Some Assembly (and Patience and Laughter) Required

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“For the want of a nail, the kingdom was lost.”  That old adage came to mind last week when I was assembling the treadmill my wife ordered, so she could cancel her gym membership and get her workouts done at home.  She did careful online research to find the highest quality machine at the price we could afford.  After identifying the treadmill that most closely matched her requirements, she called the folks at NordicTrack to place her order.  They explained the shipping costs were on a sliding scale. Normal delivery was curbside.  For a few dollars more, it could be delivered to our porch.  Another fistful of dollars would result in it being brought into the house.  If she wanted it assembled, that would require an additional deposit into the Nordic Track revenue-generating machine. She opted for in-home delivery but decided we could put it together ourselves.  The amount she paid to have it placed in our living room was worth the extra cost, as the box was the size and weight of a coffin custom built for Andre the Giant.

I have no interest in the functional value of the treadmill.  I prefer to run outside.  My only treadmill trots have occurred when staying in a hotel in some city where I was unfamiliar with running routes and relative safety of the neighborhood.  I use treadmills out of necessity, as I despise running in place.  The only exercise I intended to get from this machine was the upper body workout from screwing bolts into the frame and holding rails and uprights while my son put the screwdriver to work.

We were halfway through the assembly when we discovered two bolts were missing.  To be more specific, two bolts were not included.  I will testify under oath that we did not lose the bolts; they were simply not in the box.  I am a seasoned veteran of IKEA furniture assembly and keep careful track of the parts and pieces to avoid excess frustration.  I get cranky enough trying to figure out how the simple line drawings represent three dimensional objects, so I don’t need to compound the problem by losing hardware.  Plus, I know the bolts were missing because, according to the instructions, they were to be found screwed into the top of the left side upright.  There were two bolts screwed into the right side upright, but none on the left.  The Swedes of IKEA never let me down like this, and I would have expected similar quality control from another, presumably, Scandinavian firm. It’s called NordicTrack, after all.  Alas, they are headquartered in Utah.

I searched through my extensive collection of nails, screws, and bolts – amassed from years of furniture assembly and woodworking projects – for appropriately-sized bolts to substitute for the missing ones.  Despite having hundreds of bits of hardware, obsessively sorted by size and type, I couldn’t find any two inch long 5/16” bolts.  As a result, I spent 44 cents at the local hardware store to purchase two bolts with the correct specifications.  They were silver instead of black, but I was going for function, not appearance.  I needed to fix this, but just as I was about to proceed with the assembly using the substitutes, my wife informed me she had contacted NordicTrack, and, after some tense negotiation, new bolts would arrive in 3-5 business days.  I just needed to be patient.

I was annoyed to have given NordicTrack many hundreds of dollars for this machine, only to have them fail to provide two bolts necessary for assembly.  The little things matter.  I recognize this as a common ailment of large organizations: little things get missed, and people get frustrated.  It happens in my organization all the time.  Last week, for example, I inherited a laptop computer.  I’ve been driving a desktop for many years, but a colleague took a new job, giving me the opportunity to take possession of her laptop.  Of course, it wasn’t as simple as her handing it to me.  It had to be processed through our IT group, which inexplicably took several weeks.  One day last week, I returned to my office from a meeting and found a laptop computer sitting in my chair.  I noticed it was unaccompanied by any accessories, such as a bag or power cord.  I also learned that it was not configured with the software that would allow me to connect to our network remotely.  After waiting two months, I was now in possession of a glorified typewriter with about four hours of battery life before it would become useless.  My co-workers wondered what I was giggling about until I explained the absurdity, and we all laughed about the laptop’s, metaphorical, missing bolts.

The treadmill bolts arrived in the mail earlier this week, and I also received a power cord and remote access software.  My wife is up and running, and so is my laptop.  Our respective kingdoms weren’t truly lost for the want of nails, but these anecdotes got me thinking about some other adages to consider:

1. The little things matter, but they often get missed.

2. The little things tend to work over time; be patient.

3. Patience is easier if you can laugh about it.

While you’re waiting for the bolts to arrive in the mail, tell somebody the story.  Make ‘em laugh.  You’ll feel better.

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