How Many Atoms Does it Take to Change a Tire?

In mid-May of 2022, the Ann Arbor office said so long to one of our interns, Erin Murphy. In reflecting on her time with us, a particularly memorable encounter with a flat tire came to mind. That evening was an example of the adaptability of Atoms and a reflection of how Atomic’s values go beyond the workplace, even if it is just down the street to the Library Lane Parking Structure.

Share the pain.

On a Tuesday evening, Jing and I were chatting on our way out of the office when we ran into Erin. Erin had started as an intern just shy of a month ago. A few times a week, she made the hour-plus commute to be in the Ann Arbor office. When we met her, she was finishing up a service request after discovering that her tire was flat.

Without missing a beat, Jing put on her consultant hat and asked if Erin knew how to change a tire. When Erin told us that she did not know how to change a tire, Jing asserted, “We could change the tire.”

It turned out that none of us had ever actually changed a tire. I knew, theoretically, how to change a tire. Jing was confident we could figure it out. Erin was game to try while waiting for roadside assistance to arrive. Armed with limited knowledge, optimism, and the goal of not leaving Erin on her own to get home that night, we set off to learn how to change a tire together.

Teach and learn.

Approaching a challenge for the first time, whether it is taking on a new job, researching a technology you’ve never used before, or figuring out how to change a tire for the first time, knowing how to start can be daunting. Often, I find that starting with identifying what it is that I do know helps me identify what I do not know. From there, I can frame what I need to know.

For the three Atoms who had never changed a tire, we started by pulling out our tools and referencing Google. It didn’t take long for the three of us to figure out what our tools were for and how to use them.

But after a few minutes of testing and tinkering, we couldn’t loosen the lug nuts. At that point, Erin revealed that the hubcaps were not the original ones. This, it seemed, prevented standard tire irons from being able to loosen the lug nuts.

Challenging yourself can lead to growth but don’t remain stuck.

Determined to see if we couldn’t solve the problem ourselves, we pushed on. We texted dads and husbands. We Googled more for what the internet had to say about these hub caps and tried other tire irons. When we’d exhausted our resources with no success, we pivoted away from trying to change the tire.

Think long term.

Given that these hubcaps required a unique tool to remove them, we anticipated the risk that roadside assistance might not have the right tool either. But Erin still needed to get home that evening.

Continuing to collaboratively problem solve, we looked for workarounds. If changing the tire wasn’t an option, could we inflate it long enough to get Erin and the car home? Could she drive the car out of the garage and to a repair shop? Could Erin’s parents give her a ride home?

By the time roadside assistance arrived, Erin’s dad was on his way. Running through the problem on our own and again with the technician, we hit the same blocker.

Own it. Even when things get hard.

Three Atoms, three phoned family members, many Google searches, and a professional later, we still couldn’t change a tire. We could, however, fill it with air and see how fast it was leaking. By the time Erin’s dad arrived 20 minutes later, the tire had already lost significant pressure.

With repair shops closed for the day, we brainstormed where to park Erin’s car for the night so it could be towed in the morning. We agreed that Erin would get a ride home with her dad. Finally, we had the technician fill the tire up again so they could drive it out of the parking garage.

Though the solution didn’t look like what we imagined at the start of a project, we supported each other, owned what we could, and learned together. While the tire didn’t get fixed that night, Erin had a plan for the next steps and made it home safe.

Atomic values run deep.

In my brief three months at Atomic, I have seen just how core these values are to Atoms, and not just as professionals but as people. We are collaborative problem solvers adept at finding and building solutions for our clients as well as looking out for and supporting each other. The values on our website aren’t just aspirational values that we toss around or hope to embody someday down the line. They are lived every day by Atoms.


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