Make room to be messy!

I attended the SmartBrief STEM Pathways event on Thursday, October 20th. The format at the event was speakers, followed by smaller group discussions on STEM versus STEAM, student motivation, teacher retention & pathways. As we were recapping the event and having final questions & answer, I was thinking about how far we have come in education & business from early childhood learning. Learning new things is inherently messy. Learning to ride a bike often involves falling, as does climbing trees, or the monkey bars. Cooking or baking involves making messes and even making things that don’t taste good. Even earlier activities like attempting to put shapes in the correct shaped holes, or stacking blocks result in “stuck” toys or toppling towers. But learning in our classrooms as children, or our work environment as adults are expected to be orderly. We are expected to sit quietly, raise our hands & follow the established systems.


Are we doing ourselves and the next generation a disadvantage by limiting the time we have to get messy? Conversations in education reform are heavily focused around “STEM education”, but what does that really mean? If you consider STEM as a mindset, and our path to critical thinking and active curiosity, then it is more about giving our teachers the resources they need to target every kid, leveraging whatever it is that helps them engage in the process. Our focus on standardized testing and grades dampers the desire to try new things. The fear of any sort of failing, or movement away from the orderly, causes a discomfort. At the end of last year, my younger daughter was recommended fro Algebra 1 for her 8th grade math class. She also set herself a goal of making the all A honor roll all 4 quarters. Unfortunately, this was cause for a bit of a meltdown this week as her current math grade was a C, and she had a math test, and the end of the semester is approaching. She was putting so much pressure on herself for this next test, because she wanted to meet her goal. She was neglecting the fact that she was taking an advanced class, that was bound to be harder but she would not have been referred into the class, had her former teacher (and her parents) not believed she could do it.

In the same vane, there a quite a few conversations going on in organizational behavior about the fear of failure. The recent news about Wells Fargo and falsified accounts being created by sales people as a result of the unrealistic, intense goals set out by the organization is just another manifestation of the same stories behind Enron, wall street banks, etc. We have put such constraints around our employees and ourselves, that we lose that desire to challenge and be messy. We reinforce that sense of order initiated when we are told we need to start coloring inside the line, or it’s too old for you to still play with dolls.

There is a role for organization & cleanliness, but I encourage you all to make room for some messiness. It doesn’t matter whether it’s in the form of learning to cook something new, or taking on a new hobby or pushing the limits professionally. Give yourself that leeway, and make sure you give that same leeway to your employees.


Does long hiring processes drive better results?

I have interacted with two companies in the last couple of months that have very distinct cultures.  This in itself isn’t unique, however their approach to hiring as a means to make sure they find the right people is much longer and more intensive that I’ve seen before.

The first is a game development company based on the west coast.  This company has an incredibly flat organizational structure and has an incredible pool of very talented software engineers working there.  They have a handful of senior managers and tech leaders, but it is individuals who drive how they want to lead.  It seems you excel by stepping up and offer to fill a gap, find a solution, rally the troops.  The team members I interacted with definitely play hard and work hard.  They work late, the play their own games and work on side projects to resolve real technology issues.

The second is a consulting company based on the east coast.  This company works with clients to solve really complex business problems.  They also hire very smart people and encourage them to find their path and expand into the role they want.  It was very bluntly stated that this company is a relationship company.  If you do not make a personal connection, you will never successfully get passed the systematic screening.  This applies for both jobs and business partnerships.

Both of these organizations have interesting hiring practices.  Recommendations from existing employees goes a long way to getting you in the door, but it is not the end of the process.  The gaming company has a 4-6 month interview and decision making process.  The consulting company has a 6-8 month interview and decision making process.  And this is for people who have established the connections and deemed worthy of an initial look.  Multiple phone and in person interviews occur.  I’m sure there are situational questions and aptitude tests that go along with this. The gaming company requires a unanimous vote from everyone that participated in the interview process.

This all seems a little bit crazy but I guess it is not, especially if it works.  Both companies believe strongly in their process. As I heard from the consulting company many people stay for extended periods of employment in a time where this becomes less common.  The gaming company is younger, but seems to have fairly little turnover among their ranks.

Should other companies follow the leads of these companies? I’m not sure.  I’ve always thought that hiring quickly and firing more quickly were better approaches. I wonder if that’s because my background tends to be with smaller companies where there is more immediate need versus luxury of forward-thinking?  Is there a certain culture or structure that this works best in?