Special guest writer Stephen Roberts, a stellar product engineer in the medical device industry.
Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things. – Peter Drucker
My director told me shortly after starting, that the most challenging assignments are the ones that we learn the most from and tend to define our careers. I have recently learned that to be true with a coworker that has been the most challenging individual I’ve ever had to work with. Despite it being incredibly stressful, I’ve learned so much. I was only able to learn from the experience because I am lucky enough to have a mentor that cares enough to tell me not what I want to hear, but what I need to hear. He reminded me that you can learn twice as much from a fool as from a sage. The point isn’t that my coworker is a fool (he’s actually incredibly smart), but the message remains that when “…we take [wisdom] from only one place, it becomes rigid and stale. Understanding others… will help you become whole” (Mako Iwamatsu, “Uncle Iroh”).
As humans, we are naturally inclined to think we know more than we actually do. Worse still, we tend to seek facts that support what we already believe (google ‘confirmation bias’ if you’re interested). It is important to understand the lens through which we view the world. It is the filter that turns the facts of the world into opinions and emotions. Once we recognize this, we can try to understand alternative points of view.
If you think competing points of view are a nuisance -- if you’d rather everyone just listen to you because you know what’s best -- what comes to mind when I mention a dictatorship? Our best leaders encourage others to think for themselves, to challenge the status quo, and contribute to the body of knowledge.
I used to worry about being apathetic. I wasn’t one to lose sleep over what many others seemed to. When I was in second grade, things were pretty normal. I went to school and worried about grades, friends, and how to spend my time on the weekends. My father passed away from cancer that year. On that day, everything I cared about several hours prior no longer existed for me. I remember everyone telling me “It will be ok.” But I didn’t want to hear that. At the time, it was NOT going to be ok. It took a long time to realize that it would be. One thing I’ve carried with me is that perspective. When the stresses of life and work begin to pile up, I’ve made it a habit to slow down and take inventory of what’s really important, understanding that everything will, in fact, be ok.
I now realize I’m not an apathetic person, I am just very selective about what I spend my energy caring about. I owe this epiphany to my difficult coworker. What he cares about is very different from what I care about. And that’s a good thing. If we all had the same thoughts, passions, and worries we wouldn’t have been able to come so far as a human race. We’re all at a different stage in life, with different experiences, backgrounds, and beliefs. Neither is right or wrong, just different. It is this difference that makes us great. Diversity of thought challenges us to move forward. It is the natural selection of innovation. Next time you are too quick to judge another’s perspective, try to learn something from it instead.
What you choose to spend your energy on is a question of efficiency. There is a finite amount of energy that we can expend in a lifetime, a year, a week, a day, etc. Choose where to allocate your efforts and let others concern themselves with all the things between the lines. You can’t worry about it all and be effective. What’s important to you?