A new member on my team asks me this when she sees the pile of books at the back of my desk.
She thinks I am studying for something like an exam, a course perhaps.
This is the first time anyone has expressed interest in them other than a sneering manager, dismissing the idea that anyone at work should learn anything about work with the words “This isn’t a university”.
So, what am I studying for? Is there a non-arsey answer to this polite interested question?
“I am studying the work“, no, that is dictionary arse.
“I am learning how the work works“, even worse, not even grammatically correct.
Neither is totally true.
A pre-formed answer can’t be chucked back as nobody has asked me this before. It seems to me natural and essential that I should want to know more about this weird thing that most adults spend most of their lives doing. Forty hours a week! What’s that all about? I have no idea why everybody else isn’t studying.
Studying. That’s an accidentally excellent choice of word too. It sounds like what a Victorian gentleman might do in his spare time with his collection of fossils or butterflies, examining them with a brass magnifying glass and writing up his findings in learned monographs published in obscure periodicals.
Aside: This blog is my obscure periodical. There should be more of them, more people should study their work and type it up into WordPress. This sort of thing, Inspector Guilfoyle, about policing, I would like to have a second example but I know of none. There are lots of good blogs about people’s work, postmen, paramedics and loads of firefighter blogs, but virtually none where people type about their own job from a systems perspective. More please.
You really learn about work from being in the work, but books are essential to me in doing this, they give me a framework to understand the world beyond what you accidentally absorb from growing up in it.
So when a person says something I find annoying, it’s not because he is uptight, egotistical, inconsistent or a control freak. That’s the easy, pleasing and wrong answer. It is because he has worked all his life in command and control structures and is unknowingly operating out of a Model 1 framework.
I can’t do anything with “uptight, egotistical, inconsistent control freak”. It labels but doesn’t help understand.
To me, not having a theoretical framework to make sense of work and operate usefully in it is like expecting someone to just know how to drive a car from having seen them around the place.
Deming said “There is no knowledge without theory” and to me that is saying that at work if you treat each event as unique and handle it accordingly, bundling things together as accumulated experience, then all you have left is impressions and memory. No actual knowledge to take forward for the next time when similar events occur, and no way of proving yourself wrong as you have no theory to change. So you’re always right! As Deming says, again, “Without theory there is nothing to revise, nothing to learn”
Theory gives me a framework to understand events by stripping away the fuzz and white noise of reality as it happens to find the signal beneath. Moving work from being merely anecdotal to something that can be learned from and improved.
Here are five reasons why you should also learn about work from books. The right books obviously. Not business books. Work books.
- “In the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king”, read just one book about work and you’re one book up on 99% of people at work.
- “If I see further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants“, they’ve done all the hard work so you don’t have to.
- “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”, no need to repeat the mistakes others have done.
- “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”, anyone can memorise, but learning is a truly useful skill.
- “Learning is not compulsory, neither is survival”, says that nice Mr Deming. A nice book and survival. Bargain!
Oh, and don’t confuse what you may already get at work provided by your employers, with what you could get from books. Training is not education, if it were teenagers wouldn’t get sex education classes at school, they’d get sex training. Crucial difference.