All the Little Ants are Marching...

“I got an ant farm; them fellas didn’t grow shit.” – Mitch Hedberg

A few months ago I became aware that a company I deal with still uses dot matrix printers. For those of you who have never seen one, that’s because most companies phased these relics out of existence fifteen years ago.

The dot matrix printer worked so why replace it? Well, it’s more expensive to operate for one since their printers still need the special pin feed paper and they’re buying it in three ply colors.

Anyway, they called me in a panic because their printer died. After a great deal of effort, I convinced them not to fix or replace it with another dinosaur, and get a good laser printer instead.

Red and Black Antennas Waving…

On a recent visit to that site I witnessed the accounts payable people actually using the special three ply dot matrix paper with the laser printer. Once again, for those who have never used one, let me explain why this is a problem. Each box of paper is actually one long contiguous piece of paper with perforations between the individual sheets. So, each piece is torn from that long strip. The paper is also bordered on both sides by perforated strips with holes running down each side. The ancient printers used a pin feed mechanism with round pinned cogs on both sides, and those pins entered the holes of the paper. The Cogs spin and move the paper into the machine. The users were going through all of this hassle for every single print and feeding each piece of colored paper into the laser printer, and manually printing each invoice three times so they’d have separate color copies of the invoice. Each invoice required several minutes to print this way.

They all do it the Same… They all do it the Same Way..

This kind of behavior reminds me of college jobs I had. Between college jobs, I took a temporary position with Amway, which is a multi-level marketing company founded near my hometown in West Michigan. Their production facilities are there and I worked on their factory floor. The supervisors moved the temps to new jobs every two hours. Each station was more boring that the last. I’d spend two solid hours placing empty packaging tubes on a conveyor belt, etc. However, the most boring job was to sit on a stool and watch high pressure spray deodorant bottles run at high speed into a water bath and look for bubbles. The trouble was that you would only see one every fifteen minutes or so. I had terrible trouble staying alert and quickly realized that mind numbing, repetitive tasks were not for me.

Anyway, back to the accounting folks. This kind of behavior is mind-blowing to me as much as Excel Hell. Users can be almost robotic in their actions. They don’t think about their actions nor question them. They simply have to print invoices, this is the invoice paper, use it to create invoices. When I asked them why they weren’t using regular laser printer paper to print invoices their answer essentially was, “Nobody told us to.” In fact, the purchasing department kept ordering this dot matrix paper.

I met with the manager and explained that they should use regular paper. They should eschew the multiple colors and I would create separate copies of the invoice for them. They would save time and the paper would be much cheaper.

However, when he asked his people about the change they unanimously rejected it. They didn’t feel that there was anything wrong with the current process and were comfortable with it. Un-freakin-believable.

Do you notice similar attitudes and behavior in your work?

7 comments to All the Little Ants are Marching…

  • Judy

    I just love the “I’ve always done it this way” people. No reason for not making a change, just don’t want to be uncomfortable for any amount of time. Even if the change would simplify or improve processes. … unbelievable!

  • scott

    My company still uses a dot matrix printer to print our bill of ladings. I would love to get rid of it. However I am not sure how. Our bill of ladings are printed on a three part form. Each form part needs a signature. How do you acomplish this with a laser printer without having to sign each copy individually?


  • Andrew

    Love the Dave Mathews reference.

    Scott, how about an electronic signature that prints out on the form?

  • Fred Crawford

    Yep, daily. You have to show it to them in wasted dollar amounts. Time doesn’t matter, but dollars do.

  • scott


    An electronic signature would not work. Truck drivers (employed by another comapny) are the ones who need to sign it.

  • David I feel your pain as back in the day for (if memory serves) Sunbeam I made toast or opened cans until the tool failed or went up in flames. Good times, not!

    I should note we use a legacy dot matrix once a year for physical inventory.

    A-n-y-w-a-y yes this behavior is everywhere including our little ant farm. My guess is the fear magnitude outweighs the actual ripple of the change itself.

  • @Scott, they are all exact copies, so why not have them sign one and then make 2 traditional copies?

    It would still be cheaper than using that old 3-play with carbon type paper. No?

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