Monday, September 23, 2013

Do You Foist Your Quirks onto Your Business?
Maybe it's time to get out of the way.

I have been obsessing over a 97-cent zippered pencil case my son needs for school. First, I looked at Staples. They had several great bags, including Alejandra mentions in a how-to video (yes, the obsessive-compulsive organizer Alejandra provides instruction on how to organize your pencil case), but I found no bags that I could see through.

Have I mentioned that I am right brained? That I am certain if my son puts a pencil into an opaque pencil pouch that that his pencils will disappear and he will fail out of fifth grade during the first week of school?

We right-brained people like to see our stuff. 

My desk has one small top drawer. At home, I took all the doors off the cabinets in my office nook. My filing system at home is vertical and open from the top. At my office, I have a filing cabinet, but I’m sure all the things I have in there went to Aruba and I’ll never see them again.

Back to the zipper bag search. 
Next, I looked at one of the dollar-type stores. They had a green zipper bag with a small window on the front. Finally. I could see in. But, the zipper was sticky. The other pouches in the bin were pink. Not cool for a fifth grade boy, even if he claims there’s no such thing as boy colors and girl colors. I still couldn't buy it for him. I hadn't mentioned the zipper-bag dilemma to my son. I just kept telling him, “Well, that store didn’t have any left.”

Moving on to Hannaford. At least 10 varieties of potatoes. No zipper pouch.

Staples online. Nada. Just the same zipper pouches as in the store, including Alejandra’s pouch, which is cute, but striped. In Target, I searched the entire back-to-school section. I found some fancy pencil cases, but not one that I could see through.

When I hit the Crayola aisle to stock up on markers, however, I found the 97-cent see through zippered pouch. Success!

I got this one, but in clear.
As I paid, a little inkling of worry started creeping in. (I realize you're probably really worried.) By morning, it had turned into a bigger worry: Was I foisting my own obsessiveness onto my 10-year-old son? I hadn’t mentioned the zipper-bag crisis to him, so maybe not, but he would have the perfect zipper bag for his pencils whether he knew or not nor whether he cared or not.

And then, I kind of wondered: Do we foist our quirks onto our work, including our small business operations or the things we manage professionally? And by doing so, are we sabotaging our own work?

Here are five examples. Are you guilty? 

1. I can do it all myself. Why hire someone when you could certainly do it yourself. Doesn’t it save money to do it all yourself? You are better at it, after all, and to hire someone means that you can’t order as much product or attend one more trade show or, you know, eat dinner with your family at night because you need to stay at work and “just finish up some stuff.”

2. I maximize instead of satisfice. Why hire someone competent to do the work when you can keep looking until the best person ever applies for the job? Let’s say you need a receptionist, and you interview someone with experience as a receptionist, excellent references, and a good reason for leaving her last job (the company closed). But you heard at a leadership meeting that someone else’s receptionist also did two or three other things during the day above and beyond the job of receptionist. So, you decide to look for a receptionist who is better than the best receptionist. You want to maximize your hiring dollars rather than satisficing—hiring someone who is competent and capable, who will do an excellent job, and who is available now. What are you losing by trying to maximize this new hire? And really, does this person exist? Might your friend have exaggerated the work of his receptionist? Look at the situation clearly; in some offices, a receptionist greets people all day. In other offices, the receptionist has a lot of downtime and could handle additional work. What do you need?

3. It’s better the way I want it/the way I do it. Let’s go back to the zipper pouch. I passed up three opportunities to buy a pencil pouch before I found the one I wanted. During this two-week period, I never once asked my son what he wanted in a pencil case. After he gave me permission to pick the few school supplies he needed, I knew he needed the see-through pouch. Why wouldn’t he? (if you’re in the south where you get those mega lists of supplies, shopping in Maine is a non-event. Students are asked to bring pencils, crayons, markers, and a highlighter, and the aforementioned pencil pouch.) Now, let’s talk hip surgery. I had a labral tear repaired in 2009. And it turns out, there’s the guy who invented the procedure and the doctors he trained to do it the way he does it. To this day, that’s how you want this surgery done. The way he does it. It really is better his way.

This summer, I asked 9 people to outline their creative process. How do you generate ideas? What do you do first? What does the middle look like? How about the end? How do you know you’re finished? Each process looked different. But, what I found to be interesting is that one or two people who always turn in excellent work admitted to taking their raw ideas to others to discuss. Some asked questions, “Do you understand what I’m trying to say?” “What am I missing?” “What would you ask if you read this?” This is called developmental editing, and I began to wonder if it’s something successful people do. To do so, however, means you give up on #3. Your way may not be better after all. These results are in no way scientific, but interesting, nevertheless.

4. I don’t have time to do that. Who says you should do it at all? Ask for help. People like to have responsibilities that otherwise would be yours.

5. I have to do that myself. I have met people like you. Most have advanced degrees and a lot of responsibilities. I've met a lot of lawyers like this. And physicians. They go to law school or med school and become really great at law or medicine, and then decide to open their own practice. They envision getting to know their clients, helping solve their problems, and then…they have to hire some people and overnight, BAM, human resource managers! And these Type A, self-identified control addicts cannot leave the running of the business or the management of the office to the office manager. (And see #1 – most think they don’t need an office manager because they can do it all themselves.) But, is it imperative that you’re in charge of ordering paper? And, honestly, what if the person who orders the paper pays 20 cents more a ream than you would have, had you spent four hours shopping around online last night after your family went to sleep? (See #2…Is paper a thing to maximize or satisfice?)

I’m a little dismayed to realize I could go on.

Apparently we do many things to sabotage our businesses, ourselves, and our work. In some instances, is the answer really just getting out of our own way?
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