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Know why you’re there

Dr Kimble holding up his hands, from the 1993 film "The Fugitive"
From the 1993 film “The Fugitive”

Dr Kimble: “I didn’t kill my wife!”

Inspector: “I don’t care.”

In the film The Fugitive, Harrison Ford’s character feels strongly about his innocence. So much so that he feels the need to share it with the man assigned to bring him in to the authorities. The Tommy Lee Jones character has a wonderful (improvised) response in which he tells the Doctor that his innocence isn’t pertinent to their current transaction.

The first time I saw this movie, that “I don’t care” line really bothered me. Why didn’t the inspector take the facts into account? Didn’t that matter? Yes, it matters. But not in that moment. The inspector’s focus is a key part of his being good at his job: he’s not going to be distracted and potentially forget his role: bring the suspect in. Guilt and innocence will be decided later, by other people.

In the world of IT focus is equally important. Your role may be to facilitate a single connection, not make everything better.

People don’t always present the right symptoms. And some think because of their Google skills that they can pre-assist you. Physicians have to be on guard for this regularly. Some refer to it as cyberchrondria . In IT interactions it sounds like this:

  • “Hi, my hard disk is dying, need you to help me”

  • “Hi, our internet is down, need you to fix it right now”

  • “Hi, I need to update my software in order to get my computer working”

  • “I’ve been hacked!”

Are you sure you’re there to fix email that’s not working? Or just to help? If you buy into the fact that the “email down” is the problem, then you may be wasting significant time.

The email may be fine. The internal network may be the problem. Or the network jack. Or the WiFi. Or the email account. Or the email provider. Or the disk space on the computer. Or something else. Or a combination of things.

Isolation and focus are key. If you’re there to fix a specific thing and you see other potential issues, you’ll want to present some choices: address the specific item, or follow it wherever your process takes you. Might start as an email issue and end as a faulty router.

Other times you may need to stick to your focus: “I’m here to make sure that you can send & receive email” – and along the way you may find significant network problems. Assuming the network MUST be fixed can be perilous. “If you just told me to go to the cafe across the street, I could have done that, I didn’t want to have to wait longer for you to fix the entire office.”

The customer may always be right in what they want, but not in what they need. Make sure you’re clear on your job. Make it as focused as possible. And if the symptoms lead you to another place, make sure you and your customer agree on what to do. Go where the facts take you, but never lose sight of who signs the checks.

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