Whether you’re improving your own work or helping others improve theirs,* it pays to spend time talking about who is responsible for what – and what you hope people will take responsibility for as they grow into their roles.
There are layers of responsibility.
1) Given all the necessary inputs…
Do you take responsibility for getting your job done?
2) If an input is missing…
Do you shrug your shoulders and put down your tools?
Or do you take responsibility for passing the problem to the relevant person – a colleague, supplier, manager?
Do you take responsibility for chasing up the solution?
If needed, will you work with the relevant person to make it easier for them to fix it?
Will you give thought to whether this problem is likely to happen again – and think about what you can do on your side to fix it (by, say, allowing more time in your process)?
Will you take responsibility for the breakdown in communication or process – by talking about it, asking for help, trying something new?
3) If the inputs are fine and the process is working…
Will you ask how it could be done better?
Will you think about whether you could entirely replace the process, or do away with it entirely?
4) Above and beyond the level of processes…
Will you take responsibility not just for the defined outcomes of the process, but for what those outcomes are actually supposed to achieve?
Will you set an example of excellence in the quality of your work…
Including how you treat people while you do it, both in and outside your organisation?
Will you take a degree of responsibility for other people do these things – that is, for setting and improving the culture?**
Basic competence in a defined task is just the start – taking that as given, members of your team become more valuable the further down this list they go.
There’s a world of difference between managing someone where you responsibility for their work, and working with someone who takes responsibility to make sure the right things get done in the right way – and helps you and others to do the same. Find more of those people.
*it’s usually best to think about both at once
**No-one likes a meddler, but most of the time most of us make the mistake of not taking enough responsibility for making things better.
It was clear (at least to me) that technology was an extension of natural life, but in what ways was it different from nature? (Computers and DNA share something essential, but a Mac-Book is not the same as a sunflower.) It was also clear that technology springs from human minds, but it what way are the products of our minds (even cognitive products like artificial intelligences) different from our minds themselves? Is technology human or nonhuman?
We tend to think of technology as shiny tools and gadgets. Even if we acknowledge that technology can exist in disembodied form, such as software, we tend not to include in this category paintings, literature, music, dance, poetry and the arts in general. But we should. If a thousand lines of letters in UNIX qualifies as technology (the computer code for a web page), then a thousand lines of letters in English (Hamlet) must qualify as well. They both can change our behavior, alter the course of events, or enable future inventions.
A Shakespeare sonnet and a Bach fugue, then, are in the same category as Google’s search engine and the iPod: They are something useful produced by a mind.
We can’t separate out the multiple overlapping technologies responsible for a Lord of the Rings movie. The literary rendering of the original novel is as much an invention as the digital rendering of its fantastical creatures. Both are useful works of the human imagination. Both influence audiences powerfully. Both are technological.
If you haven’t read any of Kevin Kelly’s writing, check out New Rules for the New Economy (where in 1998 – the year Google was founded and seven years before Facebook) he set out most of the trends of the new ‘connection’ economy. Or read the opening chapter of What Technology Wants on Kindleand see if it tempts you.
Next time you read an article, listen to a podcast, watch a program that you like – why don’t you get in touch with whoever made it?
Not just the person who was in it – the ones we normally notice – but the people who made it too. Drop them an email, or even that hand written note that you always think about but never get around to.
Why did you like it? Is there something you had a (generous, non-snarky) question about, or something (of genuine potential interest to them) that you can share?
Try it – make it a light touch. It feels funny at first but gets ever-easier. They’re a person like you, and they’ll probably reply, which will probably be fun.*
*You have permission to stop after twenty unreplied-to contact attempts.**
** To different people.