Originally created 05/01/00

Hokrein: Package more vital than packaging



I can smell electronic gadgets a block away.

There's something about the ions in the air or that just-opened-the-box aroma, but I swear I can smell them.

Receivers with surround sound capabilities. Bookshelf speakers with hi-fidelity imaging. Digital video cameras with image stabilization and 40x zoom.

Glossy advertising supplements do them no justice.

They beep and whirr and dazzle. They sound hypnotic. They look mysterious.

Did I mention the smell?

"It's a guy thing," my wife rules, unceremoniously dragging me toward the batteries -- our original quarry on a recent modern-day hunt.

The store is filled with stuff. New computers for less than a month's rent. Speakers that cost more than my first car.

Phones that insult telemarketers for you.

The little black boxes, however, have predator written all over them.

"Move away from the high-definition television," my wife announces moments after she loses me in the crowd.

She's lucky she found me. I was about to be overcome. I wanted to push the buttons.

"Move away and put your hands where I can see them."

She's sweet that way. I mean, how she trusts me with expensive electronics.

She knows I rarely buy. It's enough to turn the dials and feel the static electricity.

She's also aware that I am as weak as the next husband.

I'm not what marketers call an early adopter -- the person who has to have the newest gadget first.

If I had to self-critique my buying style, I'd say I'm more of an electronics hobo, jumping on the technology train when it slows to walking speed.

So I buy a VCR when DVDs are heating up. I accept hand-me-down TVs when projection screens are all the rage.

But once in awhile, I falter. And when I go down, I go down hard.

Last year I decided to replace my single-slot CD player, circa 1983, with a multidisc changer.

The basic model was rated tops by Consumer Reports magazine.

I opted instead for the feature-laden luxury model that also flosses your teeth.

I fell for the brand prestige, the marketing copy, the sleek design.

By purchasing the high-end product, I told manufacturers that there's more to a product than the sum of its components.

There's sizzle with the steak, and often we make a false judgment based on appearance rather than substance.

It's like that with people.

In organizations throughout Augusta, managers choose key employees based on the accoutrements of a career and not on the character of a person.

Skills are important. Expertise is highly valued. Achievements are impressive.

But quality of the individual is the mast from which those flags fly.

You can teach skills and foster achievement, but it's difficult to build character.

However, character can't be measured empirically. It can only be observed.

And that presents a problem for the hiring manager. He must rely on personality tests and other surveys to come to a reasonable idea about a person's likelihood to be honest and ethical.

And in this tight labor market, it's tough to be picky.

But sometimes, opting for the floor model, the one with the dents of experience and the scratches of use, can make a lot of sense -- whether you're buying electronics or choosing a candidate.