09 Apr Comedy – and it’s role in optimal corrosion mitigation practices
“A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done” – Dwight D. Eisenhower
Before we get started, let me be crystal clear – I take corrosion mitigation, material selection, failure analysis and everything CCG does on a daily basis very, very seriously.
In a professional sense, there’s nothing more important than servicing our clients, and keeping their trust in my advice and guidance. Without their trust, and my credibility, I could simply take my marbles and go home.
I have three daughters in college. CCG puts food on the table, supports their education, and keeps my wife from leaving me.
So, while there’s nothing funny about the work we do here at CCG, that doesn’t mean we, and our clients, can’t have fun on the road to optimal corrosion mitigation solutions.
A funny thing happened on the way to the nuclear power plant
In thinking about writing this blog, I quickly became completely flooded with funny stories associated with the work we do.
I remember about 25 years ago (long before smart phones and GPS), my salesman and I were on the way to visit a nuclear power plant. We had gotten off the highway, and were headed west through nothing but corn fields. We had been traveling for quite a while and decided to call our contact to ensure we were going the right way.
The conversation went something like this:
Me: “Hey Bob, we’re on the way. We got off of 55 and are heading West. Are we headed the right way?”
Bob: (With a very pleasant, slow, southern drawl) “Ah, yup. Just keep on a-coming. We’re the first nuclear power plant on the right.”
Then there was the time more than 30 years ago, we were lining the interior of a cold-water storage tank. It was a small tank, about 30’ long and 10’ diameter, and we were going to be installing a thick-build, 40-60 mil 100% solids epoxy. Our blaster, Robert, was performing a white metal blast, and when we stopped to fill up the blast pot, I was sitting and chatting with Robert, who was leaning on a pile of blast grit, with his head outside of the manhole, smoking a cigarette.
Robert also happened to be sitting on the blast-proof light – which tends to get pretty darn hot. One of the guys next to me was about to point out to Robert that he was sitting on the light, but I stopped him and said “Let’s wait, he’ll figure it out.”
Sure enough, a few minutes later, Robert’s rear-end heated up to the point that, well, let’s just say, hilarity ensued. A good time was had by all.
Comedy – it connects us all
I was in a heated meeting years ago regarding a coating failure that caused substantial costs and inconvenience. I was there as a third party to provide an objective, technical point of view.
Tensions were getting increasingly high, and conversation was shifting from appropriate technical and logistical discussions, to finger pointing and personal attacks.
My role was to facilitate and keep us focused on what to do going forward (litigation was off the table).
I finally started pretending to look around as if I lost something. “Hang on.” I said, “I think I’ve lost something”, as I continued to look around. People naturally stopped and looked around as well. Shortly, someone asked me what I was looking for. I said, “I seemed to have misplaced my time machine.” And looked at everyone at the table with a smile.
There was a very uncomfortable pause, when finally, people started laughing. I continued by saying, “Look. Let’s keep this forward-looking. There’s no value to looking backwards.
Comedy – appropriate for all occasions and a tool to maintain composure
I study failures of all kinds, all the time, because they’re fascinating and 100% applicable to corrosion procurement. I spend a considerable amount of time studying aerospace failures, because the accidents are so well documented and evaluated. In fact, I just finished a book called “Why Planes Crash.”
I remember hearing, watching and reading about the crash of United flight 232 on July 19, 1989. The plane had become damaged and lost all hydraulic control. Pilots were “flying,” and controlling the plane with one pilot on his knees between the other two pilots, slowing or increasing the throttles on either of the two engines, desperately trying to steer the plane by alternating the thrusts of the engines.
They knew with 100% certainty they were going to crash. But maintained their focus, and, amazingly, sense of humor.
Haynes is Captain Alfred Haynes (Here’s the link if you’re interested in reading more (https://www.tailstrike.com/190789.htm):
Haynes kept his sense of humor during the emergency, as recorded on the plane’s CVR:
Fitch: I’ll tell you what, we’ll have a beer when this is all done.
Haynes: Well I don’t drink, but I’ll sure as hell have one.
Sioux City Approach: United Two Thirty-Two Heavy, the wind’s currently three six zero at one one; three sixty at eleven. You’re cleared to land on any runway.
Haynes: [laughter] Roger. [laughter] You want to be particular and make it a runway, huh?
A more serious remark often quoted from Haynes was made when ATC asked the crew to make a left turn to keep them clear of the city:
Haynes: Whatever you do, keep us away from the city.
Haynes later noted that “We were too busy [to be scared]. You must maintain your composure in the airplane or you will die. You learn that from your first day flying.”
Both miraculously, and tragically, 111 people of the 296 aboard died. Hayes and the other pilots survived. It remains to this day one of the most daring and impressive feats of flying in history.
Comedy – an opportunity to lead from behind
Some of the other benefits of comedy include:
- It connects us all. Well, at least good comedy does.
- It reduces stress in stressful situations.
- It allows situations to re-set. Often in meetings, people will get overly focused on topics, interpersonal connections – and lose track of the desired outcome. A little humor can go a long way to relaxing everyone. Taking a group-deep breath, and getting back to work.
- Comedy also provides us with an opportunity to lead from the rear. I’ve been in many situations which have become tense and heated, and I’ll throw myself on the sword, and make an attempt at humor. People either laugh at the joke, or laugh at me in my attempt, or pity me for being a dope. I’m okay with any outcome, because I don’t have much of an ego (fodder for another blog).
- Lastly, it’s risky. Good comedy and being funny are tough particularly in difficult situations. And you need to be aware of your limitations. If you’re not a funny person, put yourself out there once in a while, and give it a go. But the nice thing about comedy, is that anyone in any meeting or situation can throw out a quip, observation or something humorous to try to change the tenor, or direction of a meeting – or situation.
A closing note – and my most recent coatings-related comedy failure
I read PaintSquare often – and just a few days ago there was a question in the problem-solving forum which read:
What causes amine blush in epoxy topcoats?
There were the usual, accurate technical responses. But my response was, “When it’s told an embarrassing story?”
Shockingly, the editors let it go and my response was right up there with humidity and CO considerations. The two posts after mine made no mention of my attempt at humor, and I thought, “Oh well. I guess that one missed the mark.” But then, literally two minutes ago, when I checked the forum again, I saw a response from Daniel Stahl, of Sunset Colonly. He wrote, “Epic Warren Brand! LOL.”
Shout out to Daniel and a big thank you. Whether I put a smile on someone’s face on a given day, or solve a complex corrosion or material problem, I consider that a good day.