“The life so short, the craft so long to learn.”
“Ninety percent of paid work is time-wasting crap. The world gets by on the other ten.”
We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism
How many times have we sat back and said “I can do that job”?
Now. To be clear. I am going to talk about this from a business-to-business perspective and not the corner of the bar-to-‘some job’ perspective because from the corner of the bar, after a couple of beers, any of us can do any job better than the person who is currently doing it.
This is an “I have been in the workplace, I feel like I have had some success and … well … shit … I can do that job” perspective.
OK … I am chuckling a little, c’mon, let’s face it, I don’t care who you are and where you have worked, you have eyed what another person is doing and thought you could do it. At some point, if you have had some success, all jobs start having some commodity-like characteristics which tease you into believing shifting from one to another just isn’t that difficult.
Ok. To be fair. I have never lacked in business confidence. I do not believe there is a business problem that cannot be solved and I also believe <with some realistic pragmatic goggles on> that there is not a problem I cannot solve if I hunker down and get all the information I need. This can make me aggravating to work with on occasion because, well, I make no apologies for “how I may repair things”.
But that shouldn’t be confused with believing I can do any job.
I am certainly guilty at points in my career where I have certainly thought “I could do that job” over a wide array of responsibilities and unrelated industries.
Note. I rarely thought I could do it better … just that I could do it.
I would say that my MBA experience, a great experience with great professors at Wake Forest, encouraged me to think this way. It was a case study program which inherently encouraged thinking skills over black & white discipline skills. I tend to believe a good MBA program insures you know enough about a specific discipline to be dangerous if you overestimate your own knowledge, but effective enough to be able to understand the discipline to apply it in a general management scope.
In general, I think this attitude, on the positive side, permits you to make the leaps you have to make to jump into new jobs, new responsibilities and new positions.
In general, I think this attitude, on the negative side, can make you overlook some skills other people have as well as … at its worst … can put you in positions in which you will fail in a spectacular fashion.
I imagine as someone gets promoted, as I did, every step up showed me that there was a shitload I didn’t know overall, as well as about the responsibilities of a specific job, but at the same time it also continuously reinforced that I could “do that job.”
Success in business is a double edged sword.
As someone gets promoted they also can see that some people got their jobs not because they necessarily had the experience or skills for the job, but simply because they had the appearance they could do the job.
You watched as these people invested gobs of energy trying to “fake it until they actually make it” or, worse, they realized they were in over their heads and invested even more energy simply maintaining a facade of bullshit to hide their hollowness.
I would also note that given your experience on the last thing I just shared that also encourages someone to believe they could, well, “do that job.”
The higher I got and the broader my experiences, my sense of “I cannot really do that job” increased with regard toward the jobs I really shouldn’t do. It didn’t diminish my sense of ability to handle increased responsibility, it simply made me more reflective of other skill sets and the reality of certain jobs.
To be clear. There is a certain group of people who never reach this realization. They tend to be either sociopaths or oblivious narcissists, but they do exist.
Anyway. My real realization on this topic came when I reached a general management position <and did some consulting>.
It was there that I recognized jobs are like icebergs. 90% of a job you never see until you actually do the job. And to successfully do the part you don’t see needs a couple of things beyond the obvious ‘I need to be competent with regard to the specific skill itself’ aspect:
This attitude goes way beyond the simplistic “I can do the job.” This attitude is more with regard to what you are actually good at.
As I have stated before I am more a renovator than a builder. That is a mindset. My attitude is just put me in a room with all the puzzle pieces and I can rearrange them, maybe polish off a couple, maybe smooth out some edges that no longer fit well and put a different puzzle together that works better than the one that exists.
And then there are people who say ‘I envision a puzzle and build the pieces.”
Those are two different attitudes that, certainly, have some overlap but also, certainly, drive a different type of style and ability to succeed in one type of job versus another type of job. I believe many people are successful in their jobs, and new jobs, because they have the proper insight into themselves and position themselves well to take advantage of this insight.
I would also add that a leader who can see within a person’s ‘skill set’ to recognize this attitude will also be the type who can hire incredibly effectively. Not all leaders and hirers can. Some simply see the façade and surface abilities and believe they are easily transferable and hire them believing anyone can do the job if they have that appearance of a type of surface skill set.
The less-than-obvious skill set
Each skill, each specialty, has layers to its depth & breadth. Let’s say this is the “art” of the skill <I sometimes refer to it as “the shadow of your skill”>.
When you are a junior person you are demanded day in and day out to craft your pragmatic ‘non-artistic’ skills. You learn how to screw screws into holes efficiently and hammer nails into their proper places effectively.
As you gain seniority you are demanded to start incorporating the art aspects of your craft. I like to explain this as you have to learn to be more of an architect of your department, skill and specialty. By the way, not everyone can do his and not every department head is good at this and it tends to start filtering out those who move on to the next level … general management.
And if you move up even more into general management you are demanded to gain some skills in the “art” of combining all the skills into the overall progress of a company beyond the simplistic “are each department doing their fricking job.”
In general the biggest difference between thinking you can do a job and actually being able to do the job is your less than obvious skill set. For example … I cannot tell you how many times I have sat in a conference room with a CFO who has displayed a skill set that made me think “shit, this company is lucky to have them” not because they knew all the accounting mumbo jumbo, but because they knew how to wield account skills in ways that the company benefited beyond accounting.
Pick your C-level title and I would say the same thing.
At the corner of the bar you have no clue whether you have this ‘less than obvious skill set’ and if you actually have the experience you may only have a sense of whether this skill set exists. This is an intangible, however, 90% of the time this intangible arises from some relevant experience <maybe not within that specific discipline but a discipline nonetheless> … so your experience does matter.
I decided to write about this today because, frankly, we have a president who believes anyone can do any job and keeps hiring people who may be smart <and may not be … because I, frankly, question whether the President is smart> for positions they have no or little qualifications for that position.
I decided to write about this today because, frankly, as a business guy I know you cannot do a job simply because you say “I can do that job” and that experience really does matter and that simply because you believe something … <sigh> … does not make it so.
I will say that I have learned this lesson the hard way and it permits me to be able to call a bullshitter a bullshitter and to be able to point out that some roles & responsibilities dictate at least some relevant experience in order to be effective & efficient. Just because you think you can “do that job” does not mean you can actually “do that job.” It takes some self-awareness to know that.
The lack of self-awareness has a ripple effect.
In a bar your lack of self-awareness can create a range of responses – some chuckles, out right laughter of disbelief and maybe even some aggravation if it inches into what some of the people actually do sitting at the table.
In a business your lack of self-awareness can create some real business repercussions. Not only may you be out of your depth but you may actually start making some poor hires who are also out of their depth and that kind of shit gathers negative momentum <down the slippery slope of less-than-competent results>.
In business you get fired for that shit.
In a presidency your lack of self-awareness can create some real country repercussions – and we are seeing some of that lack of effectiveness now.
Anyway. Not everyone can do a job. That’s the message of the day.