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What If We Bought You A Fire Truck?

January 15, 2014

Most people know that Redmond, WA is the home of Microsoft. Many people might also know it’s a suburb of Seattle. (Actually I think it’s a suburb of Bellevue. But since Bellevue is a Seattle suburb it probably doesn’t matter.) What most people probably don’t know is that Redmond has a limit on the height of buildings in the city. Yeah, Rodney, they don’t know because unless they are building a house there, they don’t care.

Redmond also has lots of overpriced I mean expensive housing. Lots of Microsofties (yes, that’s what we called ourselves) like to live near their work. Actually, given the number of people who lived in their offices, I think they just wanted to be close to a shower and a change of clothes.

But as far as businesses in Redmond, Microsoft is mostly it. Microsoft campus is large. But there is a limited amount of space. So, they try to balance office space, parking, and the open spaces that give so many high tech locations an open park-like feel. Microsoft tries to maximize all three. They build parking garages. They put in parks but try to leave many of the trees. But, there’s only a certain amount of space for buildings.

Office space was always very tight while I was there in the late 1990’s. We were chronically short of space, which was surprising considering how many buildings Microsoft was putting up. But, they ran up against a limit. The buildings had a maximum height on them.

(Photo Credit: Microsoft via wikipedia)

Most of the “X” shaped buildings in this picture are two stories tall. This is the heart and soul of Microsoft and yet they were wasting space on these short buildings. The reason? That building code restriction. Redmond city wouldn’t allow them to be taller than about 25 feet. If you are building a house, two stories seems like a reasonable limit, but for an office building? Yesterday I talked about working on the 11th floor of the Hyatt Regency towers in Bellevue. And the towers went to 22 stories, over 200 feet. Bellevue was the city right next door.

Naturally, Microsoft tried to get a variance. They are Microsoft for pete’s sake. They can’t get an exception? Nope. The way the story was repeated inside the company, was that the Microsoft team met with the city planner guys.

We pay a lot of money in taxes into this city. Our employees own homes and pay property taxes. We eat in local restaurants. We contribute millions to this city, We don’t see why the city would restrict our growth like this.

I’m sorry, but we cannot allow any structures taller than 25 feet.

We’ve been over that. By the way, why 25 feet? How did the city arrive at that number?

That’s as high as our firetruck ladders will reach. If someone were stuck in a taller building we wouldn’t be able to rescue them. So, you see? We simply cannot approve your request for taller buildings.

Fire truck? Seriously? It’s the height of the fire truck?

Look, we take public safety very seriously!

What if we bought you a new fire truck that could reach higher? Then could we get our new building approved?

I never thought of that.

After that, Microsoft bought Redmond a bright shiny new million dollar fire truck that could reach the third floor. And the next round of buildings had three stories.

The point of this story, is NOT that if you have enough money, you can buy your way around the laws. The point is that many times the person standing in the way of your very good idea, has an equally good reason for not allowing you to continue. It wasn’t until Microsoft officials understood the city’s resistance that they could find a solution.

How often does this happen to us? We feel like someone is blocking our project or our product rollout. In our view we think there’s no good reason for the delay. But, that other person has to work within their limitations and the restrictions they’ve been given. And in their view there’s often a good reason.

This is the essence of searching for a win/win solutions. In the Microsoft building example, the city won because they got a new fire truck. The company won because they got to build taller buildings. The $1M price of the fire truck, while not insignificant, was probably substantially less than the price of the third floor of the new buildings.

So, the next time someone tells you that you can’t have something that you think should be perfectly reasonable, try to find out the real objection. Look outside of the current confrontation and really strive to see the issue from the other person’s point of view. Until you understand the real objections, you cannot get to the real solutions.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife and thirteen children.

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