Earning the Digital Pinocchio

Things do not often happen for the right reasons, or in the right order, or to the right people. Usually there have been years of fits and starts until the constellations align, and something truly begins. Such was the case of the first computerized CPR simulator. A tremendous number of people wanted to learn Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation, or CPR, and a tremendous number of cities and fire departments and police departments and business wanted them to learn it. The Gallup Poll had the number of people who desired to learn CPR at about 90 million. But the logistics befuddled everyone. On a non-profit budget, the Heart Association (and eventually the Red Cross) had to rent rooms and sign up students and provide good instructors, even when the average “burn out” rate on those instructors was about five such courses. Even techies who knew in 1977 that the digital age that was coming, could provide no idea how to computerize that CPR experience that could save thousands of lives during the few minutes left after a heart attack..

I meandered through a few interesting careers before I found myself as the National Training Manager of the American Heart Association. Not counting a few days packing slug bait and a few years in the military, and a few years teaching college, I began doing real work for a few years at Texas Instruments, and then landed as the National Training Manager of the American Heart Association, which had recently departed New York City and landed in Dallas, Texas. It was 1977 and I knew they would need electronic medical journals and interactive training, but I accepted that I would first have to make a new kind of training department, one that defined results and worked backward to create classes that produce them. The old pros were leery of me from the start. I was “the next one” when they had had five training managers who had been unsatisfactory. The problem with that position is that they always promoted from within and every new manager had a trailer-full of political baggage, and in truth, few ideas how to add value to the task.

No such baggage on me, I traveled to talk with several Affiliate directors and asked them what they needed done in the training area. I did that in each of four regions and the drill was mostly the same. They then, one by one, told me how exactly I should do it and which of the other directors not to listen to or otherwise watch out for. On top of that festering pile of politics at every turn, their turnover rate was about 3 people per year in each position. So obviously these people going through the revolving door needed training. From training in the Marines, I guess I sensed it was time to cut through the froth and blather.

“OK,” I said finally, “What’s your biggest problem?”

“Fundraising,” was the chorus in five-part harmony. Eyes rolled at stating the obvious once again.

“So you want your new people to raise more money?”

This seemed always to bring more nods. They started to venture all their theories, but I cut them off.

“What is the single thing you can think of that would help that the most?”

Heads scratching, most finally agreed that they longed for their young managers to be able to write a fundraising plan to coordinate staff and volunteers and local businesses in one concerted effort. Their problem was that writing the plan was onerous and fragmented and never seemed to get done even halfway by the fundraising season. This left many volunteers thinking this was all disorganized chaos, and they walked. Repeat over several years. They’d never done a good one….Never even seen one.

“What if they could write the whole fundraising plan in one weekend?”

Consensus was that that would help a lot. So we agreed to design fundraising courses that would achieve that. They wanted to know how I could do that and I said I would design a simulated community, and they would write a plan, in class, and have it graded by experienced fundraisers. They would attend three days of lectures and group work to learn items that should be required in a fundraising plan. On the third evening, a Wednesday, each would be given a packet which contained a 20 page description of a community, with demographics, income sources, governmental structure, major businesses, language groups…the sort of thing I suspect the FBI gives you if you are a new agent in town.

At five o’clock, the students received that packet, two large pads of legal paper, and a manila envelope. I told them that by five o’clock the next afternoon they would turn in their papers. On each page, and on the envelope, they were to make some visual mark, like a flower or shape, so that they could identify their package, but no one else would know whose package it was. The reason for this was, again, politics. In this manner, each individual alone would get his package back, hand-corrected and annotated by long time fundraisers for the Association. They would thus have heavy feedback, but no favoritism among the grading group, and no recrimination from their bosses, at least not from any information supplied by us.

The young student/staff members took it quite well after the shock of realizing they would have to do the equivalent of a large term paper in about 24 hours. However they managed to do it — working together with papers spread the length and width of their motel rooms — they completed this “death march”, and handed in their manila envelopes full of detailed planning for fundraising campaigns in this “mock” city in their state Affiliate.

The real groaners were the fundraisers who used to sit around the bar and tell fundraising stories into the night until trainees were able to slip away. That was the formal “training” in the old days.

Instead, with several of these plans in each of their hands, I asked the fundraisers to go line by line and critique each thought, and say what could make it better. Some of them wrote many sentences per page until they realized they would be up all night as well as those students who had just been through the 24 hour “death march” (for which I became famous and despised by all). I had to keep all the graders happy and awake, bringing in beer and pizza at first. However, as the early morning hours grew in number, I was bringing in coffee and napping pillows.

The students would be in the main conference room to receive their papers back at 9am that Friday morning and receive a general critique by the fundraiser/graders. No one know who had written what or who had graded what, but of course each student knew his or her performance in great detail. The students who had partied all night and the fundraisers who had graded all night were red eyed and a bit shakey but overall, surprised at what they could accomplish.

After giving about six of these classes the first year, to thirty students in each class, the national fundraising went up 30%. The Association was sold on my training, and at that point I asked the Board for money to make a CPR simulator to standardize procedures and allow the outreach of a course that had been plague by the logistics of time and place and the availability of instructors.

CPR courses used a manikin for practice, and my vision was to computerize it. Many physician volunteers had helped in this process, but several of the Board members vocipherously balked when I said I would need $100,000 to do it.

“How do we know it will work?” They asked.

I gave them a lot of studies on flight simulators because there were no directly relevant results anywhere else. I even mentioned that the fundraising training was a sort of simulation that had worked. That was not the ironclad assurance they wanted. However, they knew they must try to solve the problem of giving mass instruction of CPR, and they very much wanted to show that they were doing something.

“Yes, but how do we know it will really work?”

“Because I say it will.”

That was apparently the right answer because, I’m sure partly because of the fundraising success, they wanted someone they could trust who would commit to a solution completely. Luckily my previous job was with Texas Instruments, where I learned how they Design to Cost. The world was about to see both a computerized CPR learning system, and one of the first important demonstrations of the new videodisc technology. It would also make me slightly famous.

Copyright 2017 David Hon – All rights reserved

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