Conduct: Bizarre Behavior at Work©