All I ever really wanted to do was play music and get laid.
I tried the music scene but ran into two big problems. One was that I was too stubborn about the way “my music” had to sound, which tended to put a damper on collaboration and pissed off my fellow musicians. The other was that I found “music industry professionals” universally disgusting. The lure of the 24/7 availability of sex-starved groupies was simply not strong enough to overcome my vanity and artistic stubbornness.
So, music became a sideline and I went off to college. Somewhat unfocused, I changed majors seven times in the first two years. After getting tired of the poor lost student act, I worked full-time for a couple of years, earning enough to keep me in wine and women. Then I got tired of the playboy act and decided I wanted to be somebody . . . and in my small lower-middle-class universe, that meant becoming a bona fide college graduate, the first in my family’s less-than-stirring history. I approached this endeavor with such intense commitment that I spent two years working full-time on the graveyard shift at a semiconductor company while going to school full-time to finish my degree.
And I finished! I had a degree! A degree in English! I’d lost touch with everyone I knew and I was still working a shit job on the graveyard shift, but I had a degree! A B. A. in English! Hooray!
Unfortunately, I hadn’t bothered to check the job prospects for graduating English majors, which at that time were similar to the current odds for winning the Mega Millions jackpot. There were no jobs for teachers and, as always, there were more than enough writers to go around. Some of my colleagues were headed to law school; some to get a second worthless degree in English by going for the Master’s.
I decided to go the worthless degree route and started my Master’s degree in English. Somewhere in the second semester, though, word got around at work that I had a Bachelor’s degree. One of the many upper middle managers at the company approached me and asked me if I wanted to be a supervisor. “We’re looking for people with degrees,” he said.
I thought it odd that he didn’t care that my degree was in English and that I knew a hell of a lot more about iambic pentameter, Jungian interpretations of Hawthorne and how Byron’s club foot affected his poetic rhythms than I knew about the science behind a memory chip. In fact, I knew nothing about memory chips except that I could shove them into a testing machine and if the light went green, it meant they were ready to do whatever they had designed them to do.
But if he didn’t care, I didn’t care—and I did care a whole lot about the 25% promotional raise I was going to get. I could get a sports car! Women would love me! Hooray!
I never learned dick about memory chips, but I actually became a pretty good supervisor for one simple reason: I listened to the people who worked for me. This was not a stroke of genius, but an act of desperation. I took the job knowing nothing about management, and the fear of imminent failure combined with the haunting image of a man in dark shades repossessing my brand new sports car threw my brain into paralysis. After about a month on the job, one of the leads asked to see me in my office.
“You don’t know what the fuck you’re doing, do you?”
I hadn’t learned the art of management bullshit yet, so I blurted out, “No!”
She sighed, sat down and proceeded to give me a few pointers. I tried them out . . . and they worked! I figured then that if she had some ideas, the others might have some as well, so I started asking people, “What’s fucked up around here?” They’d tell me straight out and then we’d fix it. My boss thought I was brilliant. My status as a sports car owner was now secure.
One of things that was fucked up was that my team (the inspectors) rejected 36% of the stuff submitted by the production people. I talked to the production people and found out that no one had bothered to train them on their jobs! A person was hired, given a smock, shoved in a chair and instructed to shut up and do what they were told. I came up with the groundbreaking idea that if we taught them how to do their jobs, they just might be able to learn how to . . . do their jobs! Brilliant! So I gathered all the production people together for a one-hour training session and voila! The reject rate plummeted to six percent in one month. Hooray!
Now my boss thought I was the greatest player since Willie Mays and started bragging about me to some people in the corporate office. The buzz caught the attention of some people in Organizational Development, and a couple of those folks approached me about becoming a leadership trainer.
Once again, I thought it strange that they would want to hire someone who had taught a grand total of one class and who had no earthly idea what the hell organizational development was. They explained to me that they liked the fact that I had “real-world experience,” something all of them lacked. They were primarily academics who had been hired based on their degrees as opposed to the presence of street smarts.
After hearing that the job came with a nice office and another 25% raise, I thought hard for about a nanosecond and said, “Sounds like fun!”
It proved to be anything but.
To be continued . . .