Gather round the drafting table kids, now that I’ve replaced my computer, it’s time for Grandpa Borson to dole out some more important and life altering advice. If you swing through my site with any regularity, you’ll probably have noticed that the kernels of wisdom I share are derived in two manners:
1. I’ve lived through it and I’m speaking from my own personal experience;
2. I believe whatever “it” to be true with every fiber of my being.
All in all, it’s a pretty straight forward method for choosing topics. Since a big part of my role in the office is to mentor and shape the younger architects and interns (Lord Corbusier, please have mercy upon their architectural souls), when I find myself going over “a lesson” it becomes the seed for one of these advice posts. Today is one of those posts – maybe the most important advice post I’ve ever tackle.
This is my latest teaching phrase – “Just follow the recipe” and I think it conveys my message in a way that doesn’t come across as condescending, although the recipient may not like it at first. When I have a design task for someone, particularly when they are young or generally inexperienced in the real world of design-related problem solving, I am trying to teach them how to go about solving a problem in a fast and efficient manner. [cue the narrative - my other favorite teaching technique]
Bob (to enthusiastic intern): Would you mind making some lemonade? Here is the water, sugar and lemons and recipe card … you should only need about 20 minutes for this exercise.
Enthusiastic Intern: Sure!
…. 1 hour later
Bob (looking at watch … then to enthusiastic intern): Where is that lemonade?
Enthusiastic Intern: I’m just finishing it now … let me say, you are going to love it!
Bob (looking at glass full of pink liquid): What is this? I asked for lemonade…
Enthusiastic Intern: This is the lemonade you asked me for … except I went to the store and picked up some organic raspberries, crushed and strained them, and added them to the lemon, water, and sugar you gave me.
Bob: This isn’t what I asked for.
Enthusiastic Intern: It’s got ginger in it as well, it beautifully complex … quite delicious really.
Bob: I’m sure it is … but it isn’t what I asked for. Why didn’t you follow the recipe?
(Less) Enthusiastic Intern: I thought this would be better – this IS better.
Bob: No, it’s not. I’m allergic to ginger and don’t care for raspberries. And you spent 3x as long preparing something I can’t drink.
I have been fortunate to work with really talented younger people and to a person, every time I ask for something specific and get handed back something different from what I asked for, they ALWAYS have a reason for their deviation. Sometimes they’ve deviated from the directions for a really good reason but that’s not the point here. I still always need the thing I was asking for, and as a result, they still have to go back and do it again. That’s when the “just follow the recipe” lesson comes in handy: you should always give the person initially what they asked for and if you think there’s a better way to accomplish the same task, do your modification after you’ve prepared the original request and present them both.
You will find yourself in a far better position if you do both what was asked of you and a little extra – and that’s what I like to call solid “Career 101″ advice. What’s NOT solid “Career 101″ advice, is to not follow directions … even if you’re right. The difference between these two paths might seem subtle to you but they aren’t – it’s not even close. In one example, you’re an employee who can’t follow directions, while in the other, you are an overachiever who does what I need and presents me with additional options/ information that might protect me from myself. Which one seems like the better path to take?
Just something for you to think about … and you should follow my lemonade recipe, you won’t be disappointed. Afterwards you can add all organic raspberries (or gin) to it you want.
ps – for the record, I’ve never actually asked an intern to make me lemonade. I have asked them to pick up the Friday beer but I paid for it and they generally seemed really happy about it.