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This story from NPR is a sad look into the world of employment today. The city of Seattle is one of the big computer science hotbeds in the country (along with San Francisco, Austin, and a few others) and yet they find themselves unable to fill jobs people desperately want because there are not enough people leaving college with that major. Part of the local problem is that the University of Washington is not growing their computer-related majors of studies to meet the demand being brought to the area. Students are getting turned down because even though they want to come there and learn there just is not enough classroom to handle them.
Is that really the student’s fault that they can’t make that work? Is it the company’s fault for putting down its roots in Seattle and trying to grow a brand? Yes, the company could have gone anywhere and maybe made it work. After all, the world of high speed internet is making it easier to put a business just about anywhere and still having them be able to succeed. Looking at the student, who knows that these areas of opportunity exist, maybe should not be looking at the local school market to get a degree. There are hundreds of universities out there that can get you a computer science or engineering degree and yet that student is looking at that one school to help them out. Sure, these local Seattle companies are going to work with the university to find interns or look for those hungry students that are yearning for work in that field. Again, though, the world is becoming a much smaller place by way of social media and internet communication. You can be as much in a company’s employment radar from a thousand miles away as you can be from ten miles away. Companies love willingness to adapt and if you show the desire to want to work with them and the skills to do the work then you will have just as good a shot to get that job as someone who is coming out of the University of Washington or wherever else. That is the kind of world we live in now.
This does not mean that the University of Washington, or any such school in their predicament, is off the hook. It’s not exactly news that the computer science field is exploding, especially in Seattle. This school is at the forefront of bringing employable people to the region and yet they have not been able to grow that program to meet the demands of the student body. They are screaming at the school to take their money (loans or otherwise) and let them be computer scientists and engineers but oh, no, they can not do that because that’s just too heavy a workload for the people they have there.
Okay, the following is going to be completely off the top of my head and is entirely fictional but will be used to prove a point. Let’s just say that, I don’t know, History has tapered off as a college major at the University of Washington. Maybe ten years ago there were 150 graduates in that field and now there are 50. If that program has not shrunk, maybe not even by two-thirds but at least somewhat, then the school is not doing its part to help the students coming to their school to get a career-worthy education. It’s not to say that they should not offer History because there isn’t enough students to sustain it, but if you have students beating your doors down to do other subjects that you can’t afford to give them because you are funneling funds into History (or whatever lesser-desired field) just because you feel “you have to”, then again you are failing to do your job as an institution of education. Just as there is a reason students do not have to partake in buggy-driving class because there are not buggies to be driven anymore, then maybe everyone needs to look at the system they are a part of and see what people want, what you are giving them, and where there are opportunities to improve.
Students can find an education if they really want to work, schools can find students if they really want to work, and businesses can find workers if they really want to look. The problem is that students don’t seem to want to look, schools don’t care to change, and businesses will cry that they can’t find the proper employees because the college two blocks down the road would rather teach Shakespeare and the Franco-Prussian War than Objective-C and HTML5. Show your wants and needs to the world, and people will come. It does not matter what side of this you are on. Companies can find work, Schools can find students, and graduates can find work. They have to be willing to work a little harder than looking just outside their front door, but the rewards can be so much sweeter.
You will note Terry Gross wasn’t on this story, because she would have Chuck Norris-style roundhouse kicked these idiots and told them to post on Twitter that they are hiring and watch the resumes roll in. You don’t have to live in Seattle/SF/Austin to learn how to use a computer for money and you don’t have to go to school there, either. Being unemployed is not always your fault, but you might have to be willing to do a little more than cry about it to fix the problem. Sorry to be the one to tell you that.
It is difficult to come to terms to the fact that Education is just as much about “business” as it is about all that learning stuff that hopefully goes on. Sure, as far as primary/secondary public schools go your choice comes down more to your address than anything else, but you are still a customer of a service being offered by, well, the Board of Education as a whole. Every (public) school is part of a local (or potentially national) chain of schools that hope when you walk through the door and into those classrooms you are thinking of them more as a Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s than a Walmart or Goodwill (no offense to Goodwill). Everyone has an idea of what they want out of the system, and sadly they don’t always mesh together well.
Teachers, or people that go into teaching, are looking for job security and a paycheck. Even though there is the stigma that teaching is not as well-paying as they should be, they go. They know that there is (usually) some kind of security in their job choice because there will always be people that need to be taught something and they will be there to help them out. It is not to say that all teachers are only looking at monetary goals, as there is the knowledge that as a teacher you have the ability to share ideas and influence a new generation to be better than the current one (if you do your job well enough). There is no amount of money that can pay for the ability to make the world a better place even if it is just 30 children at a time every twelve months or so.
Students in school want, at the very least, enough education to survive once they make it through the system. This might be a bit of an idealized statement, as we know that empathy and laziness tend to cloud student’s minds as they work their way inexorably toward some soul-sucking middle-management-or-lower career path. In those cases, it can become a desperate search not for knowledge as part of a classroom and the work that comes with gaining the knowledge, but just a quest for the right answers. Give them whatever is correct, let them spout it out, and get out of their way because there is no way they are spending more than five minutes doing your pitiful worksheet when they have friends they could be talking to – which of course is another thing students like about education. They get to be social in a way that is not as scrutinized as they think the rest of their life is under the watchful eyes of their parents or guardians. Your parents won’t know if you called someone a “f-face” in between classes because they weren’t there to tell you that that kind of language is “bad”, so ha-ha on them. They won’t be there to tell you that you can’t talk to the guy in the leather jacket that smokes outside thirty percent of the school day or the girl with eighteen piercings and a fascination with animal blood and Norwegian death metal. You can do whatever you want, just so long as you remember to keep your shirt collar looking good and you do all of your necessary homework.
And what about the parents? In effect they might just want babysitting out of it all. They hope that there are grown-ups around their children to keep them away from the smokers and the death metal and are not as worried about what exactly they are learning because, hey, “If I made it through school then they can, too!” Of course, most parents do hope that their kids get as good of an education as they can, mainly because their tax dollars are helping to fund it and, damn it, that better be worthwhile or people are going to hear about it. Taxpayers without children want that, too, especially with how much “money toward education” is used as a reason to up their percentages a little bit more year after year.
Everyone wants something about of education, even if it’s not exactly “an education”. It is more of a business than it maybe should be, and that leads to all kinds of customer service issues that can crop up and really ruin your day. Think about The Breakfast Club, and Brian Johnson dealing with not getting straight A’s and knowing that his parents are going to be severely disappointed in him. He is doing all that work to satisfy his parent customer and is desperate to do the work that will make his teacher happy, even if the teacher would be just as happy with “the nerdy kid” getting an average grade and getting out of his manly environment. He did what he could and when that didn’t work, he flipped out a little and grabbed a flare gun. We’ve all seen those that go a tiny bit off the handle when feeling wronged by some company. Who knows how exactly his parents would have reacted had the “gun” thing not happened and he just walked up to them with a bad Shop class grade.
Is it the parent’s job to help the student? Is it their job to communicate to the teacher their problems? Is it the teacher’s job to listen to the parents or even to suck it up and put hours and hours of extra time into helping this one student who is lagging behind his or her classmates? The student and the parent might be shouting loud and clear that yes, absolutely, the teacher needs to get off his or her ass and help their child. The teacher, on the other hand, might be dealing with dozens, if not hundreds, of other students who are having zero problems, or even problems of their own, and is juggling not just their classroom responsibilities but also responsibilities to their superiors. Is it right to ask them to add to their workload and be more of a tutor than a teacher? Yes, there is a difference, and it’s not just how many people you are teaching at a given time. This is not a Shop class thing exclusively, this is any class and any teacher. Students that want the education they feel they are entitled to, whether at a public school or at a paid private school or even a university, may find it hard to get exactly what they want if their teachers/professors are looking at them and biting their tongue to the point of blood-loss to not scream that they are not doing their job as a student good enough to meet the expectations set by the teacher.
Conversations need to happen. Yes. That much is true. But the conversations need to be two-way and they need to have clear definitions of what each person wants out of the other. Just as people go into Walmart and hope for everyday low prices and would undoubtedly get upset if their generic bottle of soda is suddenly a dollar more and there is no damn way we are paying that and we are going to go to <insert regional grocery/market chain here>, students need to understand what their teachers are not only capable of but also what the teacher is expecting them to be capable of. Walmart expects you to be capable of paying two dollars for soda, and if you are not capable of that then you might need to leave. In the world of education, there are always other teachers teaching other classes. If you are not willing to see eye to eye, the customer/student is the one that is going to be looking for another place to use their brain while the teacher shakes their head, having lost a customer and maybe wondering if their business decisions are sound. They might change in the future, just as soda might be back to being a dollar tomorrow. That’s how customer service works, and it’s a bigger part of education than anyone really cares to pay attention to.
There’s no need to yell, scream, whine, or complain when you aren’t getting your way. Talk it out. If that doesn’t work, there are always other places to go and people willing to teach and be taught. There is no monopoly on education, no matter what you think. The faster we all pay attention to the fact that Education is a market and a business, the better off we will all be for it.
Everyone knows SimCity, right? Do I really need to explain that it is a world-building simulation game where the goal is to create the biggest possible city one could in the given space and time allotted? Alright then, let’s move on. A good bit of doing well in SimCity (the original from 1989/1991 depending on how you played it) was understanding how to use the environment given to you to achieve the goal of giant populations and happy citizens. It was simple and maniacally addicting, especially for nerds like me that are into that kind of thing.
Moving on, many players figured out early on that manipulating the budget was an easy way to keep folks in your simulated city happy. No taxes equals all smiles. After running through a few decades and getting a high enough population, it was not exactly a hurt on your wallet to drop that number down. However, this is not exactly the type of thing I am talking about when I bring up “the environment”, though it does play a part.
A big problem in SimCity was traffic. Lots and lots of traffic. Even with great metro systems it was easy to find yourself with tons of tiny black dots trapped all over every single roadway on your map. The solution to this was actually quite simple, and all it took was a little bit of understanding the environment – not of the map but of the task that you were doing. You, the player, were doing just that. You were playing a computer game. The roads were no more real than the buildings or the tiny cars littering the streets and giving you tons of pop-ups begging you for buses and trains. The secret, one could learn, was that it only took one bit of road adjacent to a building square to give those people access to street transportation. The best part was that you did not even have to connect it to anything. One 1×1 brick of road attached to a 3×3 Residential, Commercial, or Industrial zone was all that zone needed to be happy, and there was never any traffic because if you can’t go anywhere in the first place, you can’t get stuck!
Surround those puppies with some grassland and you have yourself instantly happy people with a much cleaner air supply and the pop-ups just go away until there’s a nuclear meltdown or an alien invasion or something. All you had to do was realize what it was the City really wanted and give it to them and not an inch more. The more road you dropped willy-nilly around smokestacks and office buildings the harder it was for the computer to tell your people to go places. 500,000 people strong and just stuck in ones and zeros of black cars and fuming rage for their beloved mayor. “Maybe if the tax was higher than zero percent that lunatic could afford to buy a damn bus!”
In business, sometimes it is all about understanding what sort of environment you are working in and what exactly it means to use that environment to your advantage and not just go crazy because you, apparently, can. While you may not be able to reframe a business problem in the same way that the SimCity player reframed a city problem into a computer coding problem, you may find that what really needs to be done to get something done correctly is, well, less……..maybe with a little bit of grassland around to bring in extra oxygen to the board meetings. I am not saying it’s good to give less than one hundred percent, but it can be true that 80% might actually be better than 120% if the environment was never built for the 120% in the first place. Customer Service is, more than likely, one of those places. You can’t give vouchers for 10,000 replacements if only 8,000 of them exist. The 2,000 people that were mad about having to get the original replacement and won’t be getting the new one you promised them are going to be so much angrier than if you would have looked a little bit harder, reframed the problem, and came up with a better solution than over-selling your wares and hoping that after nothing shows up in their mailbox in the next six months they leave you alone and don’t haphazardly napalm your call center with extreme prejudice.
Sometimes the gentlest hands, and smartest minds, beat the heck out of brute force and mazes of pavement (or whatever else you must trample on or over to get to a satisfactory destination).
As anyone that has ever tried their hands in the world of video games, they will be sure to tell you how most of them take place in the third-person perspective. You follow your character from behind, the side, over the shoulder, or what-have-you as you make your way through whatever world you happen to be dumped into after the Start screen. In business, there are many times when people just do not go “outside themselves” to look at what they are doing from a different perspective.
In my job history, when I am put in a situation where I am trying to teach someone a new task (or even when I am trying to streamline the things I already do) it is incredibly helpful to view what I am doing from the outside. Also, as with video games, it is good to always keep yourself aware of your goals. Whether it is reaching a flag, crossing a gap, or something as banal and ordinary as helping your place of employment save money or be more efficient, just keep it in mind. While treating your job the way one might treat the wide open sandbox worlds of Grand Theft Auto (minus the theft and murder, of course), even in those games and in that environment one has to be aware of goals that need to be accomplished. Very few careers are impacted positively by just doing whatever it is you feel like while on the clock with no rational explanation.
Outside of just being aware of goals, the third-person perspective in gaming gives you the ability to see things you might not otherwise be able to see. If you looked at the original Super Mario Bros. as being behind the eyes of Mario, you would have no way of knowing that a Goomba was lurking just over a set of steps or that the third pipe behind a wall features a waiting Piranha Plant. The side-scroll view gives us that information. In games like Gears of War or Resident Evil we can use the over-the-shoulder viewpoint to look around corners or over cover to what dangers lie ahead. There are so many times I wish this was possible but alas, I am stuck in first person in my own body.
Fear not, as you can use the wonders of your mind and imagination to give yourself that third-person view and maybe even a little bit of precognition in what your current actions might cause to happen in the future. It is not to say that businesses are just gigantic Rube Goldberg devices waiting to be set off by tripping over a wire or kicking a bowling ball, but everyone you do to help satisfy a goal will have some sort of repercussion, either good or bad, to achieving that goal. Sure, you might think you have what it takes to clear that big managerial gap, but it could just leave you falling into a bottomless pit from which you will be stuck back ten steps away from where you just were…and that is only if you are lucky enough to work in a company that gives you save or checkpoints. Either way, it might help to keep a stack of quarters on your desk, just in case.
Originally, I wanted to title this post “Stupid Doesn’t Win”, except that sometimes it really, really, really does. It wins far more than it ever should, and as my updated title says, it should simply never, ever win. Not even once. Not at all.
There seems to be an issue with defeating stupidity – to not allow it to exist in even the smallest of quantities. People are always eager to point out that stupidity and ignorance are “found everywhere” and cite it as “inescapable”, which is apparently reason enough for them to not try and fight against it. If anything has to stop, that sort of thinking should be top of the list. Allowing even an iota of unintelligent thought to cloud the judgment of any decision is almost worse than even allowing its voice to be heard in the first place.
Think about it: If I want something to work properly, especially something that involves a team, I am going to train the heck out of everything and everyone until the only way a mistake should likely happen is by sheer bad luck or at least something that is completely out of the control of me or my team. If someone on the team is not able to understand exactly what is going on, why they have to do what is being asked of them, and how their completion of the task helps out not only everyone else on the team but maybe even the rest of the company – then they should not be in that spot. Fire them, replace them, relocate them – whatever needs to be done to make sure that they are not the thing that causes failure. Granted, I hate failure that is not in my control, but when it is in my control it is a billion times worse. If I am just a cog in a corporate machine, and the gear I crank helps crank fifteen other gears that eventually helps get something important done, then I am just going to crank until I can’t crank anymore. If I am not sure if I am cranking it correctly, then I will figure out if I am doing it wrong and change my work if I am. If I think I have found a better way to crank it, then I damn sure do not want to hear my superiors tell me that doing it a better way would be bad because the other people around me cranking the same gear would not be able to crank it the better way because they are stupid.
You never hear machines complain that what they have to do is too hard, or if you reprogram to do their job differently they don’t suddenly give up because they don’t understand what it is you are telling them. They just do it, that is unless the program has tons of bugs in it or the machine isn’t capable of actually replicating the needs of the new program. If either of those things happen, you either rewrite the program to suit the machine or you replace the machine – usually without a second thought. Human workers are obviously not machines, but the same rules should nevertheless apply. If you tell them to do something, and they can’t, either figure out a better way to teach them (rewrite the program) or find someone new to take over (replace the machine). It is hard to accept that, as far as business is concerned, we are just little machines that combine to help power a big machine to success. Stupidity only exists in machines because the people that built them screwed up, that doesn’t mean the designers and engineers just leave it there because, hey, it is inescapable and everywhere. No, they fix it, because stupidity should never, ever win.
Stop letting it.
There exists the old adage that stupidity is everywhere. One might talk about some sort of stupidity at their job, in their classes, or just out in the world around them. One might then express the desire to change their job, classroom, or general habits to avoid those specific forms of stupidity. The answer will come down as if heralded by trumpets and streamers that it matters not where you go or what you do that stupidity in some form will be wherever they go, no matter what.
I have never understood why this is considered acceptable.
Granted, a good portion of these instances might just be bad luck or petty annoyances that have been psychologically inflated to mean more than they actually do. Everyone has bad days, or just bad moments, myself included. However, the general idea of these annoyances has stirred up a sort of stereotype, or at least an incredible generalization, that can rear its ugly head at a moment’s notice. It is not an uncommon occurrence to hear someone else say that they do not wish to deal with someone else because they are “stupid” or any similar descriptor one can invent.
For purposes of this post, let’s imagine that in a given scenario featuring ten people that eight of them would tend to agree that the other two would fall into the category of “stupid.” What exactly does this mean? In terms of completing projects, asking for assistance, or even being interacted with at all those two people would find themselves shuttered away from everyone else, either by ignorance or force (or both). The fact is: no one wants to deal with stupid.
But let’s take another look at this scenario. What if, instead of stupidity as the issue, it was one of trust. Yes, trust can waiver due to repeated moments of declared “stupid behavior”, but trust is still the overlying theme. You would rather do something yourself, or with less overall input from your group of peers, than open it up to everyone and take the chance of someone else’s stupidity either not helping or even hurting your progress toward a goal. This leads into another potential unit of measure – ease. The faster, or easier, one can get a job done is all the better for the worker. Adding in unstable elements that could cause the amount of ease to vanish, or turn into even harder work, is a negative no one should or would want to deal with.
If you can not work with stupid, work around it.
You might think that the above is the absolute simplest answer to the problem of what to do when surrounded by perceived stupidity. But there is actually a much easier (but not necessarily better) way that people take all of the time when confronted with this problem. They simply do nothing at all. They see no reason to even bother trying to change what is around them and instead continue to float surrounded by what they feel is complete incompetence with no safe haven in sight. As I said, nothing about this is better, it’s just easier. Putting yourself in a position to fail (and possibly be made to look stupid yourself) is not a risk worth taking, especially in education and business matters.
The problem that flows out of all of this is the idea that confrontation is the worst thing you can do to deal with the perception of stupidity. No one wants to be the one that sits down with a classmate or fellow employee and tells them that you think they are stupid or worthless at their current position, be it as the member of a work team or a group project. Even still, no one wants to be the one to seek out help from above, be it a teacher or manager, lest unknown backlash be levied against them by other parties (perhaps the people who you have labeled, justly or unjustly, in the first place).
Giving someone that label is not always inaccurate, but it does not get any closer to changing the outcome you are trying to prevent. In some situations, the idea of doing nothing at all is not an option, though there are some that may shoehorn it into their list of choices just to give themselves an escape hatch. That said, there are times when that label is given not as an accurate description of someone else’s abilities, but as an excuse to take that easy way out of simply not doing anything at all. If that team of ten people are tasked with cleaning a specific area with brooms and ten hours to do so, that is fine. But if then eight of them are told to create something to help the other two clean faster (like, say, a vacuum…which may take an hour to build to take away two hours of overall work), the eight might scoff at making the job more difficult for the stupid people by giving them more advanced equipment that they may not know how to use properly. Remember, this is just a quick example.
The mentality is that while, yes, building the vacuum may take that single hour to build it could very well cause the two people forced to use it multiple hours of confusion, or at least enough for them to forget about it and go back to the broom. Thus, that is time wasted. Time that businesses can not afford to just have floating off into space. This mentality is really only partially plausible. While the prior scenario may be the one that plays out, with careful planning from the eight builders and a good use of time and training, they might not save the total of two hours, but they could still come out ahead in the long run (and if asked to clean an even larger area in a similar fashion they will already have the equipment necessary without having to rebuild it new from scratch). This psychological tug of war between work that needs to be done, work that is actually done, and work that is extraneous due to issues converting the needs into the haves is precisely what causes people to take the easy road of nothing far more than the path of actual labor. Now imagine if everyone did this all the time, and visions of economic (or at least capitalist and corporate) collapse will start filling your heads.
I will always agree (and state time and time again here and elsewhere) that work is hard, especially at first. But if no one would have decided to make that first vacuum, instead deciding that the consumers set to use it were too stupid to understand it, then we would still be wasting quite a lot of time with brooms in our hands rather than experiencing a much greater abundance of free time than innovation and (gasp) hard work as afforded us. We just can not let thoughts of stupidity keep us from continuing to do a little more work now en route to reaping benefits later.
Doing that would be, well, pretty darn stupid.
Everyone is well aware that the primary goal of a commercial business is to profit. They do this by being efficient, planning ahead, and using bits and pieces of their current profits to build toward more and more profits in the future. It is just this kind of thinking that could be applied to the mentality of the student and their education. By thinking of yourself more as a corporation and knowledge as profit as your goal, one can begin to craft a model of living that is best suited toward maximizing your brainy profits.
Every company had to start somewhere, and so does every student. Companies choose what sort of industry they wish to be in, what kind of materials to start with, and go from there, adding and subtracting along the way as they find what does and does not work for their needs and driving corporate vision. Putting together a vision of your future self and building a pathway toward it is a wonderful first step in the process, but always (always always) remember that this path and finish line can and probably will change. Being prepared for these changes, or at least anticipating where they might come from, can help ease into them as seamlessly as possible. For instance, young high school students enjoy thinking about what sort of college or university they want to attend. They see them on sporting events and in all sorts of other regions of popular culture. They feature in films, TV shows, books, etc and long before the words “tuition”, “financial aid”, and “student loan” are even of interest to them they are drawn to these powerhouses of learning.
Reality soon hits, as it almost always does, and those that don’t find themselves seated at the perfect spot on that educational bell curve and thrust into whatever school they can find that meets their needs, both in terms of the actual learning context and what they are able to afford. Still, hope is not lost, especially if you had known that this potential disaster could strike. Research colleges (and even potential majors of study) the way companies research product markets – find where you are best suited for yourself as a student and as a future employee out in the real world. You might be fantastic at all things basket-weaving , but outside of a shop on Etsy it might not be the best career choice one could make…and it also may be severely undervaluing your own personal worth.
It is hard not knowing that you are good at something. It is that old paradox of possibly being the greatest violinist ever but you don’t know that because you’ve never even held a violin let alone tried to play it. I tend to usually fall into the mindset of schools featuring almost too many classes that don’t do enough as far as teaching the subject the way someone interested in it would want to have it taught, but I know that without taking a class like Chemistry I would never have known how much I should not be left around chemicals without very direct supervision. On the other hand, I found myself interested in classes like Psychology and Philosophy in college (or the ways they are taught at least) that I probably would have had no inclination to sign up for if it was not a requirement of, oh, almost every student that attended that university.
I walk this tight rope every single day, and I did not even have this kind of advice available to me fifteen years ago. I hate being forced to “learn” something I don’t wish to, but sometimes am shocked to find myself wrapped up in a thing I’ve never heard of until five minutes before that moment. It is always very possible that I could have created a deeper filter for that kind of thing if I would have been more aware of it earlier (or even at the time) but alas I am well past being able to make those kinds of choices and time travel/age regression technologies are nowhere near where they should be for me to pull off such a feat.
Businesses can indeed fail miserably because they too do not have the technology to undo their past mistakes. However, there also exist companies that were able to take their mistakes, learn from them, and use them to build to a brighter future before they could be swallowed by their own lapse of competence. If you set out for a goal, be it a potential career or even just a first step like “I have always wanted to learn about __insert subject here__”, prepare yourself for possible letdown (though hopefully this happens closer to the latter than the former). At the age of 14 or 15 (or sometimes even 18 or 19) a person is not all that well equipped to be a good judge of themselves as a 9-to-5 adult. Granted, I honestly and truly want to help people equip themselves, but nobody is perfect. By creating a map of where you wish to go, it is easier to spot the potential forks and maybe even build out from them and see what wonderful places they go. You may be someone that wanted to be a rock star but found out through one or two music classes too many that you are horrible at playing any sort of instrument — but hey, you understand music and you have found yourself doing incredibly well on the composition side and there are classes and careers just for that! Amazing! You never even thought of all the hours and days you would have to spend actually writing music before picking up that guitar or those drumsticks, and once you did you were quickly asked by the police never to do so again, but the actual music was darn good! That’s a profit you never expected in a market you were barely paying attention to and now it is where you are digging in your heels for the long haul. You forked for from your plan and still came to a place you enjoy. Really that is all one can ever hope to do in business, education, or otherwise.
Some incredibly smart people have realized how the economy over the past few years seems to be creating quite a large valley between the upper class and the middle and lower classes. The larger that valley becomes, the harder it will be to bridge it. The same could be said, in many ways, about the valley that can grow between the salaried employees (management in this example) and the hourly employees (mostly entry level).
“Of course!” you say. “There has to be a separation!” That is not something I would ever deny. However, I do see problems when the bridges that need to exist between the two sides suddenly break down and become uncrossable, even by the best managers and employees. One must be aware of how deep and wide that valley is getting and make sure to keep as many channels to cross open as possible.
Communication is the first major bridge. It is probably the biggest one of them all and the one that can break down the easiest. Not everything a person knows in their job is meant to be shared. Management has their issues that may only minimally affect the team they supervise, while sometimes it could be in everyone’s best interest to not let all of the low down dirty secrets, System D as it could be called, of the physical labor force. Nobody needs to know how one goes about getting through their own person s—storms, so long as they do without any major collateral damage.
Collateral damage is what those above the labor want to avoid the most. Well, that and problematic emotional thunderstorms of rage, depression, and submission – not wanting to continue on with the job at hand. Nobody wants to see their work force surrender, especially due to preventable conditions that seemed to only occur because that valley between them and their bosses was too wide to communicate their symptoms of emotional imbalance. This is just a long-winded way to say that most employees know long before things get impossible that they are on the path to impossible. They just might not know how exactly to U-turn back to workable conditions.
If you are on a team where this valley appears to be forming, take the time out of your day to try and build back up those bridges. Communicate your issues, your ideas, and even speak up about the fact that you feel your supervisor is becoming much more of a flighty ghost of a boss than a rock-solid cornerstone to build a great team around. If you are a supervisor, manager, or what-have-you – and you are watching your team slip away or are suddenly finding yourself under scrutiny for your leadership abilities, work on the parts of your leadership that matter most to your team. Ask questions, discuss weaknesses on all sides of the company, and find out what everyone’s expectations are.
In many cases, expectations not being lived up to is one of those big deal-breakers between employees and their managers. Make sure to always know what is expected of you and continue to communicate to everyone necessary what you expect of them. If those bullet points change, communicate those changes. Paying attention to your surroundings and how all of your work-related variables ebb and flow is one of the most important skills any one on any level of the career ladder can learn and utilize to their benefit.
Attention, Communication, Commitment. Shrink the valley and build a rock-solid foundation of teamwork. Yes, it is much harder than it sounds, but keep focused. If you want it to come together, it will. Trust me.
Seeing as how one of my very good friends, Chris Barnes of Ridiculously Awesome, just finished up a lu-lu of a countdown about the 30 things he most loves about comics, I decided my post would slightly steal from the comic book world and morph it into something I can use to talk more about the wonderful world of Work and Productivity.
For the unaware, The World Of Cardboard Speech (as it has come to be known) was spoken by Superman to Darkseid during the epic grand finale of the Justice League Unlimited animated series. In around ninety seconds, we were given a glimpse into the mind of a Sun God (thanks Grant Morrison!!) and he showed us that he had always scaled back from his full power because, well, he’s Superman and he could conceivably be nigh-unstoppable if put in the correct mindset. Superman is well aware of the potential problems all of his superpowers could cause to people who could be defeated by another Earth citizen’s punch, let alone the punch of a solar-powered alien. For those that wonder what a topped out Superman could do one could look no further than the Earth-3 version, Ultraman, who is the mirror-image of Superman (that is, evil) and turned up to 11.
What we learn most from his speech is just how much he has to curtail his physical effort when saving the world, so as to still be their Savior rather than a Messiah. He knows he can function on the level of a “god” to the Earth, but chooses to simply keep order (also, with Batman around, I doubt I would want to try and take over the world, powers or no powers). This is something that can almost definitely be applied to the universe of Work, especially when it comes to teamwork.
Everyone is different. Everyone has different energy levels, ability levels, effort levels, etc. It is not out of the realm of possibility that on any given team there are people whose minimum ability could be higher than another person’s maximum ability. That higher-ability individual could invariably be tasked with potentially carrying the group on his back to the finish line, rather than let the team’s pieces move independently toward the same goal. These sort of situations can happen in every job, and I can not even badmouth or put down the system. Better employees have always and will always have more shoveled on their plate than worse employees. It’s a hazard of the job. Where the Cardboard comes in is when those that have the ability and the effort restrain themselves to keep from being targeted by those handing out the orders. Unlike in the world of DC Comics, this can create problems.
There are very few people, bar workaholics I guess, who want to see themselves dragging the rest of their team behind them all while being well aware of their actual abilities. It would be on the same level as Batman fighting off Killer Croc and Bane while Superman sat in a corner and randomly swatted at the air in a vain attempt at physical contact. Everyone in the room knows he is capable of much more, and is holding back because maybe on that day he doesn’t feel like being a superhero even though it is his job to do so (not exactly a job he had all that much say in, mind you, but it would be laughable to try and compare the average employee to the Last Son of Krypton on every level, now wouldn’t it?).
On the flip side, a much less noble Superman might find himself distressed and distraught over saving some other superhero countless numbers of times – a hero who is capable on some kind of super-powered level but is nonetheless weaker than the villainy he finds himself up against. Dick Grayson fighting Darkseid would be an incredibly one-sided affair, regardless of Grayson’s abilities at handling Killer Moth or Ding Dong Daddy when they get out of line. Why put yourself in a situation where you are clearly outmatched? Of course, in a job or career there are plenty of reasons to do such a thing (like pay increases or extra benefits), but those who are unable to increase their effort to desired levels will find themselves back where they started rather quickly, usually at the instance of whomever it is that was forced to save him or her by way of general workplace ethics.
It is not to say that one should never help out those less-able or less-experienced around them. However, it is important to keep an eye out for problems that could arise from people consistently underperforming or possibly even being underutilized because their talent level is much higher than currently assumed or judged. In every World of Cardboard there are two types of people, those that live in the world and treat it as normal and those that live in the world constantly monitoring their every action to make sure they are doing more good than harm. Even the hardest of workers can do harm, though in some cases the harm is more imaginary than real or based on variables no one is properly taking into account – like ability. If one worker understands their ability to be above average (say a 7 to the team’s 5), it would be unwise to assume that the team can do the work of an entire team of 7s, yet this happens quite often. On one hand, management would say that they have their goals and are sticking to them, and a percentage would even make it clear that they are fully prepared to replace the 5s if they do not comply to their demands. On the other hand, a group of 5s being tasked to follow such an average would find their job to be almost completely impossible to even do, let alone do at the level in which their superiors wish was being done.
And what happens to the 7 that finds himself stranded in the middle? Does he or she power themselves down to the 5s and treat potential opportunities like cardboard, or do they unleash the power they have to be the Savior the rest of their team desperately needs but may not exactly want? Remember, the world may not be ready for a full-powered Superman, especially when he goes about punching a New God through several buildings and slamming him into a crater in the middle of downtown. I don’t even want to think of the casualties involved – casualties that could occur just as much in a workplace environment when one person decides to let the cardboard just try and stand up for itself, bringing about the potential for an even higher average to be placed on the team, one that could itself be out of their reach and farther out of reach of the people they just supposedly ‘saved’ by plowing through to the projects end.
In the end, it is a tight rope most people will find themselves walking at some point or another during their years of employment, but few will find a way to walk it well and even fewer will find a way to soar above it…like a bird, a plane, or even Superman himself.
Imagine a newspaper headline – international news, amazing discovery, in the year 2011 we finally know that 2 plus 2 equals 4.
Let that sink in for a minute, and begin to realize the silliness comes from the simple fact that everyone already knows that obvious piece of information. Now expand your brain cloud and see the path I am inching my way down. Everyone knows that effort is important. Most people probably even know why it is important, but I suspect very few believe that they know with absolute certainty why Effort really matters. In effect, it actually is nothing more than simple math. We can all do that math and we are all quite aware of the equation needed to create Work.
Effort plus Time plus or minus Variables equals Production, or Productivity. Remember that I classify a variable as anything that is technically out of your control unless Effort is applied to change it. Effort is the part of the equation that is entirely controlled by us. Sure, one can say that at their place of employment they could want to expend all the effort in the world, but some outside force is holding them back from doing so. Fair enough, but I counter that argument by reminding that person that their job function does not need to be where their effort is, even during working hours. If a variable forces a productivity shutdown on one bit of workflow, move to something else. Move to anything else. Production isn’t always about a part-time job or a thirty-year career, it is about producing. Even if all you do at your job during that lull is rack your brain for a shopping list or ideas for weekend chores around the house, that still takes effort and you are still producing. No effort, no production. Effort matters.
Everyone has the same minimum amount of Effort they can apply (I am really going out on a limb for that factoid), but everyone also has a minimum and maximum tolerance for the effort they want to use on a given task. The more important the task, hopefully, the more effort is used in completing it. Everyone also has a list of roughly infinite things that they almost assuredly cannot do no matter how much effort they exert. This is that “minus Variable” situation. I could work sleepless nights for the next two years and probably have no incredible grasp on brain surgery.The variable of the information required would stop me cold and fast. Blood would also not be a fun variable to mess with. I’m not that kind of person. But if you put me down in a tiny chair next to a five-year old and task us each with long division, that kid could try with every single fiber in his being to do that math, but I would have very little trouble smoking through as many questions as needed to prove a point (the point that I’m smarter than a five-year old, I think).
Effort matters at every stage of every production. Effort matters even when we really would rather it not, like when we toss and turn for two or three hours trying to sleep. We are wasting an enormous amount of effort in order to do something that takes absolutely no effort outside of involuntary body functions. Effort matters because laziness is a skill. People put effort into being sloth, an emotional zero and one that does not seem to exist on my switchboard. Effort also matters because everyone knows it is really, really, really difficult to sustain when the variables start to crunch down. Showing sustainability is a core piece of the productivity puzzle, a piece a lot of people look for but may not even truly understand the concept of.
Bosses, Supervisors, Managers, etc. all want people who do their work as close to the mannerisms of a machine as possible. Machines don’t get lazy (unless they break, of course), machines don’t get angry at the sudden increase in effort they might be hardwired to give now that some deadline has been moved up and production numbers have skyrocketed. Machines have no emotion – a key variable that can destroy (or heighen) effort in less time than it takes to answer that 2 plus 2.
If you feel you are the kind of person that finds emotion to be more of a driving force in your workflow than Effort, remind yourself that the harder you push yourself when you are not emotional will allow you to get emotional without ruining your work. No one can turn off their emotions, but it can be almost a completely effortless task to work around them. Most people know what situations bring out which flavors of emotion, and usually can see them coming. Whether or not they are strong enough to stop those emotions is talk for another time, but if you know that every single day at your job you are going to get angry for ten minutes, prepare for that anger so that when it arrives you can cool yourself down without clogging up the productivity pipes you had flowing. Be aware of the variables, be aware of the goals, and be aware that effort is the beginning of a solution, not a punishment. Hard work will always be hard. 2 plus 2 will always be 4, and effort will always matter.