Keep Your Clay Soft
I was driving to the office recently thinking about some challenges we face at work (and in life in general) around adaptability, experience, and wisdom in our employment. I was trying to visualize my theory and this block of clay popped in my head. You and your experiences in life are a block of impressionable clay. I will try to keep this work and business-focused, but the concepts apply across the board.
When you first start working your clay is essentially the same as everyone else, a smooth-edged block. It is soft and malleable, but has basically the same square shape as anyone else. Your experience level is zero along with everyone else starting a job for the first time.
In your first job, everything makes an impression in your clay. Each person has a different level of “softness”, people learn at different rates and in different ways. Generally speaking, everything is new and sinks into your clay quickly. Fast forward 6 months or a year, and imagine someone has pressed a coffee mug halfway into the clay. This impression is what you’ve learned at your first job. These are standard activities like getting up in the morning, getting to work on time, figuring out how to attend meetings, keep notes, use Word, Excel, Outlook, etc. It’s a standard impression that most people learn and your clays is soft enough to allow this to “sink in” relatively quickly. It’s new and you’re eager.
As you move through your career to different jobs, projects, and people, they all have the effect of making different shaped impressions into your clay. As the impressions go deeper and wider you are learning more and gaining knowledge and hopefully wisdom. However, for most people, there comes a point where the clay begins to dry and harden, and each new impression takes longer due to the vastness of your current shape and the dryness of the clay. This can be subtle and difficult to detect, but generally speaking it happens to all of us, albeit at different rates.
As time goes by the clay continues to dry, and then even small impressions become more difficult. Our vast experiences tell us and sometimes trick us into thinking we know how to do things because we have done it that way successfully for years. Now picture that same coffee mug with one small stick coming out the side and you try to put that into your clay. It’s hard and the mug won’t go down into the clay at all, even though there’s a lot of room in there (wisdom and capabilities). That one small stick can cause the whole mug to sit on top of the clay.
That mug is your job. That stick is something new or different that you need to use to get your job done. You don’t even see it or realize it, but because you are pushing back on adapting to changes in your environment, you are putting your whole value proposition at risk within your organization. These can be very small and based on preconceived methods from previous experiences. New software your company wants to adopt, going mobile for phones, methods of managing your business, meeting styles, etc.. All these things CHANGE over time, especially within technology-focused organizations. It is inevitable. Do not bee seen as “stuck in your ways” or difficult to deal with because you can’t keep up with change.
If you find yourself resisting change, you must ask yourself the following question: Is this my experience and wisdom telling to me to challenge these changes with legitimate risks and issues, or is my clay too hard to accept trying a new method, device, or tool? I’ve heard people make the standard excuse “You know, old dog, new tricks”. This comes from the people who won’t adapt, excusing their own behavior. That’s an old saying that’s been around a long time for a good reason. Resist the urge to fall into the trap, it absolutely will hold you back. It causes friction with people that need you to be with them on their journey through changes.
Keep yourself fresh, relevant, open-minded and ensure that your value is that your experience can be brought to your job to create better systems and decision-making. Avoid letting those same experiences prevent you from hearing and embracing new methods. Adults can learn to program a VCR. You don’t need to stop learning. Keep your clay soft.