Today’s Lesson: “Be excellent to each other.”
Nicole asked me if we should call the SUP shop to make sure our Stand-Up Paddleboards were ready for pick-up (we were waiting on some parts to arrive). I said, “Yes, at least that way they will remember to order the parts that should have already been there.”
Sure enough, when she called, our parts had not arrived and had not been ordered. She was frustrated and asked since I knew they were going to screw up, why didn’t I call earlier in the week? That’s easy. I said, “Because then they would have screwed something else up, probably something more important.” It seems cynical, but I expect (and often plan for) incompetence because it is everywhere.
Unfortunately (for all of us) we have created a thriving culture of incompetence.
There is no short-term cure, no remedy. We all contribute to it and accept it because we all think we are part of the solution, not part of the problem. It is probably more like a sliding scale, though, with most of us further along one side (utter incompetence) than the other (perfect competency), and probably no one at either end.
I plan my life around it–I expect traffic jams so I leave early due to incompetent traffic management and incompetent drivers. I expect my order to be screwed up when we go out to eat so I try to keep the order simple. At Subway, almost every single time, I have this conversation:
Me: “Hi, I would like a six-inch Veggie on Italian, not toasted, no cheese… please.”
Sandwich Artist: “What type of cheese would you like?”
Sandwich Artist: “Did you want that toasted?”
Me: “Not toasted, no cheese, please.”
Sandwich Artist: “What would you like on it?”
Me: “All the veggies and peppers, please.”
Sandwich Artist: “Would you like spinach on it?”
I am not kidding–this is nearly verbatim 6 out of 10 times. I know my part. I have timed how long it takes to say it. The person behind the counter has to listen for exactly 4 seconds. Go ahead, time it. Hi, I would like a six-inch Veggie on Italian, not toasted, no cheese.
I am picking on Subway, and the SUP shop, and whoever does such a deplorable job engineering traffic flow in Tampa, but there are low-hanging examples in every direction you look. How does it go so wrong, so often, in so many places? I think it is due to at least 3 reasons…
1. Employers seek to pay the lowest amount in salary and benefits to achieve results. Most of society is driven by business and most businesses start by seeking the most competent of the Incompetent applicant pool to help the economy move forward. What if, for every position hired for, companies started from, “What is the best we can afford to offer?” instead of “What is the lowest we can get away with?”, and transparently advertised for that? Growth would be slower (or perhaps not) but every person on the team would be known for their excellence and competence and ability to achieve. Sure, I recognize that is, on its surface, far too Pollyanna of a solution, but it is a place to start the conversation.
2. Companies try to insulate against incompetence with automation. The reason my Subway conversation happens over and over is because the Subway employees are taught to have the same conversation over and over. They are on auto-pilot, not even hearing the nuances of my order. What if, instead of training automation to reduce incompetence, we taught listening skills, communication, financial prowess, and leadership to maximize competence?
Imagine a team of professional listeners, who have their personal finances in order, and operate like a team of Tony Robbins behind the Subway counter! That is an experience you would never forget, every visit.
3. We celebrate incompetence. The irony is, if I showed an attitude with a Subway employee every time they struggled through my 4-second order, I would be the bad guy. I would be the pompous jerk berating the minimum wage worker for having an off-moment. Not only that, but consider some of the other factors that contribute to incompetence (assuming education has occurred), such as stress.
When you share with me that you haven’t been getting enough sleep, or that you are stressed, struggling financially, or irritated about something… instead of taking it as a catastrophic problem, I accept it as a challenge! I must then share with you how stressed I am and how I have been getting even less sleep than you, etc. We wear the worst overworked, stressful bits of our lives like badges and share them like victories. What if, instead, we considered “competence killers” like stress, boredom, and over-working as seriously as having heard terrible news about an accident in someone’s family? What if, instead of trying to one-up each other, we asked what we could do to help and tossed out goofy cultural stigmata like “napping at work is a sign of laziness, favoritism, or non-production”?
It is, of course, easier for us to continue down the path of incompetence. As long as everyone is not raising the bar, then most of us can continue hiding in the masses–we are just about as good or bad as everyone else and people who point to our flaws are jerks. That, plus the power of inertia–from a society already on a trajectory of continued cultural incompetence–makes it hard to transform into a culture that, on the whole, acknowledges and celebrates the rise of humanity rather than the fall of society. (Also, we all think we are competent and therefore not part of the problem. It must be the rest of the world…)
All I can offer for a bandage in the interim is a recommendation to celebrate competence when you see it. When the restaurant server produces a pad and pen to take your order instead impressing you with their lackluster mnemonic skills, thank them gracefully. When the employee at Subway actually hears your order rather than hears you order, let them know you are grateful. When someone tells you they are going to call you by a certain date or time, and they do, acknowledge their professionalism. Find competence and point to it, and talk about it.
Indeed, competence may be endangered but it still exists. When you find it, appreciate it, and help it grow!