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Scissor skills [guest post]

I pride myself on my ability to cut a good straight line. I enjoy the feel of scissors slicing through a fresh piece of paper: the beginning of some kind of a creation.

I don’t remember the process of learning to use scissors myself, and I have watched with frustration my sons mangling paper with clumsy efforts. Evidently, this is a skill that has to be taught.

Hold the scissors correctly. Watch the line you are cutting and engage your brain to follow it. Keep it smooth and steady. But the most important thing of all is to STOP CUTTING when it appears to be going wrong. Stop, check, correct, resume.

One of my sons in particular just keeps on cutting, even when he can see he is cutting the corner off a triangle, the legs off a sheep, or the head off a wibbly wobbly man. I don’t know how many times I have told him to stop the moment he feels it might be going wrong, and check where he is headed.

It occurred to me the other day that this is a principle to apply at work as well. Perhaps especially when you work in the ‘being nice to people’ sector. Sometimes it is clear that something is not going quite right. And yet we plough on regardless, recklessly cutting our legs out from under ourselves. Because we have a deadline, a pressuring boss, or a sense of ‘just needing to do this’.

Once the head is cut off a paper man, there isn’t much you can do about it. Once you have hired the wrong person, you are stuck. Once you have sent that email, it can’t be unsent. Once you have started a program when you didn’t have the right elements in place, you are committed without the right ingredients for success.

I have just ‘hired’ a volunteer, and I increasingly sure that they are not going to do a good job. I had a feeling we were going off course, but I didn’t stop cutting and check. Or rather, I let myself be persuaded by the positivity of a senior who thought it was a good idea instead of following my instincts. And now there is a deadline looming.

It is going to be hard to fix this particular didn’t-stop-cutting mistake, but at least I haven’t cut a paper person in half. That would be really tragic.

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