People Make the Difference

Turning Point

At our core we humans are social creatures. Since climbing down from the trees many eons ago, we have kept company with each other, first in small homogeneous groups that led us eventually to more diverse communities.

Over time we managed to differentiate various gifts that individuals brought to the community and place value on the contributions made by each member. There were people good at hunting, building, farming and yes, even metalworking.

These core talents allowed the sum of the community to be much more effective than the individual parts that made up the total. It’s been that way for many millennia.

I for one, think this system of organization still works pretty well. As I think about my career I recall, perhaps with a little gauze of time, some of the people who had positive influences on my path through the world.

Parents of course are the first responders to formulating an individual and luckily mine were very helpful and caring for my early development. Teachers would be next on the road and here again, I was blessed.

However, it’s after we leave the cloister of home and school we meet up with people who are not directly charged with providing us security and education. Entering the workforce means putting the lessons of those halcyon days to a real world test.

Here again, I was lucky to encounter bosses and co-workers who understood that the group  or company was better off helping its younger, less experienced, members grow and be empowered to use their individual talents. These people understood that we all benefit from a larger sum of a group’s disparate parts.

We call these people mentors and while it is an optional endeavor there are some in almost every group. I was able to study under the tutelage of several mentors as I stumbled along my way into a career in metalworking manufacturing. My path has been greatly smoothed by these people.

Interestingly while many may think that mentoring is a top down kind of process, you know the old person passing on pearls of wisdom to the younger person, my experience in the last few years has been just the opposite. As we increasingly apply the new tools of communication; social media, Internet, iPads, iPhones and the like, there is a mentoring role reversal going on.   

 To my point, I recently was given an iPad for use in my travels. I gave it a test run on a recent trip to Switzerland and now wonder why I didn’t get one sooner. I only use it for e-mail but even that limited usage has saved me a ton of time already.

To get my iPad up and running one of our young IT people sat down with me walked me through the basic operation steps I needed to get the thing running. Reverse mentoring is certainly alive and well as my generation meets up with the e-revolution.

I will say this however I think we, my generation, see the iPad and other such devises through clearer eyes than some of our younger brethren. For us it’s a tool, a means to an end and not the end itself. My hope is I never walk into a wall while being totally engrossed using an I-device.

There seems to be a trend away from centralized working with people—e-commuting and working from home—that causes me some concern. I would hate to see the day when I don’t see my co-workers face to face for extended periods. I for one would miss them.

Of course I understand the advantages of working from home and the economics of such a working arrangement but I worry about the costs long term of losing the social aspects of coming together in a common environment on a regular basis. I like my dogs but I rather spend most of my days with my co-workers.

There have been too many people who had direct influence on me through the years, good and bad, and I can’t imagine how I might have turned out had I not experienced those people. Being social is in our DNA and I think we fight nature at our peril.

If the day comes when i-devices replace our need to gather as a company or community, I worry that it may not be the brave new world some believe it will be. We must keep in mind that we make tools to make our lives easier, always have. But it’s not our tools that make us unique; being human is being with humans.