Now I Know My ABC's
One of my favorite movie scenes is from the Sound of Music, when Sister Maria is teaching the von Trapp children how to sing:
"Let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start. When you read, you begin with A-B-C. When you sing, you begin with Do-Re-Mi..."
The basics. The foundations. The building blocks. The fundamentals.
But - as my children would ask on a long car trip - "are we there yet?" Are we even allowing people to learn the fundamentals of office politics, of corporate culture, of teamwork? Employee loyalty is at an all-time low. People switch jobs... not after a matter of years, but months. David St. Lawrence just posted a wonderfully written essay about lessons from his early career, when his skills were in high demand and he could switch employers with ease. How it was later in his career, when his skills had become a commodity, that he realized that it was the soft skills I mentioned earlier that were missing. He was smart, though. He recognized the shortcomings quickly and was able to reinvent himself.
In our easily downsizable corporate environments, it is not hard to find corporate cultures with short attention spans. In his book, The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge describes this phenomenon quite well. He shares a story of an engineer who began to understand the concept of systems thinking:
"After a few days, I am beginning to 'get' what this systems thinking and mental models stuff is all about. It reminds me of when I first studied calculus. At first, I was totally lost. Calculus was a totally new way of thinking for me. But then I started to 'get it.' Within a year I had mastered the basics. Within five years it was a core part of my professional capabilities. If calculus were invented today, none of our corporations would learn it. We'd send everyone off to a three-day course. We'd then give them three months to try it out and see if 'it worked.' After it had failed, we'd conclude that it was of little value and move on to something else." (Senge, Fifth Discipline, Introduction, page X)
Ah-ha! That's why many of our professionals today are woefully underdeveloped on skills like office politics and learning corporate culture. Either we don't stick around a company long enough to learn the players and the issues, or we don't allow ourselves the chance to reinvent our skill sets. So... what to do about this problem?
Well... that's the next post (you see... the first lesson is to learn some patience...)