Unperspective: To Which Side Do You Belong?

I recently presented one of my motivational life/work balance keynote sessions to a small group. If you’ve attended one of my sessions, you’ll know I hand out crayons and paper for audiences. We use these to engage the audience in drawing and writing (poetry), with a simple premise – now you are an artist and a writer. You came to my session with fewer skills than when you left.

Of course, there are many audience members who grumble about the concept of being “forced” to use a crayon – after all, crayons are for kids. It’s an opportunity to point out that as we age, we lose our sense of play and the adult suppresses our child-like instincts.

At the end of each session, I like to collect the remaining crayons and paper to avoid the event having to clean up after me. During this cleanup process, I am always surprised at the percentages of crayons and paper left behind. I have discovered a more technical audience will leave behind more than an older audience.

On reflection over all the years I have been presenting crayon sessions, the majority of audience members embrace the crayon challenge. Even those who grumble loudly at the beginning will end up engaging and enjoying the challenge.

Generally, these are unlike breakout sessions at technical conferences. In that case, the audience turns up because they would like to learn something. Maybe something they already know and want more information. Maybe something they are just starting out with. Or even something they would like more information about to determine if it might work for them or their company. Mostly, the audiences are there to learn.

Related to my Unperspective column titled Get Over Yourself, there are some conferences where the range of sessions is not enough to cover an attendee’s educational needs, so they attend sessions to prove they are a genius. (But enough about them.)

For keynote sessions, the audience is normally the majority of conferences attendees. There are no competing sessions in that time slot to encourage a full crowd. And there is the challenge. If it is not the topic for which a person was attending the conference, what are they expecting to get out of a keynote session?

Certainly, it may be a requirement by the company or event for you to attend. Maybe your friends or coworkers are going and you enjoy their company. If the keynote speaker is a celebrity, it may simply be the glory of being in their audience. If the speaker is famous, maybe there is a hope to touch them, or get a selfie with them, or have a chat with them. But how about the speaker you’ve never heard about, speaking on a topic that does not sound remotely interesting? Why would you go?

I would ask you, the reader, to answer that question. I would ask, but that would require a commitment from you to engage. And there is the challenge.

Let’s take the grumpy audience member as an example. Did they wake up with this attitude or is it the permanent state of being? It’s clear these are people who are unwilling to learn – even if just for that moment. But for how long are they unwilling to learn. We humans get so easily bogged down into routine and habit as our comfort zone closes in on us. What pride are we taking in not engaging?

Personally, I feel pride in being able to challenge the grumpies. For everyone who picked up a crayon and engages, some hope for color in their life is possible. They could choose to remain grey, dull, and bored, or they could engage and enjoy the richness of the experience.

And now, let’s review your job! Working in teams, there are similarities to the composition of audiences. There are those open and willing to learn. There are those who are keen to point out how their genius knows what is right or wrong, regardless of the actual truth. There are some who are just lazy and will try to get away with anything they can. There are some who overstep their assigned tasks – for better or worse. There are those closed and unwilling to learn.

In the modern agile world in which we live, when you find teams with members who are not open, willing to learn, and ready to contribute, it is clear that this kind of dysfunction will cause friction, disruption, poor performance, and ultimate failure.

It truly is difficult when you have worked hard to get where you are in your job and now your amazing genius is not being recognized by the team or the company where you work. This ego bruising is often the cause of project sabotage – inadvertently or on purpose. That is certainly not good for the people paying you to do the job and it is not good for your own future prospects.

If you’ve decided that you have learned enough and can just get by in your job, the world has changed. You may think you have job security because you are the only one who knows anything about the system. You may think you have job security because you’ve been there for so long and you know everybody – of course they love you, you grump!

As the world and technology move at a more rapid pace with every passing year, your lack of willingness to learn and grow will have a more abrupt impact. Your system can – and will – be replaced with a fresher, more agile application. You can – and will – be replaced with a younger, more open employee. It’s time to get over your grumpiness.

It’s clear there are two ends to this incline. At the top, those who are open and unafraid of change. Way down at the other end, the closed-minded unwilling to learn. The question for you is, to which end are you headed? Are you always looking upwards and forwards? Or are you on the downslope to grumpiness? Are you ok with where you are? If not, what do you plan to do about it?

You’ll find that it gets claustrophobic and lonely at that bottom end. You may be a “genius in a bottle” – a phrase I coined some years back – where you know everything you think you need to know, and nothing else. From the outside looking in, your skills are lacking for this modern world surrounding you.

Remember that your value to your employer will be impacted negatively by your unwillingness to learn. If you have decided to just stick in this job until you retire, it’s best you get out now. You’ll continue to cost (read, waste) company resources – and all indications – and statistics – show that when you retire, the life you lead will be less rich and much shorter.

I’ll tweak a favorite saying. Given that you have not yet, what do you want to be when you grow up? To which side do you belong?

Originally published in IT Jungle

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Trevor Perry