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The Day Job – Ideals or options?

     I remember my first real experience with the higher levels of decision-making. I’d like to say I nailed it, everything made sense, and I was the voice of reason for my community. Sadly, that wasn’t the case.

     I was one of a handful of people working on a new school curriculum for our profession, and things were going well. When the discussion came up about books, the answer was obvious. Every student should get his or her own copies of all ten books.
People nodded in thoughtful agreement.
End of discussion.

     Imagine my surprise months later when the curriculum came back, almost done, but with no textbooks for the students. I did not take this well. I ran on high and yelled to and at anyone who would listen that we were doing our future students a disservice, that the sky was falling, and the like.

     So, at the next meeting, I say again that every student should get his or her own textbooks. Again, thoughtful nods of agreement.
Or were they?

     In reality, they weren’t looking off in thoughtful introspection; they were just avoiding eye contact. I even find myself doing this every now and then. I agree with the statement, I nod, but I know it’s not going to happen.

     And yes, everyone will agree that students all need their own copies of books purchased directly from the publisher, all new and shiny and unmarked. The ideal is a simple thing to agree with, like plants should be watered, the sun should shine on travel days, and planes should depart on time. If you walk into any room and say these idealistic things, often with the dirty word should, everyone will agree. As a matter of fact, you can all come to passionate agreement on some ideal, but it won’t change anything.

     From my spot alone at my desk on the opposite coast from people making the decisions above me, my logic was perfect. Over there, where they worked to make the curriculum fit with things I couldn’t see, they thought I was, well, inexperienced and unreasonable. Finally, after a fair amount of noise, someone explained it to me.

– We were going to quadruple the student numbers each year, which I knew.

– Textbooks are insanely expensive. This is something I’d conveniently forgotten.

– This was a joint school. We needed to standardize things, not treat one student differently than the others when we could avoid it, and not everyone could spend an insane amount of money a year on books.

– Neither could we.

     In my defense, I was a curriculum and community manager, not a money guy. I was speaking exactly the language I was being paid to. I fought the good fight for hours of course material and testing, insisted on teaching advanced principles, and got into arguments using lots of big scientific terms. At that academic table, with a strong superior and mentor alongside, I think we did well.

     When I left that table and went to the next one, the planning table with bigger concepts than just science and education, like money, policy, politics and such, all I had to offer was ideals, not options that could actually be considered. I understood educational technique, but not the business rules that dictated the organization’s decisions. For that reason, I added little more than drama to the discussion. And, since I can be fairly loud and aggressive, I also added a fair amount of noise.

     Please don’t think this is some indictment of the decision process and money. It isn’t. Money wasn’t the cause of my arguments or the lesson I’ve learned since. It was the business rules and the fact that I didn’t understand them. Once I did, it was easy to get things back on track to meet the educational goal within the acceptable boundaries.

     As we move upwards, from one organization to the next, and with every step up each organizational chart, the business rules change. The spreadsheet changed when I moved from hospitals to ships, and again when I moved from one type of ship to another. When you move, even if it’s laterally, make sure to take a moment to find out about the new rules, the new boundaries, and the new way decisions are made.

And the best way to do that is…?
Are you ready?

Ask.

I bet some of you were expecting that.

     When you get to that new, bigger, more polished table, it’s for a good reason. Everyone else at that table, for the most part, is happy to have you there and wants you to participate in those discussions. They want you to contribute to the decision process and offer smart options, not just grand ideals. Taking some time to ask someone to explain how the rules or language has changed will be good for everyone.

– How many times have you come in with an ideal instead of an option?
– When that happened, did you get the thoughtful nod?
– When someone moves up to become one of your peers, how often do you take that person to the side at the beginning to talk about the new rules?

Have a great week out there.

– JT

My good thing: Released the first of three “themed” kindle singles last week, titled Don’t… Check it out if you have time and let me know what you think.
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Thanks

JT