The balance between boring and pushing

“Well, in his experience, soldiers spent little time doing soldier things. They instead spent ages walking places, waiting around, or—in his case—getting yelled at for walking around or waiting in the wrong places.”

-Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson

I think most jobs are like this. We rarely push our skills to their limits, and we spend most of the time at work doing routine stuff. This can be boring but it can also be used to replenish our energy and improve ourselves. It is not sustainable to always be on our toes, always creating, and always stressed. The challenge comes when we spend too much time in the routine or too much fun stuff that pushes our limits. One leads to stagnation and the other leads to burnout.

You can’t compare sports to normal work but if you look at elite athletes they spend at lest 90% of their time practicing and 10% competing. I admire their commitment, willpower and grit. Their amazing achievements comes from spending so much time training for one thing.

It would be very expensive for everyone to practice the same way in most organizations. But I think most companies need to focus more on making sure everyone learns and develops more during everyday activities and continues to push themselves to become better at their jobs.

Can scarcity help?

There has never been a military in the entire history of the human race that has gone to war equipped with more than the least that it needs to fight its enemy. War is expensive. It costs money and it costs lives and no civilization has an infinite amount of either. So when you fight, you conserve. You use and equip only as much as you have to, never more.

– Old Man’s war by John Scalzi

An organization will need trained people, resources, equipment, and support to succeed.

The question is:

  • Do you want the best people?
  • Do you need as much time and money as possible?
  • Do you need the best equipment?
  • Do you need all the help you can get?

Or can scarcity increase creativity and help people focus on what is really important?

One step will not change behaviors

“She crouched in a dim room, hands touching the smooth stone floor, which had been eroded by thousands upon thousands of footfalls. If stone met a man, stone might win—but if stone met humanity, then no force could preserve it.”

–Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson

One small change will rarely make a difference when trying to change behaviors in an organization. It takes focused and continuous action towards a clear goal to make a real change. That is why Big Bang changes rarely work. It is the small steps that happen daily that shows the people in an organization what behaviors you are promoting.

Solving complex problems require a simple organization

A control room was no longer a necessity when even the most complicated of systems could be operated from a simple console, even just a portable one. That Ricard had insisted on a full control room and the executives to staff it demonstrated the usual Inspectorate mindset: that being in charge required inferior ranks to obey you, a precise territory to piss-mark and dominate. And the more important you were, the bigger the office and the larger the staff you had to have, even if neither was strictly necessary.

– Neal Asher, The Departure

Our world becomes more complex and fast all the time, and it forces our organizations to solve complex problems faster. Many organizations try to solve this by implementing more project managers and line managers and have them focus on making things faster. The problem with this approach is that on paper it might become faster but I don’t think you actually solve the real issues. To solve complex problems you need a simple organization where the teams actually working on the problems can make the decisions. To be able to make those decisions and solve the problems the teams need contain all the necessary competencies without becoming too big (3–8 people is optimal).

They also need to be presented with the context of the problem they are working on and the organization’s overall goals in such a way that they understand it. This last part seems to be really difficult for many organizations…

Trust is a lot to ask of someone

“Trust is a lot to ask of someone.”

– Gail Carriger, Manners & Mutiny

It’s really interesting who we trust and who we don’t trust. We trust that complete strangers will not run us over with a car when we cross the road, but we don’t trust our co-workers to hand in their reports on time. We trust the company we work for to pay us every month, but not that they have good reasons for the strange decisions they make. We trust that the date stamp on milk is correct but we always check that the eggs are not broken in their carton.

What makes us trust some things and not others?

Creativity comes from taking your view of the world and looking at a completely new part of it

‘Now, see, there’s something about your species that I will never understand.’ She let out a congenial sigh. `You and the rest of the galaxy,’ she said. Honestly, what was it about that concept that was so difficult for others to grasp? She would never, ever understand the idea that a child, especially an infant, was of more value than an adult who had already gained all the skills needed to benefit the community. The death of a new hatchling was so common as to be expected. The death of a child about to feather, yes, that was sad. But a real tragedy was the loss of an adult with friends and lovers and family. The idea that a loss of potential was somehow worse than a loss of achievement and knowledge was something she had never been able to wrap her brain around.

– Becky Chambers, the long way to a small angry planet

When it comes to people in organizations, then we seem to value achievement and knowledge much much more than potential. Most organizations also seem to want to stick with their old employees for as long as possible, even if they turn detrimental to the organization and other employees.

I think an organization would gain much more from the fresh perspective they would get if people changed jobs more often. Creativity comes from taking your view of the world and looking at a completely new part of it.

The human eye

“The human eye is a wonderful device. With a little effort, it can fail to see even the most glaring injustice.”

– Richard K. Morgan, Altered Carbon

When we join a new organisation, we get a new role or become part of a new team we can easily see all the strange behaviours and norms that they have. After a while, the strange behaviors and norms seem to disappear, and we become blind to them as well.

As a manager or coach, we have an enormous challenge when we get new people on board. This first period is when people are least likely to give feedback, but it is also the time when we need to ask them for it.

It’s nothing personal?

“… it’s just business, it’s politics, it’s the way of the world, it’s a tough life and that it’s nothing personal.
Well, fuck them.
Make it personal.”

– Richard K. Morgan, Altered Carbon

I think many organizations are starting to realise this simple truth. That we need to make it personal for people to be inspired and motivated.

This is true for marketing. If people feel that you just do business, then they will not be inspired. If they feel that you care about your product and your customers, then you can start a movement.

This is true for organizations. If your employees feel that you just do business, then they will not be motivated. If they feel that you care about your product, about your customers, and them then you can start a movement.