Friday, January 11, 2008

Show Your Work!

Every now and then, I find myself lapsing into phrases and language that I learned as a child. It freaks me out when I say something that was a hallmark of my father.

The ten your old (whom we have met here before) has her struggles with Math. So from time to time, she comes into my office to have me check her homework. I can tell this is painful for her because she knows that the very first thing I'm going to tell her is, "Show your work!" "But Dad," she protests, "we don't have to do that today!" And that one word, "today", and its inflection says so much. She may as well pack me off in the wheelchair to the Irrelevant Parents' Home.

Nonetheless, what I also perceived as a pain in 1972, and she perceives as a pain in 2008, carries value. When you ask for help, it shows that you have tried an approach and enables the person helping you to see where you went wrong.

So now, to today's homily...

I've been a subscriber to the Records Management Listserve since 1993. Back then, I think the subscriber base was well under 100 and email was a new thing for many people. The original Listserve was put together by records managers for educational institutions (mainly because they were among the few people out there with Internet email at the time). Anyway, over the years I have noticed a mis-use of that forum that bugs me every time I see it. That is, the person who posts something to the effect of, "I've been told to do a [insert a variety of RIM projects]. Could everyone send me a copy of what they have done?" And this can range from university students writing term papers to rookie records managers writing RFPs to experienced records managers looking for forms. I have, on occasion, written to the person committing the etiquette breach and asked them to consider how their post appears to 1500 or 2000 colleagues. My experience is that while some folks will be helpful, these sorts of requests are often met with a very stony silence. When I have written these folks, I sometimes will get a very defensive reply -- and sometimes these folks are hurt that "no one responded -- I don't understand why when you ask for something, there are all sorts of replies". My response to that generally looks like this:


Young Grasshopper,

A long line of stern women in severe black dress once pounded into my thick skull that the path to knowledge is best found when you show the path already taken. In their direct terms, they told me to "SHOW YOUR WORK!" These same teachers also informed me that following the same path as others did not allow you the experience of discovery and the opportunity to blaze new trails. In their terms, "EYES ON YOUR OWN PAPERS!"

Now Grasshopper, in the business world we like to use the term "benchmarking". I have heard you propose to me that what you are doing is simply "benchmarking". And that may be so. I have often used the term myself, but I am very selective in choosing benchmarking partners. The best sort of benchmarking is when all parties share their approaches equally -- and particularly when the person receiving the most value from the process shares his or her findings with all the participants. My teachers would say, "IF YOU BRING A TREAT TO CLASS, MAKE SURE THAT YOU HAVE ENOUGH TO SHARE WITH THE ENTIRE CLASS."

And so, young Grasshopper, I offer you this advice: When seeking the wisdom of others, demonstrate that you are worthy of that wisdom. Show that you are willing to find your own path and that you have done your own work. Share your bits of knowledge with everyone and when others share with you, ensure that everyone benefits from your learning.

The guru is out.

1 comment:

sue said...

Hey, this is a grasshopper, I understand and great information! Filter the junk, life cycle, get the whole story, then get wisdom, from those with experience.