If you're gonna be wrong, that's the place for it

Flashback to the 1980s, when this pilot fish is overseeing the production, testing, installation and maintenance of computerized outbound call centers at his company.

"Engineering came up with an improved design, and the company decided to test it by retrofitting some existing customers' sites," says fish. "I led the first such team on a trip to the company's biggest customer.

"The newly installed system promptly crashed. The techs diagnosed a power-supply failure. The lead tech said, 'OK, this is simple. We can just swap in the power supply from the old system.'"

But fish isn't so sure that's a good idea. He points out that something went wrong with the power supply, but it's not clear what -- and if it's not just a bad supply, and an external problem fries the other power supply, the customer will be down for the day.

That's a chance fish doesn't want to take, no matter how small it may be, and he makes the call: Take the new system back and confirm what caused the failure. And despite the vehement protests of the techs (and, by phone, the chief engineer), that's what they do.

Fish has more visits to make on the road, so he doesn't get back to HQ until a week later -- and he's greeted by the techs and the somewhat sheepish chief engineer, all congratulating him on his good decision.

Turns out the new design included a feedback connection to the power supply, to help it stabilize the voltage, and the feedback wire had shaken loose during shipping. The fix: Add a circuit to keep the power supply from running away if it gets no feedback. Problem solved.

"Several months later, I was doing a year-end inventory check and discovered three power supplies neatly stacked in the farthest recesses of the inventory area," fish says. "My lead tech squirmed awkwardly when asked about them.

"He finally admitted, 'You remember that system we took to Boston? The one that blew out the power supply? The chief engineer didn't want to tell you that we burned up three more power supplies before he decided you might be right.'"

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