Smart things said by other people

Hi! First few weeks of classes! OH HOLY HELL HANG ON!

So not much time for writing. But I have been carving out time for reading. Here’s some stuff I liked this week.

Dean Dad is smart, as usual. How many of us have seen this? Lived this?

The entrepreneur was utterly confident that he was on the right track, that the future would be better than the present, and that one way or another, all would be well. His primary frustration was speed; he wanted things to move considerably faster than they already are. The fact that the current company exists in a hovel, and that nobody has heard of it, bothered him not at all.

The professor, by contrast, seems to think that the only options are either preservation or decline. She has been doing the exact same thing for many, many years, and as far as she’s concerned, her dues are paid. At some level, she must know that the world doesn’t quite believe her, so she scrambles to squash any audible echo of her own doubts. Initiative is crushed by fear; even the possibility of change is taken as a direct threat.

All of which is to say, status anxiety is self-destructive.

If both of them get what they want, in a few years the entrepreneur will be running a successful, rapidly growing company doing a new and exciting thing. The professor will be doing exactly what she is doing now.

In fact, he’s smart twice.

A program that had fought and clawed its way into the college decades ago has been underperforming. I noticed and mentioned it. Its senior faculty flipped the &^()^& out, and went directly to some really nasty personal accusations. I just thought they had lost their minds.

Our assumptions were different. They lived through the days when the existence of the program was controversial, and at some level they still believe it is.  …  I take the existence of the program as given and obvious. Of course we have it; why wouldn’t we?  …  From their perspective, my questioning was clearly a declaration of war. From my perspective, they were barking mad, and more than a little self-satisfied. Both perspectives are internally consistent and both fit with observed facts; which one you choose depends on which ‘given’ you start from. Realizing the disconnect actually gave me hope. If the grotesque overreaction was based on an outdated fear, then I can address that fear and hope to make progress. (If it were based on insanity, I wouldn’t have that option.

Our college president said in his opening address that here, at this institution, we’re good at change. I agree with him. But that doesn’t mean anyone likes it, and continually thinking about why people resist, react, overreact, and acquiesce is always useful.

So is listening. Josh Neff is also smart.

I was on her side and was only trying to help! Wasn’t that what I was supposed to do? Finally, she had enough and told me to shut up and just listen. It took a few more times of her telling me this before it sunk in, but it was one of the most important things I learned in our marriage–and one of the most important things I’ve learned in my life. I finally began to realize that the best thing I could do when other people were talking to me was to shut up and listen, not to think about what I was going to say next, not to think about how I would solve the person’s problem, not to think about the Very Important Things they needed to hear me say. Just shut up, listen, and then think about what they said. Stop thinking that what I have to say is important and realize that what other people are saying is important.

This morning a staff member stopped me as I was racing across the parking lot to a meeting that I was very close to being late for. I stopped, grudgingly, and then listened. I listened because it was my job to listen, even though my brain was racing off to the meeting I was now late for, and then… I realized I wasn’t listening. If I was going to give the time, I had to give the attention. Not grudgingly, not because it’s my job, but because people deserve to be heard. I listened. And in the end, I hope I was helpful. But I listened, and I hadn’t been, and I was wrong.

Which is something Meredith Farkas touches on, because she is also smart in outlining five things to remember about criticism in the workplace:

1. Remember that they are criticizing your ideas, not you

2. Don’t get emotionally attached to your ideas unless you really think they’re worth it

3. Picking your battles ensures that people take what you say seriously

4. People can be wrong

5. You can be wrong

She writes about each in her usual thoughtful and nuanced way. Go check it out.

And, finally, Tom Bruno has a great post in which he compares a really effective team-based library staff to the character archetypes on the tv show Leverage — the Mastermind, the Grifter, the Hacker, the Hitter, and the Thief — saying, “Okay, so working in a library isn’t exactly a criminal enterprise, but the skill set does seem to be disturbingly transferable.” Go read it. It should provoke a chuckle at the same time that it offers some useful insight into the roles we all play. (Which one are you? I used to be the Mastermind, but  this director gig is turning me into a pretty good Grifter, I must say…)

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