Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Average Joes: Life at the top of the normal distribution curve!


As children, we are constantly told that each and every one of us is special in our own way. As individuals, we each possess a certain set of skills, talent if you may, that makes us shine apart from the rest. Parents sign their kids up for different activities such as sports, arts, and/or music extracurricular hobbies; jamming their child’s already busy  schedule with diverse exposure to various disciplines in hope that they’ve spawned the next Yo-Yo Ma or Abu Triekka. The truth of the matter is that the majority of people are born without any distinguishable talents what so ever. The majority of people live their lives firmly positioned at the top of the normal distribution curve, never achieving outlier status.  They can do most things well, yet they are not great at particularly anything.

There’s nothing wrong with being average, again most people are. So why is there a continual effort to ingrain children with a sense that they are (or must be) extraordinary. When has ordinary become such a bad thing? Why can’t we teach them to embrace who they are. Teach them to identify their strengths, ordinary as they may be, and to make those strengths work for them. I understand that it is “a dog eats dog” world, and we must teach our children how to survive in such an environment. However, emphasizing that they have to be exceptional can be detrimental to their self-esteem, more so for the emerging average Joes. Ordinary kids spend their childhoods and exert much effort in trying to prove to themselves that they are great at something - anything, trying to live up to the enormous expectation put upon them by their parents and by society. When they can’t find their talent, they start to prey on other kids who are actually special, and thus a bully is born. On the other hand, they can just dwell in their own self-pity and sorrow, essentially bulling themselves. How can we expect them to show tolerance to others when we didn’t teach them to accept who they are?

To all the average Joes out there, we are the worker bees and yes it sucks! We’ll probably never get to shine in the spotlight. We won’t leave lasting legacies. But, without us outliers would not exists, for there will be no movie stars without movie goers. We are the axis from which outliers deviate to show their extraordinary attributes. We might not make the world spin, but we keep it in its orbit. Embrace your old average self and know that it is us who make geniuses genius.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Dichotomy of Mediocre Performance

For years now I have been noticing a general decline in work (performance) done by Egyptian employees. Grant you that my observations are based on my personal interactions and stories relayed to me by friends and acquaintances.   Upon further reflection, I started to realize that this phenomenon has spread to all aspects of our lives.

Without proper investigation and root-cause analysis, it will be impossible to pinpoint the exact reasons behind this issue.  
 However, I believe that the “Me Too” effect (more precisely “Eshma3na Ana”) has a lot to do with it. The perpetuation of mediocrity throughout our lives has led quite many Egyptians to wonder why should they give a damn when everyone else doesn’t give a hoot. Why should they care about doing a good job, when all around them people are getting away with doing lousy work? Of course these people justify mediocre performance by saying (and in due time believing) that the smart thing to do would be to exert the most minimum amount of effort while maintain a mediocre enough quality of work as not to get any salary deductions. This must be smart. This is street smart “Fahlawa”! Only an idiot would do more effort than necessary, when they can do less and get paid the same.

This has been going on for years, but when it first started, I imagine it wasn’t as wide spread as it is now. In the beginning people were just a few minutes late coming into work. Why should they be on time? Most companies have a 10 – 15 minutes grace period for attendance – just in case employees run into some traffic or any other issues that would delay them. In fact it’s not only justifiable to be late, it would actually be wasteful  to arrive on time and not use those 10 minutes allowance ;) look at Mohamed, for example, every day he comes in at 9:15, yet nothing is deducted from his salary. Then why should May be on time? Besides, we really can’t control traffic. There is nothing we can do to guarantee that we arrive every morning at exactly 9:00 am. What happens when we come in at 8:55? The company doesn’t pay us for those extra 5 minutes. It’s just plain stupid to not take advantage of those late minutes.  What harm would come from being a couple of minutes late each day?  Of course if organizations accept and expect their employees to be late coming into work, then “logically” the same concept applies to deadline and delivery dates. Duh! Companies simply cannot expect their employees to hand in their work and meet deadlines on time. Come on, we all know that management always factors in delays. We don’t control the universe. Stuff happens! Look at Tawfik, he’s always late for meetings. Why should I be on time? Besides I’ll only be a few minutes late. I’ll just be getting a cup of coffee.

Throughout those years, employee’s performance decline started to slowly but steadily creep into the Egyptian work place. With every few late minutes, or missing pounds, employees justified poor performance with “everyone’s doing it“ and “who is it harming?” notions. Now imagine an entire generation that was exposed to these levels of mediocrity throughout their lives. Teachers at schools skipping lessons because there won’t be included in the final exam or these lessons are for gifted students. Who needs math anyway? Bus drivers who run through red lights and cut other vehicle off the road because everyone else is doing it and the people who abide by traffic laws and fasten their seat belts are actually bad drivers. At home, they hear their dad brag about making a huge commission because he overpriced an offer and the customer was too stupid to notice the high margin. By the time these kids become a part of the workforce, they don’t even need to justify mediocre performance to themselves. For this generation, doing the bare minimum is normal. To them, it is the right way of doing things.

Unfortunately the current and future batch of Egyptian college graduates is a result of our mediocre performance lifestyle. It is going to take a tremendous amount of effort and perseverance to shift their paradigm of “Acceptable Performance”. This is one task where good enough will not be good enough.