About two weeks ago, i began to post on Facebook daily “laws” from my now defunct “Murphy’s Law” desk calendars. My Aunt Evelyn and Uncle Pipey Orr sent me one of those calendars as a Christmas gift in 1979 while i was deployed to WESTPAC. They sent me one every year until my cousin, Nancy Schwarze, sent them while her mother still was alive. When my aunt passed, i began to get my own calendar and wrap it “from Santa” every Christmas until this past Christmas when they quit publishing the annual desk calendar. Fortunately, i cut and pasted the laws on my notebooks and scheduling paperwork for many years. i now share them on Facebook.
Then last week, one such post read:
From my “Murphy’s Law” desk calendar archives – “Pfeifer’s Principle: Never make a decision you can get someone else to make.”
i have an example of how this works out in practice.
Something happened a long, long time ago in a land far away, even farther away than my hometown from the Southwest corner. Watertown, New York, 1972. i had just taken over the sports editor job at Watertown Daily Times, living a dream i had since JB Leftwich taught me how to be a decent sports editor on The Cavalier, the Castle Heights Military Academy’s award-winning newspaper. A year before, i had concluded (i thought) my active duty obligation of serving three years as a Naval officer. My folks, Castle Heights, JB, a learning period (in many, many ways) of college and work, and the Navy, taught me well, especially my parents and the Navy about responsibility and accountability.
There are no guilty parties in this story. Every one of the characters were doing their job as best they knew how. They behaved in a manner they believed was best for their newspaper and protecting themselves. They were good people and good friends. Then there was me. The troublemaker.
One of the things really annoying to me then and just as much so now was the previous day’s results and scores of sports contests not being posted in the next day’s newspaper. This made me glad to have worked for afternoon papers. The Times did a good job posting national scores and any local scores covered by staff — at the time of this story, i was the sports staff; so only one sports event was covered live each day. So the results of a significant number of local events were reported a day late. The now ubiquitous answering machine did not become widely used until the mid-1980’s, and of course, voice mail, and mobile phones were the stuff of science fiction in 1972.
i wondered how we could get results in time to publish in the next day’s paper.
After some research, i discovered no one had charged local high schools to call in the results of their games and matches because there was no one at the newspaper to take the calls. Everyone went home when the afternoon paper had been put to bed. i myself, after getting to the office each morning between five and six, went home between two and three in the afternoon, took a nap, and covered a ball game about half of the evenings.
i puzzled over what to do. The local coaches seemed delighted, even anxious to designate someone to phone in their results. i went to my boss, the publisher-in-waiting, super friend, and college brother John B. Johnson, and asked if i could get some part time help, perhaps a high school student. John thought the idea was great and gave me permission. i think he suggested the young man whom i hired.
Before my help came to work, i laid out my plan. i would have him come to work around five, man the switchboard until around 11:00 so the designated person, even the coach, could call in results and statistics of their contests. My plan was to have calls forwarded to the sports desk, but the system could not automatically forward calls to an extension. So we would have to answer the calls at the switchboard. Obviously before this could work, he and i had to know how to operate the switchboard.
The morning before my assistant’s first evening, i went to the switchboard operator to learn how to operate the switchboard so i could train my man on his first night. It was a relatively simple thing, but when i asked the operator, she said, “I can’t do that without permission of the business manager.”
i thought she made a good point. And even if she had the authority to let me use the switchboard, the business manager should know the situation. i went to his office and explained.
He said, “I can’t make that decision. The general manager will have to give me the okay before we can do this.”
Good point. The general manager should know, i agreed. i went to the general manager.
He said, “That is not my decision to make. It’s the business manager’s area of responsibility.”
i left his office perplexed and stood in the hallway considering my options. i did not want to pull strings and go over their heads to my friend. That seemed a little awkward to me. Then i had an idea. i walked back into the general manager’s office and asked:
“If the business manager says it’s okay, then it’s okay with you, right?”
“Of course,” the general manager genially replied.
i trekked down the hall and entered the business manager’s office.
“The business manager said it was okay with him if it’s okay with you. Okay?” i suggested.
“Great,” the business manager genially, even enthusiastically replied. After all, the two managers were sports fans.
i went to the lobby and approached the switchboard operator.
“The general manager and the business manager both said it was okay for us to man the switchboard at night. So is it alright with you?”
“Absolutely,” she genially replied. She was a sports fan also. And with that i was trained and my man began his part-time job and scores of local high school sports event began to be printed in the next afternoon’s newspaper. It was a great success.
No one realized no one had actually given me the go-ahead, and no one was the wiser.