The below post was written as a comment (albeit a long one) in a Reddit thread – almost 7 years ago – about an employee who was given a color laser desktop printer and proceeded to cover her walls in personal pictures. But it is still applicable today, for any medium-to-large company or enterprise attempting to eliminate high-cost local printers. Of course, if you don’t want to eliminate them, at least buy cheaper toner from us at BCOS.

Kill the local printers. Kill them with fire.

We just installed a printer in a new persons office who had their manager give us this line [needing secure printing], and now her office is wallpapered in grandkids’ pictures.

This is not uncommon. Most responses here are correct that this is 99% a people problem, and 1% a technical one. But then everyone seems to go into technical solutions… I’d like to offer an alternative. So here’s my Machiavellian scheme to make everyone WANT to use the central networked printers, and give up their local printers. If you like this approach, head over to r/socialengineering or r/behavioraleconomics to ask their advice on policies that would make this easier for you. Here are my 2 bits.

1) First, you have to kill that “confidential printing” crap excuse that people have. It’s a gaping hole in the side of any plan you would implement, so it has to be your top priority here. A technical solution would be a pin lock on the printers, so each person’s doc will only print when they enter a code. Another option for cheaper printers might be having it pause every time it idles for more than 1 minute, so the user has to visit the printer and press “go” to print.

But you can do better than that: think like a behavioral economist, and raise the cost of using this excuse. I would create a “Confidential printing privileges” form that people have to fill out, preferably more than 1 page and formatted like IRS documents (ie very painfully, easy to fill the wrong box etc). It should ask for a LOT of detail about the nature of your printing needs, what documents you print that are confidential, etc. I would even invent a level of confidentiality for people to assign themselves, just to give them something to agonize over. Require the signatures of not just your manager, but also the department head above him, and maybe someone you don’t like from HR. Require that they attach a sample document, with confidential information blacked out in marker.

When you receive such a form, give the user access (physical and networked) to the nearest “secure” printer room. It should be a key lock, always-locked room, with a placebo camera facing the person who picks up the document.

Of course you’ll need cooperation from all the signing authorities on this, but that’s an easy one to sell: you have an enormously long list of users that need to print highly confidential information! The company doesn’t want that going untracked, do they? We have to make sure that confidential printers are appropriately tracked, and that their documents are printed in a protected, monitored space.

This kills the frog. It has the added benefit of actually increasing security for the people who really do print confidential documents.

2) Please note, you cannot get by with just killing the confidential printing excuse. People will find another excuse quite quickly, and you’ll be back to the same problem. So in tandem with your anti-“confidential printing” tactic, you have to act to change peoples’ preferences. You have to make them WANT to use centralized, networked printing.

This is where r/behavioraleconomics or r/socialengineering could come in handy – you want to give people psychological reasons to prefer networked, centralized printing over their local device. First, recognize what the local device does for them: it offers the feelings of privacy, control, and convenience. You want to eliminate those rewards by adding artificial pain points, and simultaneously reward use of networked printers. I like to think of this as a combination of carrot and stick – beat local printers’ value points with a stick, and make the networked devices print beautiful, orange carrots. Anyway, here’s what I might do in this instance.

The Stick

Remember our three targets: we want to make local printers LESS private, LESS controlled, and LESS convenient than the centralized network printers.

Privacy: Set counters for all of the local printers so you know how many sheets are being printed at each printer. Set an office-wide “green goal” of reducing the amount of excess paper and ink consumed. Eco movements are great moral high ground to use. This should be a fun sort of competition between people, but only you know the real purpose behind it all. You can shame the top 8 greatest paper-users with their names and faces in public (don’t do this with more than ~8, or people will start to find solidarity in being on the list). Talk to some office managers about a policy where people are allowed to (harmlessly!) prank the top paper-user in their office every Friday morning. Give out prizes for the most reduced paper output, the lowest local paper output, etc. Make them prizes that are psychologically valuable, but don’t be afraid of using some small budget for this: a free meal, or 5 free beer can be real motivators. Make sure this all seems like it’s in good humor – you’re not being mean, you’re being green! This is especially true of the shaming list.

Then get serious, and graph the paper usage of individuals on a bell curve. Anyone who is above the median has to submit a report (in person, preferably as far away from their desk as possible) explaining their excessive paper use, and suggesting some alternatives.

See, we’re making peoples’ printing habits as public as we can, without showing the actual documents. Make them feel that every time they print, it’s putting them at risk of public shame or inconvenience.

Control: People get an attachment to familiar things – on some level, they think of their local printer as a trustworthy friend. You have to undermine that friendship. You want the user to think their printer hates them. If you’re really diabolical, you could use programmed failure for this… having 3% of printer dhcp requests give out a bad subnet, or rerouting 1% of local printer traffic to the wrong printer, that sort of thing. I personally wouldn’t go that far, but it’s fun to think about. 🙂

I think you can do a lot just by making the printers seem unreliable with normal printer issues. Intermittent reinforcement is more powerful than consistent performance, so you don’t have to have a huge failure rate for local printers to become a pain in the a**. See if you can buy print cartridges in the size that comes with printers – they usually have 50% of normal ink/toner capacity, so people will have to deal with low ink more often. Replace people’s printer drivers with “more secure” gimp drivers, so there are odd ****ups and incompatibilities, especially around images. (you can’t have HP and Lexmark etc’s printer driver software running on all your computers, especially if they’re printing confidential documents! That is a security breach WAITING to happen).

It’s important to target the pain points at behaviors that they shouldn’t be doing anyway – for example, images are more likely to be from pictures of grandkids than from a confidential document. After the user went through all this trouble to explain why they need confidential access, they are very unlikely to complain about problems printing their personal crap. If they do, make sure to keep record of the complaints in a way that is visible to them (hits at privacy again).

Convenience: Set a policy where getting paper refills for your own local printer is painful – maybe put the non-specialty paper refills in a supply closet on the bottom floor, locked with a key that only managers can access. Make cartridge purchases subject to an RFP process, and make sure that the biggest spenders on cartridges are called in to justify the expense.

The Carrot

Now it’s time for the carrot – networked, centralized printing. In order for this to work, centralized printing has work like a freakin’ dream. Make centralized printing issues your top priority. Schedule regular updates and checks. See if you can remotely check printers’ toner and paper levels, so you can replace cartridges and refill paper pre-emptively. In short, for every pain point you introduce with local printing, make sure it NEVER EVER EVER happens with centralized printing. Remember that intermittent negative reinforcement is more powerful than consistent positive reinforcement, so the occasional breakdowns of local printers will be really hurting people after a few weeks. If your centralized printers have even half as many breakdowns, you will destroy the preference for networked printing very quickly. People will just think

that printing is a pain in the a** in your office. No matter which pain point is hurting a user (print counts? reports about cartridge purchases?), make sure they always have the easy out of using a networked device. No matter what the job, they can remove the pain by choosing the centralized printer. It will cost you probably an extra hour or two a week to do this kind of white glove service, but it will pay off in dividends as people opt to use the central printers instead of their local ones.

Now that the technical experience of networked printing is a delight, work on the human factors. We want to make printing to a centralized device something nice and kind of fun… maybe even something that people look forward to, subconsciously. Position the networked printers conveniently, and especially in social spaces: by the water cooler, at the junction of several cube-rows, etc. Any place where people are likely to run into their friends and talk about the football game will work. Make sure that each networked printer has a coffeepot and some cups beside it. Have fun with your naming scheme, and make sure the users get the joke too – maybe name the printers after Hannah Barbara characters, or something else with a strong positive psychological connection. People automatically feel better going to visit something called George Jetson than about something called “LPJ-403-B”. If you can, make sure the printers have a view, or at least interesting pictures around them and plants. Make it a pleasant space to be in. Again, no one is going to actually say to themselves “dude, I LOVE using this printer, it’s so much fun!” That would be ridiculous. Instead, we’re lining up many small, subtle positive reinforcements around the printer. We are associating local printing with negative emotions, and networked printing with positive ones.

The printer itself, ideally, would be something sexy that they like to use. Anything that increases the perception of local printers as old-and-broken, and networked printers as new-hotness is fair game. So if you can, make the shared printers badass color laserjets. Form counts more than function here a printer that looks cool will have a stronger psychological impact than a better

model that looks clunky. If you can’t afford a sexy color laser printer, just take the nice looking printer every time over the one that is more efficient, or has higher quality, or whatever. Get a brighter white paper for the centralized printers. Make sure that no matter what, the output of the centralized printers looks nicer than what you get from your local printer. It doesn’t have to be night-and-day different – just like with the pleasant printing space, we’re going for subconscious effects here. So even subtle differences like a brighter, or slightly heavier weight paper will help. If management balks at the cost, point out how much money people are spending in their RFPs for new printer cartridges.

For the rollout, I would advise pumping up the feeling of value in the networked printers. Make sure the installation happens in the middle of the morning, when people are looking for something to distract them. The new printer should seem sexy, powerful, and cool. Don’t install the coffeepots yet. Instead, make it seem exclusive: do a round of beta testing where only management is allowed to use the new devices. Then start handing out access as a special privilege – maybe say that an existing printer user has to invite you to the networked printing service, or something like that. DO NOT connect this to the local printer “sticks” in any way. This is not about “it’s better than your local printer”, this is about “it’s the latest laser printing technology, you really have to see the colors to believe it!” Throw in buzzwords and easily repeatable jargon. Even if it’s a cheap laserjet that really does nothing special, you can make it seem special with your phrasing. No one else in the office even understands this stuff, it just sounds impressive. “This baby gets 600dpi!” “It prints more than 30 pages per minute!” These little phrases will be repeated around the office, and will increase the desirability of the new printers.

Once about half the company is on the networked printers, you can open up the trial to everyone. Make sure that getting access is easy, simple enough to explain to your grandmother over the phone, and “just works”. This is when you add the coffee pots. Since it’s a trial, you have an excuse to reinforce peoples’ positive feelings about the networked devices by “collecting feedback.” Walk around and pick some people at random every day to talk to about their thoughts on the new printers. It should be a 5 minute conversation, very casual, at the person’s desk. Start it with some praise and a gift – something stupid and simple will work, just as long as you’re giving it to them and praising them, it will set off the psychological trigger. Maybe walk in with a fresh, unopened bag of M&Ms, and a line like this:

“Hey Doug – got a minute? I’ve noticed that your desktop printing is WAY down in the last few weeks – that’s awesome! You’re really making a difference around here, it looks like your neighbors are starting to follow your lead. Do you have a quick sec? I’m collecting feedback from our best users about the new printers. It’s just a trial deployment, so I want to make sure it’s moving in the right direction. (opening the bag) Want some M&Ms?” Then proceed to get his feedback for a few minutes. That objective is to make him say something positive about the new system. When people say something, it creates a “commitment” in their mind – they are much more likely to continue along that same path than to change their mind later. The script leads him in that direction with a few positive cues: you give praise, imply that his opinion is more valuable than everyone else’s, and give him a gift. You do it on his turf, in a convenient time. And he gets chocolate! All of those things make him much more likely to give a positive review.

Now sit back in your office, and watch the number of local print jobs plummet. Set a threshold, like if a user prints less than 30 pages on your local printer a month, you’ll offer to get it out of there for them, and give it to charity. Make sure to occasionally cackle darkly to yourself, muttering something like “dance, puppets! dance!” Do it quietly though, or they’ll catch on.1 

If you read all that, first off I’m impressed. Second, I feel you’re adequately prepared to launch a Machiavellian scheme of your own. If you’re looking for great devices that meet the “badass color laserjets” category, we can do you one better with some pretty incredible Konica Minolta office copiers. Give us a call at 979.849.6888 or email and let’s get you started killing those local printers!

  1. voice_of_experience comments on Printers or “The bane of my existence”, sysadmin,, voice_of_experience, 9/26/2011