“Does an education of checkers prepare one for a lifetime of chess?” – Dr. R.E.D. “Gene” Woolsey
Coming out of college, I was ready to take on the working world. I had my degree in chemical engineering and a minor in business management and I was confident that the practicality Colorado School of Mines education had prepared me to go out and hit the ground running. While I had a lot of early success implementing projects that improved efficiency and level of service, I soften struggled working with peers and the higher-ups.
For one thing, I often saw the “optimal” solution to a given issue right away. Lacking patience and understanding, I couldn’t see why the others in the meeting didn’t see what I saw, recognize it as the “right” answer, and go with it. I often walked away from meetings completely frustrated with their ignorance. “How could everyone be so stupid? The solution is obvious.”
It wasn’t until nearly a decade later when went through Dr. Gene Woolsey’s Industrial Psychology class that I truly began to understand the depth and inner-workings of office politics. In Industrial Psychology, Dr. Woolsey had us read Machiavelli, not to turn us into unscrupulous corporate assassins, but rather to educate us to the dynamics and tactics in play in office politics so that we could recognize them and work with them. I took away a deep understanding that corporate culture rarely values the optimum solution, but rather focuses on cheap, quick fixes that respect the dynamics of turf, power, and responsibility.
So take, for example, the grizzled old foreman who had run the maintenance crew since before I was born, and who would only accept a solution if he felt he had come up with the idea on his own. Through trial and error and experience, I began to learn how to work with folks like him and how to lead him to the solution that made sense for both of us. As I deepened my understanding of the dynamics at play and human tendencies, I learned how to recognize folks who needed their own solution. I learned to ask leading questions and direct the discussion to the solution I wanted while allowing for some flexibility so the solution became ours instead of just mine. I learned to work with their personality to get what I wanted done.
Creating effective, positive change in the workplace, or anywhere, can best be accomplished when one has a grasp of the basic dynamics of human behavior. It necessitates a willingness to work with constraints imposed by others. It requires an understanding of power, control, turf, and responsibility. While seldom taught in school, they can be learned, and your career, and your life, may feel that much more satisfying because of it.