Monday, February 24, 2014

A Smart Worker is still a Hard Worker

“Work smarter not harder.”  It’s become a clichĂ©.  The idea is that it pays to become more efficient and effective in your work by being smart about it, minimizing unnecessary effort, expending less energy, and saving time on the job, for example.  To work smarter not harder is to be more productive while expending less energy, time, and resources.  That’s good.

But there is a negative side to this quip.  It seems to encourage the idea that hard work is something to be avoided altogether, as if you’re crazy or stupid to work hard for anything, a kind of subtle encouragement toward laziness.

Doing good work and being a smart worker still requires working hard.  For example, a smart worker is a developing worker.  She or he continues to learn by developing his/her skills and talents.  This takes time, effort, focus, and commitment.  It is a form of hard work, if done rightly.

The “smart” part of working smarter doesn’t just happen.  It is intentional, sought after, and worked for, obtained by old fashion sweat-of-the-brow daily practice, pursuit of education and training, and focused attentiveness in habit formation.  And it doesn’t skip steps or take short-cuts.

For example, working smarter not harder may involve reading the directions first, as time well spent, rather than tossing them aside in an effort to save time and quickly get the job done.  Likewise, following through each step properly, without skipping steps, is working smarter, rather than harder, as in the old saying: “Measure three times before you cut once” or more commonly said, “Measure twice; cut once.”  Thus, taking extra steps to do a job well and quickly, may seem counterintuitive, but it is still an example of working smarter rather than harder.

Giving attention to detail takes concentration, mental energy, and extra time; but this too is also an example of working smarter not harder.  As the saying goes, “The Devil is in the details.”  Walt Disney is an example of one who gave much attention to detail.   He was both a hard worker and a smart one. 

While attending graduate school, I had a roommate who was a chef.  He taught me the kitchen-working principle of “clean as you go.”  I don’t cook much.  But, when I do cook, I clean as I go.  It makes the overall cooking experience so much easier to deal with, no big mess to clean up afterward.  This too is working smarter not harder, though it is still working hard.

Planning ahead, staying organized, putting things back where they belong once you’ve finished with them, maintaining a current and updated filing system, making a “to-do” list, not procrastinating but doing immediate follow-through, taking the initiative to contact others to get answers to pressing questions, rather than waiting for them to come to you, these all appear to be extra steps and perhaps unnecessary steps, hard work, but are examples of actually working smarter not harder.

Bottom line: When one consistently does good quality work, you can be sure that he or she is not only a smart worker but a hard worker as well.  Working smarter does not negate the need to also be a hard worker.  We should all be good workers.  And since most of us have to work hard to make a living, let us learn to be smart about it as well.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Good Job or Bad Job? It’s More Than the Work or Position

It’s not so much what you do or the position you have.  It’s the how and why, and the company for whom you work, that often makes it a good job or bad one.

Do you feel good about the company for whom you work?  Or would you rather not think about it?  Consider the following questions about your employer.

Would your company think nothing of asking you to do something that goes against your principles?

Is the company only interested in the bottom line or does it believe itself to have a mission beyond the making of money, believing that it is doing an actual service and/or providing a meaningful product that adds value to people’s lives?

Is your company well-respected in the community?  Does it have a good track-record?  That is, has it legitimately earned the people’s trust and admiration?  Is it known for its honesty, trustworthiness, and community involvement, for example?

Are the company’s values well known, readily expressed, and actually adhered to?  Are they the kind of values that you are happy to support and buy in to?  For example, does it care about the environment?  Does it value people of all ethnic, racial, and cultural backgrounds?  Does it value women in the work force as much as men, the young and inexperienced as well as seniors with much experience, the disabled?  Is the company family oriented, supporting benefits and time schedules that aid and support family realities rather than oppresses them?

Does the company respect you as a person?  Is the company interested in your personal growth?  Does it provide opportunities for developing your own particular set of personal talents and skills?  Does it appreciate you for who you are and not merely for what you can do?

If you gave your company a plus to these questions, than you are most likely happy with your employment and believe yourself to have a “good job.”  If, on the other hand, you feel disrespected, taken advantage of, oppressed, and abused, you have a lousy job, no matter how prestigious the position may be.

Hence, it’s not simply what you do in your job, or the position that you have, that makes a job good or bad.  It’s for whom you work, and the how and why of your work, that counts.  Considering that most of our life-time waking-hours are spent at work, it’s certainly something to think about.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Politics and Finances Require Trust, a Trust People No Longer Have

A solid banking system requires trust.  Trust is the grease that keeps the banking industry running smoothly, not money.  That is to say: Having trust in one’s bank is more important than having money in one’s bank.

Depositors must have faith in the bank’s ability and trustworthiness to manage their money wisely and profitably.  Borrowers must trust a bank’s integrity and have confidence that loans will not only be made available but will be managed honestly and justly. 

Of course, banks are first and foremost a business.  They expect to make a profit from their services.  Yet, bankers provide necessary and fundamental financial services to a community, all of which presumes a great deal of trust and integrity. 

Because banks deal with huge amounts of money, their trustworthiness must be independently verifiable.  That is, there must be regulatory oversight on our banking system.  Why?  Because: banks are run and managed by humans and humans are not to be trusted with excessive amounts of money (or power)—not without a good amount of oversight, checks and balances.

This is why it was and is dangerous to allow banking and other financial institutions to become “too big to fail.”

In fact, no business or corporation, financial or otherwise, should ever be allowed to become bigger than a community’s ability to keep it accountable through independent oversight.  Note: “community” may be defined as either local, state, national, or even international.

To put it another way: the bigger a corporation or financial institution gets, the easier it becomes for that entity to escape healthy monitoring and to side-step fundamental rules of honesty, integrity, and accountability.  And so the more threatening and dangerous it becomes to the very community it is supposed to serve, the very same community from which it also happens to be reaping a good amount of profit and gain.

In that sense, bigger is not always better—for the community.  Who is monitoring our huge interstate and international corporations and financial institutions?  How is it even possible?  We want large industries to succeed because they provide jobs.  But, are we going back to “selling our soul to the company store” just to have job security again?

Now let us consider the political landscape.  The average American citizen is frustrated with the politics of the day.  Our two parties are often deadlocked in impasse after impasse.  But who “owns” the political machinery these days?  Is it not large special interest groups?  And by “large,” I mean corporations and financial institutions that effectively have an unlimited amount of money to spend on political campaigns, along with their kissing cousins, the collective wealthy-set of individuals who also have vast amounts of money to spend on political campaigns.  Is it no wonder that the people no longer “trust” the political system and have always distrusted the mysteriously well-financed politician?

Here we are again, talking about “trust.”  As it turns out, both a healthy financial system, as well as a healthy political system, demands the ability to trust.  This is why a good working democratic system, and/or financial institution, is an “open” system rather than a “closed” system; which is to say they are transparent—are held accountable and readily submit to independent and verifiable oversight.  Yet, sadly, our two most important national systems, the financial and the political, are losing, or have already lost, the people’s trust—and for good reason.

What will it take for the people to regain their trust in our great systems?  The answer is obvious.  Open up!  Full disclosure!  Our major political and financial institutions must have open books to public scrutiny, if, that is, we are to trust them.  Transparency is what makes both a strong and healthy democracy as well as a strong and healthy capitalistic system.  A healthy capitalistic democracy will not allow powerful influential institutions to hide behind walls of secrecy.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Facing our Hardening Hearts

Are you familiar with the phrase, “Hardness of heart”?  It’s a Biblical phrase.  Jesus Himself refers to our human tendency toward hardness of heart.  What does a hardened heart look like?

The more obvious and well known depiction of a hardened heart is one of sheer coldness, caring not for and unmoved by the plight of human suffering, heartache, and pain.

Biblically speaking, the heart’s source of cold uncaringness is disbelief, refusing to accept the fact of a God of goodness, a God of peace, truth, righteousness, justice, and redeeming love.

However, even believing hearts can be icy cold and quite hardened.  These hearts tend to slice others with their sharp-edged sword of intolerance, are quick to judge and condemn others for failing to live up to their standards of rightness and goodness.  This kind of cold heartedness is hidden behind a veneer of righteous indignation (self-righteousness).

For example, our society seems to be moving more and more in the direction of discarding the historically hard fought for legal and moral differentiation between juveniles and adults, when it comes to applying justice.  Nowadays, more often than not, when a juvenile commits a heinous crime or is even indirectly involved in one, the local District Attorney’s knee-jerk reaction is to immediately ask that he/she be tried as an adult.  And this, despite the abundance of evidence that juveniles do not yet have a fully mature developed brain/mind.

Why?  I’d say that it is a form of our society’s growing hard-heartedness.  We have a growing desire for swift and immediate vengeance (as in “shoot first, ask questions later”).  Indeed, I’ve noticed that the attitude and spirit of a victim (or victim’s family) can often be more exacting and cold-blooded than that which was initially in the heart and spirit of the offender when he/she committed the harm against the victim.  Are there cold-blooded criminals out there?  Of course there are.  However, the justice process requires that we take the time to understand the context and true mitigating circumstances of a crime that has been committed.  We seem to no longer have any patience for this.  We want immediate blood-for-blood, and more!

Another example can be seen in the way we deal with drug addicts.  Switzerland, like any modern Western country, including the U.S., recognizes that there is a drug problem affecting a percentage of its citizens.  However, instead of categorizing the drug problem under the heading of “criminal activity,” they categorize the problem as a health issue.  Thus, instead of throwing addicts in prison and building bigger and more expensive prisons to house addicts, they spend less money by diverting social resources toward more effective means of helping addicts deal with, manage, and hopefully eventually overcome their drug addiction.  What a concept!  Meanwhile our hard-heartedness has little patience for even entertaining the idea that drug addiction can actually be seen as a health issue rather than a criminal one.

It was Jesus who said in effect, “he who is without sin cast the first stone”; referring to the idea of stoning to death one caught in obvious wrong-doing that is deserving of death.  As a society it seems that we are moving further and further away from the enlightened principle that Jesus was trying to teach humanity, the principle of having mercy, grace, compassion, and forgiveness, allowing for the possibility of change, renewal, and transformation.

The next time you want to apply swift harsh and exacting justice on one who has harmed you, be sure that you are willing to receive the same when it is your turn to face judgment for the harm you have caused another—for you have indeed harmed others yourself.  Jesus made it quite clear that no one is guiltless in that realm.  Only he/she who is without sin can claim otherwise.

“For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.” – Jesus Christ, the Messiah (Matthew 7:2)