- My pen is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life.
- My pen, without me, is useless. Without my pen, I am useless.
I have adapted the above from the US Marines “the rifleman’s creed” that tells them what they are for, it was written just as America entered the Second World War, and to this day recruits learn it as it reminds them what their purpose is and is a permanent reminder of how they are supposed to carry it out. It continues as below:
My rifle is human, even as I, because it is my life. Thus, I will learn it as a brother. I will learn its weaknesses, its strength, its parts, its accessories, its sights and its barrel. I will keep my rifle clean and ready, even as I am clean and ready. We will become part of each other.
There are specific concrete actions in this, they tell the Marine recruit how to behave.
There are other “creeds” that help different roles understand their purpose and how they are supposed to act. Here is a section from one one that defines the role of Non-commissioned officers.
My two basic responsibilities will always be uppermost in my mind — accomplishment of my mission and the welfare of my soldiers. I will strive to remain technically and tactically proficient. I am aware of my role as a non-commissioned officer.
I will fulfil my responsibilities inherent in that role. All soldiers are entitled to outstanding leadership; I will provide that leadership. I know my soldiers and I will always place their needs above my own. I will communicate consistently with my soldiers and never leave them uninformed. I will be fair and impartial when recommending both rewards and punishment.
It is designed to be spoken out loud. Compare this with a job description or person specification, typically saying “the post-holder will…” followed by a list of bland general statements. There is no such person as a “post-holder“. Nobody describes themselves as that. Instead, the creed says “I”. This makes it real. People are saying I do this, this is what I will and do do.
I loathe vague optimistic statements that are designed to make someone aspire to something I love concrete description of purpose that you can use to say we do this, we don’t do that. Any purpose or priority should be actionable, something you can pick up and use. Otherwise, why have it?
I have my own purpose, regardless of whatever 5 or 7 priorities my organisation has chosen for this years plan, what is written in my unit plan or my personal performance objectives. Sometimes it is hazy, sometimes it is knee-jerk, sometimes I despair and give it up altogether, but turns out that nice Mr Deming has already wrote it for me on page 92 of The New Economics. Here it is in creed form.
I study and apply the system of profound knowledge to perceive new meaning to life, to events, to numbers, to interactions between people.
I will apply its principles in every kind of relationship with other people.
I will use it as a basis for judgement of my own decisions and for transformation of the organizations that I belong to.
I will set an example, be a good listener but will not compromise, continually teach other people and help people to pull away from their current practice and beliefs and move into the new philosophy without a feeling of guilt about the past.
What if YOU had one? A statement of your purpose, that the system you work in is designed to support you achieve? If it doesn’t, then make one up and do it. The one you prefer to do because it better helps the external customer. The above is my creed as a person trying to make the universe, or that bit of it that I work in, more like me. But I also work in a job, as a policy officer. My pen and I try to do the job outlined below.
My job is to help people who work on the core services do their work better. I will know I have done this when their work does get better. If I am too far away from them to know this, then I am too far away to have helped them. I create pull so people want my work, and I will not push my work onto others, as this means I do not know what they want or need.
I help people think better about their work by helping them ask different and better questions. I find the right problem to solve rather than solve the immediate problem at hand. I know it is always better to do the right thing wrong than the wrong thing right. I look for repeating cycles rather than get fixated by immediate events. Before I do anything, I get knowledge.
I learn how people work by studying psychology. I continually learn. The external customer who needs our help defines my work, so that is my purpose.