Real Gifts

This column looks at one man's opinion of what makes gift giving a year round event as opposed to just seasonal.

Here we are at the holiday season, faced with gift giving in a consumption-based society. Most of us will be running around trying to fill the many stockings within our personal and professional spheres with stuff we think will please.

However, much of these material objects that we circulate amongst family, friends and colleagues have a relatively short shelf life. They are consumed—eaten, used up, worn out or spent—in short order. I see much of these gifts as tokens—mere physical reminders of the real gifts we hopefully try to give to our respective spheres year round.

Don’t get me wrong, nobody likes giving and receiving presents more than I—although I do loathe shopping. But as I’ve lived and aged, the overall importance of the gift is subordinated the  relationships behind it.

Here’s my recommended shopping list of gifts that seem worth giving at the holiday season and throughout the year. Some are more directed toward family, others to friends and colleagues.

Passion: This gift represents to me strong feelings about what we do. Nobody wants to do a job they hate. Most of us in manufacturing are here because we have a passion for the industry. That passion can be given to others by example and attitude. In fact, I’ve seen such passion actually become contagious in an environment where it is fostered. 

Generosity: Here, I’m thinking about how cool it is when someone who has knowledge about something is willing to share that knowledge with others. While sometimes there is fear that sharing knowledge somehow diminishes it, a generous person understands that for them to get their knowledge somebody else had to give it up. I’d also include a stocking stuffer of experience. The willingness of sharing what we’ve learned during a career can be a large value-added “gift” for many we come in contact with. Moreover, sharing knowledge and experience ensures continuity for the future of the industry. We should never stop teaching.

Tolerance: None of us is ever going to find another person exactly the same as we are. In my case that’s a huge blessing. Increasingly, though, we’re encountering people who are very different than we are. It’s easier to hang with those we like or those like us, but it’s limiting. Tolerance helps us appreciate differences and, if we’re lucky, learn things we never knew.

Patience: This is a gift that keeps on giving. It’s a very fast-paced life we all lead personally and professionally—multitasking goes way beyond the shop floor. Having the patience to stop and deal with individuals who work for you, work with you or live with you when they need you is truly a gift. It’s also often reciprocal.

Listening: Ours is a complex and technical business. It’s also a business that has opportunities for creativity. In trying to tap into the talent around us to shave a few seconds off a cycle or setup time, listening to suggestions from everyone and creating an environment where such conversations are encouraged will be appreciated long after the fruit cake is gone. Good ideas know no boundaries, but they must be heard to be used.

Curiosity: It’s a fool who thinks he/she knows everything. Curiosity is a gift that keeps us asking questions and learning new things. Education doesn’t stop with graduation. Instead it is simply the beginning of a lifetime of learning. I think this might be the best gift on my list because so many of the others flow from it.

Appreciation: While getting lost in the daily grind, it’s easy to forget to express appreciation for those we work with. By simply saying, “Thanks for your hard work,” we can make that person’s day, week, or even year.