Working at Orion cured me of several bad habits. Foremost was bad writing. The absolute need for technical specificity (say that three times fast) overloaded my brain and forced me to expand my vocabulary to include a wide range of scientific and technology terms and definitions. It was an education, no doubt about that. Adding to this, the progression of technology, capabilities, and conundrums (see, I can do alliteration) forced me to learn as I went, usually by spending time in bookstores and spending lots of non-existent cash on books and magazines to stay current. I found libraries to be less than useful as the rate at which computer technology was changing outstripped their ability to stock current materials.
Though I played the part of “CIO,” I had no expense account or decision-making authority that went with it. Part of that was due to my unofficial CIO status, and the other part was due to corporate culture. Now, I guess I should touch on what it is like to work in a small office. Having never worked in a private sector office before, I slid into my position at Orion with no concept of office politics or personnel relations. Some years removed from Orion’s small office work environment, I’m unsure if the lessons I learned (or failed to learn) translate into a large office. However, I did learn some valuable lessons.
- First, be sure to alienate no one – I’m sure anyone who works in an office already knows that, but in a small office, if you manage to piss someone off, you’re guaranteed to have daily awkward moments when you cohabitate in small quarters. Perhaps in a large organization, you can ostracize Joe in shipping, but when it is someone you deal with daily, you’re just setting yourself up for failure.
- The second, which follows from the first, is to be humble and prepare to be humbled. Someone is always smarter than you, and sometimes the number of people who qualify is sizable. Observe them, see what they are doing right, and be prepared to imitate. It might be the sincerest form of flattery or hypocrisy, but often it is a way to find success when your native efforts aren’t good enough.
- Third, when you make mistakes, always apologize, even if whatever happened is not your fault. Mistakes happen. People get their feet stepped on, or worse, end up doing more than they should to pull your nuts out of the fire. Learn to enjoy the taste of crow – sautéed in garlic is supposed to be tasty, or so I’ve heard.
- Fourth, deal with people directly without involving the boss. Nothing creates toxicity faster than being pegged as a stool pigeon for management. Thankfully, despite my many flaws, I never stooped to that, but I certainly felt the sting of being on the receiving end of such treatment. Not fun.
- Fifth, cultivate openness, interest, and empathy with those you interact with. This aspect was (is) always my most difficult challenge, which I never fully mastered. Of those that ran to the boss to complain about me, it was most likely my inability to listen and be empathetic that engendered that reaction. If a co-worker thinks you don’t care about issues they are having with you, they will likely do an end-run. In those instances where I was the guilty party, I don’t blame folks for tossing my nuggets into the corporate frying pan.
- The sixth lesson is to be honest even when it doesn’t make you look good. Hiding crap, ducking responsibility, and lying are toxic and will come back to bite you and the company big time. Like Twain said, “Always tell the truth, then you’ll have less to remember.” As I get older, I see that as a necessity. Maybe that is why some of the most honest people out there are also the oldest.
I hope I was a decent co-worker, but I knew that sometimes I was not. I did try to be helpful, to fix things, and give my best effort. Sometimes that wasn’t good enough, but I believe I did more things right than wrong in the long run. Some may dispute that, and I would not judge them harshly for it. We are all human, and we all make mistakes.
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