Author, Gravesend, Kent, UK
I’ve a friend who runs a major tyre company. Covid-19 could force him to send his employees home. Let’s suppose it does. Now let’s imagine what he might say to them through a Facebook video message.
Most of his people are men. Most are not especially well-educated, but the vast majority do a tough job well, and my friend has a lot of respect for them. He knows that most people wouldn’t want to do the job of a tyre-fitter.
I’m sure my friend would have a lot of reassuring things to say, and the last thing he’d do would be to lecture about how they should be spending their time at home. But suppose he had an instinct that some of them might be willing to think about doing some kind of productive learning. He’d know that learning, the word itself, would be a turn-off for many. It would bring back negative memories of school and, in many cases, a process that was hard and humiliating. He’d acknowledge this, but he’d also remind them how they became skilled tyre-fitters: through practice, yes, but also through learning.
I don’t think for a second he’d prescribe what they should learn, but I suspect he’d mention the interests of some of the individuals he knew about, and that this could be their opportunity to pursue these interests. “I know that Dave at X depot is mad keen on cooking and Steve at Y depot wants to learn French so he can chat to his wife’s family. Maybe this is their chance to do some learning – and yours as well, if there’s anything that grabs you.”
It’s quite possible that my friend would also offer learning materials for anyone who liked the idea of becoming a depot manager. Some of his workers definitely aspire to this.
My friend is canny enough to know that for many of his guys a leaning project would be the last thing on their minds. They’d be anxious, and anxiety is a bad learning state. It’s hard to stay focused when your mind is troubled. He’d know that some of them wouldn’t see the point of learning when the future was so uncertain, so I’m sure he’d tell them that a learning project might be one of the best ways to have some control over both their anxiety and their future. They’d be better “tooled up” for future opportunities. He’d also say that giving time to learning would make the time go faster, since he knew how little they liked standing around when there wasn’t much to do.
Then he’d tell them something that would really get their attention: he’d tell them that they were one of the elite professions where highly skilled people had the ability to surge. He’d say that they were like A&E doctors and firefighters and SAS teams who had to do things in a really rapid and robust way. Tyre-fitters might not save lives (not directly) but they could perform casualty-like procedures on tyres and change them at lightning speed if necessary.
“And that ability to surge is what you could bring to any task you do, learning ones or any ones – building sheds, clearing a garage, learning the guitar – whatever.” That’s what my friend might say. It would acknowledge something most had never even thought about, and be a boost to their self-esteem. It would be truthful, not flannel.
He might add: “You are so used to changing tyres in a fraction of the time it takes Joe Public, and so good at it, why not bring the same surge skills to another task? Why wouldn’t you want to get it done quickly? And all that time getting impatient on the forecourt when things go quiet. Well, that could now be a really good thing. It would make you surge even more, focus and take action.”
In these uncertain times, the ability to surge when we want or need to could be one of our greatest capacities for staying positive and productive. Couple it with learning, and we’ve got an awesome strategy for thriving, not just surviving.
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