Business & GA, Commercial

Avionics System Design: Are You Cape-Worthy?

By Walter Shawlee 2 | July 1, 2000
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An interesting aspect of working in a company is learning from a coworker something great that you never would have thought of yourself, but still needed to know. Especially delightful is when, as soon as you hear the idea, you know it is perfectly in sync with your own thinking and destined to become part of everyone’s shared corporate consciousness, with little or no argument.

The event that sticks in my mind was triggered by one of our new technicians, Steve. We originally employed Steve as a work-term student, then hired him full-time in January, upon his college graduation.

Steve suffered through all the initial trauma of being integrated into a company, with the usual apprehensions on both sides. He was thrown into numerous crisis situations, where expectations were high and time was brief. He survived with good humor.

In particular, while still a work-term student, he willingly would jump on a plane at a moment’s notice to put in long hours at a customer’s site under genuinely awful conditions and perform numerous miracles with only minor coaching.

In the design arena, we all are accustomed to doing something extraordinary for our customers, but we rarely attach a specific term to that behavior. It is a situation that customers and outsiders seldom, if ever, understand or recognize. But it is always crystal clear to those who have to make it happen.

To be honest, we never gave our extra effort much thought within our company beyond the simple reality that there is no practical alternative. Let’s face it, if we don’t make our customers happy, they won’t stay–a fairly universal concept in business.

A few weeks ago, after some routine daily rabbit was plucked from the techno-miracle hat, Steve noted that we all needed to get company capes to go with our job descriptions. He felt that company T-shirts, hats, etc., really were not the adequate apparel for meritorious staff members. Considering what we have to do on a routine basis, he felt company capes (presumably with a big S emblazoned on them) would be fitting. His suggestion was greeted with considerable laughter but also complete agreement. We just didn’t know where to get capes off-the-shelf.

Nobody gave it much more thought until suddenly Steve turned up one Monday with a rather stylish bright red cape in tow. The entire building was helpless with laughter as we considered the style implications and best design for our corporate capes. We agreed it was something we should keep in a private personal area (perhaps next to the phone booth).

The cape also spawned a new term and concept internally, namely "cape-worthy." It describes one’s behavior and accomplishment, which merit bestowal of a cape. We then categorized actions as either cape-worthy or uncape-worthy. The effect this exercise had on people’s thoughts and actions was fascinating.

We currently have a cape. Until we tool up to makes capes for everyone, it moves around the building from person to person to signify the most recent "cape-worthy" action. At the moment, it resides in Vince’s office, to commemorate a long string of recent mechanical miracles performed when our outside vendor completely dropped the ball on some critical CNC parts. He had to create the parts almost literally overnight by hand, using our manual milling machine to meet the deadlines.

No doubt, in the future, we will have to add stars or some insignia to the capes to denote supplemental acts of an outstanding nature. And perhaps we’ll provide a black garbage bag to cover a cape temporarily when we distinguish ourselves in uncape-worthy fashion. In any case, it has proven to be a very useful design and behavioral concept, and a very handy descriptive term.

To illustrate the cape’s correct situational usage, consider these examples of cape-worthiness:

  • The person who remembers to bring in pepperoni pizza for the design team still hard at work at 3 a.m. for an 8 a.m. delivery and demonstration.

  • The team itself if they meet the deadline with a working system.

  • The team becomes notably cape-worthy if the solution is not only adequate, but makes the customer say "wow, that’s exactly what I wanted!" when he or she operates it, despite the fact that all the essential elements were never revealed by the customer or appear in the original design spec.

What would be uncape-worthy would be the staff member who drops the finished, one-of-a-kind item down the stairwell while taking it to the shipping department. When applied to objects, Microsoft’s Outlook software with its endless security problems is inarguably uncape-worthy. You get the idea.

We figure you can all make good use of the cape-worthy term and concept in your daily design routine. You might even acquire the odd cape or two. I will be happy to take your e-mail nominations for those unrecognized souls out there who deserve a cape as recognition of their efforts (send e-mail to [email protected] ). We’ll relate the best candidates here over the next few months.

Think of this as a much needed offsetting entry to the regular Darwin Awards ( and a way to lighten everyone’s mood in the midst of those moments in which everyone has collapsed from exhaustion after moving that day’s designated mountain.

Walter Shawlee 2 welcomes reader comments. He can be reached at [email protected]

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