Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Getting Fired, hired, and working downtown

I took a new job.

That's not something I normally like to do. I'm a stability person. One job for a long time works for me. Just not always for other people. So, tired of contracting, I took the opportunity to work for an old friend for whom I have great, great respect, in a company I truly admire.

Working in downtown Nashville is not quite the same thing as when I worked in downtown San Francisco, or downtown Osaka, or any other downtown where I've worked. For one thing, no other downtown blares country music on the sidewalks. And I've seen quite a few friends at totally random times. That's not a big-city thing. Wearing a suit every day is hard, which is a very first-world problem.

The real bothersome thing is the Starbucks. It's too convenient.

Last week I was standing in line at Starbucks waiting to order my personal addiction (iced Americano) and overheard a conversation between three people: two women and a man. They were talking about a coworker who had been fired. I wanted desperately to step in and play therapist for them, because I could tell that they didn't know how to feel or what to say. "She maybe deserved it." "She should have seen it coming." "She was a nice lady." "I always liked her."

Then they said that it was probably okay, because the lady has a new granddaughter, and the lady has had some health issues so she really can use the time off to get better and bond with her granddaughter.

I wanted to ask if they were always that out of touch with reality.

Maybe the woman was rich. that could be, and in that case she probably could think about such things as time with a grandchild. I couldn't. Losing my job would jeopardize my family. It would compromise my position as the father, the typical male role that I know I shouldn't care so much about but I do, for better or worse.

Losing a job sucks. Everyone should go through it once in their life. Regardless of your socio-economic status, it is impossibly hard. Even if you find work right away, losing a job changes you. It bothered me that the younger people around me were so callous to that, or wanted to somehow assuage their guilt.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Assumptions and Unintended Consequences

I'm convinced that many of the world's problems are unintended consequences. Anyone who has done project management will tell you that the purpose of the job is to mitigate and prepare for the unknown.

Hand in hand with this is making incorrect assumptions. There is an image that assumptions are bad; they are not. Assumptions are the foundation of most research. It might be a quantified assumption, but much of what we do in life is a guess based on the information we have available.

The key, then, is information. But what do we do when we don't have the information?

We guess.

Take for example an incident I was involved in recently. My son's flag football game ended and he came off of the field after the game upset. The other coach said something to him in the hand shaking line. I couldn't make heads or tells of what was going on, so I went to ask my son's coach what happened.

Evidently that was not a good thing to do. My son's coach was talking with the other coach, who was (I soon learned) really, really upset. He marched over to me really mad and started jawing at me, I told him it wasn't his place, turned and tried to leave. He continued to talk.

Now, I'm not an aggressive guy. At all. But if you're going to threaten me I'm going not going to be too passive. I walked away with an eye at him and the men on his sideline who had come onto the field. Then we left.

Assumptions were made all around. I assumed that I would be able to talk with my son's coach and assumed that the situation wasn't that big of a deal; news flash: 13-year-olds get worked up. The opposing coach assumed I was coming at him angry; his parents assumed I was making a confrontation (never mind the other guy is the one that walked across the field).

How often do we see this in the real world? When Iran, for example, made overtures of peace, wasn't there a knee-jerk reaction? That might not be the best example because Iran has somewhat earned that. How about the story of a school in Alabama that had a college-level language instructor on staff who could teach a foreign language at a very high level - only that language is Arabic, and it was assumed he would be teaching the kids to be terrorists. Or the government shutdown - there are lots of assumptions about this or that being politically motivated.

An assumption is only as good as the facts it is based on. I endeavor in my life to avoid the quick assumption; gather facts then present is my strategy. But even with the most honest and best preparation, sometimes we face unintended consequences.