How to deal with a crisis

It's the late 1970s, and this pilot fish's first job is in the computer room at a company in Munich. "The disk drives were huge, removable things in cabinets big enough to double as a tornado refuge hideout -- except no tornados in Germany, of course," says fish.

"We had five such drives. Four of them had disks that were used for production under strict orders never to be removed. The fifth one was used for programmers like me, with equally strict German-style directives to remove our disks when we were finished to make way for others."

One day, fish gets big news: The database guru from America -- a computer semi-god in fish's young eyes -- is flying in to rework the company's home-coded database system. Fish knows he's not likely to meet the great man, but like all his co-workers, he's excited.

On a Friday night during the visit, everyone is working late. Fish is about to leave when he realizes he has almost forgotten to remove his disk from the drive. Fighting back panic -- remember those very strict German instructions -- he quickly returns to the computer room and removes the disk.

Immediately, a howl goes up from the computer operator. The American guru has just kicked off a major database reorganization job, and as soon as fish removed his disk, it crashed.

"It turned out that, finding loads of free space on my disk, he had decided to use it for work space," fish says.

"The operator screamed at me that this was a huge problem, the job had been due to run all weekend, and it was my stupidity that had caused it to crash. Worse, it would take hours if not days to fix.

"Then in walked the American guru. I trembled -- a young, green programmer just learning the ropes, I was certain he was about to chew me out badly, even get me fired or worse!

"My heart was in my mouth as he walked over. Then calmly, quietly and in a very matter-of-fact way, he said simply, 'I wish you hadn't done that.' He then proceeded to pick up the pieces as if nothing had ever happened.

"It was an excellent lesson of self-control in the face of crisis. Sadly, in the following years, I never managed to emulate this feat. I just don't have the personality."

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Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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