Doing real things
Getting your hands dirty on the job can teach invaluable skills.
Last summer, I took on a project to install new siding and a new roof for a small shed, which was probably last done about when President Kennedy announced we were going to the moon. That kind of project gives you a little time to think, but most of the time I was cutting, nailing, staining, and painting. Since then, every time I walk by it, I experience an-out-of-proportion amount of pleasure for what it took, prompting the question: Why is that? Is a tangible sense of accomplishment so unusual that it is that satisfying?
In our daily lives, it’s easy to become virtual, communicating by e-mail and social media, catching sports scores and news, etc. With such a high percentage of our lives spent on the computer, a tangible sense of accomplishment can be evasive, even after working all day. Actually making or doing something is, of course, behind the pleasure of many hobbies—if you’re fortunate enough to have such hobbies and can make time for them.
The point of all this is that if you’re a person who doesn’t have a regular feeling of tangible accomplishment like you would get in the trades, for example, getting more actively involved in anything can make you more effective. A heavy dose of reality comes when you’re the one cutting or nailing or painting, not just project managing those who do. It’s easy to sit in the bleachers, critiquing and observing what is being done, right or wrong. It’s far different to be on the field trying to make things happen. To this point, a quote from Theodore Roosevelt is prominently posted above my computer monitor as a constant reminder to do real things and not fall into the trap of observing from afar:
The nature of many of our jobs is that we are often not the ones in the field or in the factory, selling, servicing, or making things. You may be in the boardroom, headquarters, or anywhere else in which you are by nature working, removed from the field of action. To help you more effectively interact with others in ways that are relevant, here are some things to consider:
- Don’t hesitate to “get your hands dirty” in anything; it will help keep your perspectives real and practical in all that you do.
- As much as is practical, spend time with people who do the real work. One day in the office with a person who estimated, designed, and managed controls projects and a day in the field with an installer taught me invaluable insights during a transition from the HVAC field to controls. It wasn’t about becoming an expert; it was about understanding the business from project realities.
- Organizations such as Engineers without Borders and Habitat for Humanity are just two of thousands of organizations that need tangible actions that your training and time can provide.
John Suzukida was Trane’s senior VP of global marketing and strategy prior to founding Lanex Consulting in 2002, which focuses on strategic planning and product-to-solutions business model transitions. He has a BSME and Distinguished Alumnus Award from the University of Illinois. He was a presenter at the 2012 Career Smart Engineers Conference.