Back in 5th grade I was cast as the Cowardly Lion in our class’s production of the Wizard of Oz. Not because I was a coward, but because I was brave enough to attempt belting out “If I Only Had the Nerve” in an auditorium packed with my judgmental peers and their parents, who secretly hoped my voice would crack or I’d fall off the stage and smash the piano. Yeah..that’s me in the photo below. First schnook on the right in the first row. Mane made of yarn..tail cobbled together by my Boy Scout brother with rope. The basic outfit was a set of pajamas in my dresser the same color as a bald lion.
Yes, it took some balls, and maybe a dash of rashness, to get up and do that, and the experience stuck with me, because I built my career on a simple willingness to try something new, never fearing failure, because you have nothing to lose by giving something a shot.
Without being too self-serving, most every job that represented some major move for me came as a result of looking for opportunities to grow and succeed. I auditioned for a weekend weather job at a Tucson TV station, never having done a weathercast in my life. Got the job. Took a job producing television newscasts having never produced a newscast, because, what the hell, I could get a six-grand raise. First show? Reagan gets shot. Trial by fire! Yes! It led to getting hired as one of the first producers to launch CNN’s second network, CNN2, now HLN. Oh…took a reporting job at a newspaper having never worked at a newspaper, and was hired to start Chrysler’s first blog, but I’d never blogged. It morphed into a senior management position over the course of almost 11 years.
You get the idea. What I’m leading to is I read all these stories and posts about how to handle job interviews..both as a candidate and as a manager. Oh, there are boilerplate questions such as greatest challenges, strengths, weaknesses, blah, blah. What I never see are questions regarding one’s courage. How willing are you to try something new, break from the mold, take risks, stand up to those who would attempt to drag you into doing the same damn thing, the same damn way.
Those who can convince me they’re fearless…not careless…are the kinds of folks I want on my team. I was blessed with a team at Fiat Chrysler that never once in the ten years we were together said “no” to at least trying a new idea. Some worked, some didn’t but we learned from every experience, sometimes using that knowledge to create something better. Yes, despite significant pushback from some, we brought then-emerging digital communications techniques to the department.
By the same token, if you’re a job candidate, when it’s your turn to ask questions, quiz the interviewer as to the company’s courage..how open it is to new ideas. You don’t want to work somewhere that still believes the best way to communicate is by fax.
How often are we hard-pressed to succeed and put forth new ideas when others attempted to thwart our efforts through their own cowardice and jealousy? Indeed, over the years at many different workplaces, one no doubt encountered co-workers and managers who haven’t had a new idea since deciding to go from white to rye for their daily tuna sandwich.
Cowards are death to any organization that thrives on moving forward, on fostering creativity and bolstering worker morale. Cowards are useless wastes of space and resources and should be swept from the payroll immediately. They will only hold you back and piss you off.
You wanna work for me? Have the skills, experience and work habits the job requires and the courage to challenge every pre-conception and past practice to take the type of chances that will make us winners…together.
Think about it. If the Cowardly Lion was too scared to join Dorothy, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow on the Yellow Brick Road to meet Oz, he might never have found the nerve he had in him all along.
After another successful trip to our nearby Ikea store, it’s occurred to me foolishness like the federal government shutdown and other such obstacles could easily be avoided by following adopting the Swedish furniture chain’s model. The main feature being, its instructions for assembling Ikea furniture use no words, and one must concede, words are what stand in the way of progress.
Imagine, by following simple wordless instructions, proper use of the (included) hex wrench and fasteners and a little patience, all sorts of legislation could be cobbled together with time left over to enjoy a plate of tasty Swedish meatballs.
Eliminating words, and by extension, conversation and testy debate, cuts right to the chase. The only goal is completing the project with a minimum of wasted time and effort, and, yes, words… whether it be legislation, treaties, or screwing the taxpayers.
The Ikea model is entirely transferrable to the business place by instructing both management and labor on the otherwise indecipherable intricacies of navigating corporate culture.
The beauty of Ikea’s simply drawn instruction sheets is they leave no room for interpretation or improvisation. Step 2 just ain’t gonna work without completing Step 1 exactly. The requirement to adhere to such a cut and dry process would surely relieve members of Congress of the need to espouse their moronic prejudices on the way to preventing sensible action.
You may notice Ikea does toss a lifeline to those who find following illustrations just too challenging…by including one last drawing advising the terminally perplexed to actually call someone for help. I would imagine the person on the other end of the line would be a Swede with a Scandinavian’s penchant for never uttering more than 1.3 words at a time.
Perplexed customer: “Ikea, I can’t figure out how to put together my bookcase. Help!”
Ikea Swede: “Surrre you can. Goodbye.”
That’s just the kind of assistance members of Congress could use..a Government Swede who refuses to allow them to kick their responsibilities down the road.
Perplexed Member of Congress: “Government Swede..I’m having trouble with Step 4 in the Preventing a Government Shutdown instructions.”
Government Swede: “Just stop talking. Goodbye.”
As one who always practices what I preach, I’ve installed the Ikea Way here at home. Indeed, when I first suggested it, my family approached it with enthusiasm..quickly drawing an Ikea-like instruction sheet, guiding me through the three steps… of pulling my head out of my butt…and not a word was spoken! Try it!
One thing, among many, an employee hates to hear is the boss saying, “go ahead, take as much time as you need to recover. We’ll get along just fine.” At face value it seems like the boss is being really considerate, and probably is. But honestly, who wants to be told the company won’t come to a screeching halt without them.
I’ve spent most of my life as a journalist and newsrooms are perpetually short-staffed, which means calling in sick does not win the “take your time, get better,” reaction from the boss. It generally sparks “if you’re not dead, you’re well enough to cover your assignment.” That’s not technically wrong. In fact, three days after undergoing removal of a malignancy in my right shoulder, with a drainage bag and tube sticking out of my flesh, I never mentioned it to the CNN national desk and I covered my story. All I had to do was hide my apparatus, and a few blood spots, under my blazer when recording my standup on a bobbing speed boat and no one was the wiser. At CNN, as at many other companies, the whole idiotic hero thing is part of the culture.
When I made the switch to PR at a large multinational car company, things were markedly different. I was now one of a global workforce of roughly 45,000, showing up each day to the corporate Xanadu, along with 12,000 other contributors to the cause.
As I trundled from the parking deck to the employee entrance of the massive complex, I blended in with the mob swiping their badges in order to make the revolving doors turn, giving them entree’ to their workspaces.
Each day for my 10 years and 29 days at the company I would have the same two thoughts: Would anyone care/notice if I didn’t show up? What the hell do all these other people do and would anyone care/notice if any of them were absent? Sure, it takes a lot of people to run and operate a giant company, but honestly, does it take that many? I wasn’t being arrogant. I was simply wondering how many of us would be considered superfluous and not, sorry, “core.”
It hit home to me early in my run when I noticed a of employees who grabbed coffees from the fancy java stand in the complex and just stood around in the common area, sipped and bullshitted for what seemed like an excessive amount of time. Like two hours. Obviously, they’re not being missed, so why are they being granted paychecks? In newsrooms, you never have time to waste and if you attempt to waste any, a thorough ass-chewing from an editor can be expected. Early in my TV career, my no-nonsense assignment editor would bark at lollygagging reporters, “hey! you gonna turn a story or just sit there and yank your tuna?” I assure you, tuna yanking was at a minimum in that newsroom.
When the bad times came in 2008-2009 and GM and Chrysler went bankrupt, suddenly thousands of workers were given cardboard boxes and told to get lost. You never knew when your time was up until you got a box and brusque brush off. Over and over again I told my team, “Make yourself indispensable. Make the company understand what it would be losing if you were gone.” We constantly marketed our accomplishments and abilities to the higher ups so they fully comprehended our value and the strategy worked. We presented hard documentation and third-party endorsements. I did have to lay off one of my nine team members, but a couple of years later, when things settled down I was able to hire him back. Other teams were not as lucky. In fact, some were simply eliminated.
I’ve always found that abiding by my job description is a pretty fast track to obsolescence. Finding ways to take the basic premise of your position then using a recipe combining one-part skills and large dollops of guile, salesmanship and imagination not only makes the work day more fun and rewarding, but generally surprises and delights your employer and results in as much job security as can be hoped for.
No, I don’t want to be that person I see walking through the revolving door, wondering if their absence would make any difference at all in my company’s success. Sure, no one’s irreplaceable, but there are kickass employees who are, indispensable. And if you’re not indispensable, you’ll likely be dispensed with.
In my semi-retirement I’ve moved to the next step towards removing myself from society by extending the time I work from home. My boss at Automotive News is either extremely flexible, brilliant, or simply tired of seeing a senior citizen drag his sorry ass into the office every day. Whatever the case, this senior citizen is grateful for the opportunity to replace a 60-mile round trip to/from downtown Detroit with a jaunty trot down 15 steps to my basement office where I can hide Snickers bars…from my wife.
I’ve often heard that working from home can be harmful to one’s career since you’re not visible to the bosses and it’s difficult to form alliances. Luckily, I’m not a contestant on “Survivor” so I’m not looking to form an alliance. I’m also not interested in climbing the corporate ladder, since, at my age, the only thing I’m capable of climbing is the walls every time I hear the Arby’s guy yell “we’ve got the meats!!!” I’m always tempted to respond, “you’ve got the crabs!” At least that’s how I imagine someone with that condition would act out.
Someone pointed out to me that it’s more difficult to collaborate with co-workers when you work from home. I do not have that problem. That’s because I’m not really interested in someone else’s ideas. I’d prefer to screw up on my own, or hog all the credit when things go right. Actually, I’m not that obnoxious. I’m happy to share some of the blame when things go wrong.
My home office is a room tucked away in a remote corner of my basement. I have everything I need to conduct business: desk, computer, Walter White bobblehead, adjacent bathroom and microwave oven for nuking popcorn and experimenting with exploding a number of polymers. I also have photos of my family in case I forget who those people are plodding on the hardwood floor one level above me.
I have a phone, but never use it. If I need to communicate with someone from the office I can email or text them. Not only is it expedient, it’s an efficient method for avoiding co-workers with speech impediments.
Most importantly, I can do at least twice the work, twice as fast, with higher quality results by working at home. That’s because at work there’s free coffee and vending machines, which I am constantly drawn to as a means of filling my stomach and filling my hours, thus avoiding work. At home I’m much more focused since to grab more coffee or a snack I would have to walk up those 15 steps.
Oh sure, it’s nice to see my co-workers in person from time to time. They’re very pleasant and often bring in snacks to share. Working from home, you do miss out on the shared snacks, which is one of the few downsides.
Indeed, my days as a full-time desk jockey are over. At some point my semi-retirement will morph into total retirement, at which time I’ll simply sit at my home office desk, crank up my laptop, make Walter White’s head bobble, bounce some ideas for kazoo-based operas around in my head…and order a pizza.