Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Work Coach


    Mike Rowe explains the experience that completely changed his reliance on the sacred cow narratives concerning work.

    Mike Rowe is one of those special people who has an experience that profoundly changes the way he thinks about things.  He's also special in the sense that he is able to relate difficult concepts to large audiences.  So the antiseptic definition of anagnorisis is suddenly and personally grasped by each member of the audience.
    Anagnorisis is the critical moment of recognition or discovery, especially preceding peripeteia.
    Peripeteia is a sudden turn of events or an unexpected reversal, especially in literary work.

    I've edited the transcript for brevity and added some commentary in blue colored text.  My purpose in featuring Mike Rowe is to demonstrate another example of an expert who is an expert because he discarded the narrative platitudes and re-examined everything he thought he knew about work.  What 'wisdom' forms success and what is ultimately a rosy path to self defeat.

    Mike Rowe -- [I got to tell you, it's such a great device though.  When you start to look for peripeteia, you find it everywhere.  I mean, Bruce Willis in "The Sixth Sense," right?  Spends the whole movie trying to help the little kid who sees dead people, and then, boom -- "Oh, I'm dead" -- peripeteia.  You know?  It's crushing when the audience sees it the right way.  Neo in "The Matrix," you know?  "Oh, I'm living in a computer program" -- that's weird.-- 

    Dirty Jobs was called to a sheep ranch.  Albert is the shepherd and is showing me my job as we're castrating sheep.  Albert grabs the scrotum and with a pocket knife snips the scrotum open and pushes the scrotum upward and then his head dips down, obscuring my view, but what I hear is a slurping sound and a noise that sounds like Velcro being yanked off a sticky wall and I'm not even kidding.  I said, "Stop.  This is nuts."  I mean, you know.  "This is crazy.  We can't do this."

    And Albert's like, "What?"

    And I'm like, "I don't know what just happened, but there are testicles in this bucket and that's not how we do it."

    And he said, "Well, that's how we do it."

    And I said, "Why would you do it this way? And before I even let him explain, I said, "I want to do it the right way, with the rubber bands."

    And he says, "Like the Humane Society?"

    And I said, "Yes, like the Humane Society.  Let's do something that doesn't make the lamb squeal and bleed, we can't do this."

    He says, "OK."  He goes to his box and he pulls out a bag of these little rubber bands.  Melanie (his wife) picks up another lamb, puts it on the post, band goes on the scrotum.  Lamb goes on the ground, lamb takes two steps, falls down, gets up, shakes a little, takes another couple steps, falls down.  I'm like, this is not a good sign for this lamb, at all.  Gets up, walks to the corner, it's quivering, and it lies down and it's in obvious distress.

    And I'm looking at the lamb and I say, "Albert, how long?  When does he get up?"

    He's like, "A day."

    I said, "A day!  How long does it take them to fall off?"

    "A week."

    Meanwhile, the lamb that he just did his little procedure on is just prancing around, bleeding stopped.  He's nibbling on some grass, frolicking.  And I was just so blown away at how wrong I was, in that second.  And I was reminded how utterly wrong I am, so much of the time.  And I was especially reminded of what an ridiculously short straw I had drawn that day because now I had to do what Albert had just done, and there are like 100 of these lambs in the pen, and suddenly this whole thing's starting to feel like a German porno, and I'm like...

    Albert hands me the knife.  I go in, I grab the scrotum, tip comes off.  Albert instructs, "Push it way up there."  I do.  "Push it further."  I do.

    The testicles emerge -- they look like thumbs, coming right at you -- and he says, "Bite 'em.  Just bite 'em off."  And I heard him, I heard all the words.  Like how did -- how did I get here?  It's one of those moments where the brain goes off on it's own:  and suddenly, I'm standing there, in the Rockies, and all I can think of is the Aristotelian definition of a tragedy.  You know, Aristotle says a tragedy is that moment when the hero comes face to face with his true identity.

    And I'm like, "What is this jacked-up metaphor?  I don't like what I'm thinking right now."  And I can't get this thought out of my head, and I can't get that vision out of my sight, so I did what I had to do, I went in and I took them.  I took them like this, and I yanked my face back.  And I'm standing there with two testicles on my chin.  And now I can't shake the metaphor.  OK, I'm still in "Poetics," in Aristotle, and I'm thinking -- out of nowhere, two terms come crashing into my head that I haven't heard since my classics professor in college drilled them there.  And they are anagnorisis and peripeteia.  Anagnorisis is the Greek word for discovery.  Literally, the transition from ignorance to knowledge is anagnorisis.  It's what our network does; it's what "Dirty Jobs" is.  And I'm up to my neck in anagnorises every single day.  Great.  The other word, peripeteia, that's the moment in the great tragedies, you know the moment where Oedipus suddenly realizes that hot chick he's been sleeping with and having babies with is his mother.  OK.  That's peripety or peripeteia.  And this metaphor in my head -- I got anagnorisis and peripeteia on my chin.]

    And now, Mike gets to the point of his theory at Ted Talks.  He's had an epiphany about how often and how tragically we get important things wrong and one of those things is how we've been misrepresenting the best motivations to labor and the types of work we should pursue.

    Mike Rowe -- [And now, when I talk about the show, I also start to talk about some of the other things I got wrong, some of the other notions of work that I've just been assuming are sacrosanct, and they're not.  People with dirty jobs are happier than you think.  As a group they're the happiest people I know.  And I don't want to start whistling "Look for the Union Label," and all that happy worker crap.  I'm just telling you that these are balanced people who do unthinkable work.  Roadkill picker-uppers whistle while they work.  I swear to God -- I did it with them.  They've got this amazing sort of symmetry to their life.  And I see it over and over and over again.

    So I started to look at passion, I started to look at efficiency versus effectiveness.  I started to look at teamwork and determination, and basically all those platitudes they call "successories" that hang with that schmaltzy art in boardrooms around the world right now.  That stuff is suddenly all been turned on it's head.

    Safety first?  What if OSHA got it wrong?  I mean, this is heresy, but what if it's really safety third?  I mean really.  What I mean to say is I value my safety on these crazy jobs as much as the people that I'm working with, but the ones who really get it done, they're not out there talking about safety first.  They know that other things come first, the business of doing the work comes first, the business of getting it done.  But your boss is prohibited informing you, his job is not to get you through the work day safe.  His job is to get you through richer.  You want to get home alive and whole, that's on you.

    -- what it all comes down to is this.  I formed a theory, we've declared war on work, as a society, all of us.  It's a civil war.  It's a cold war, really.  But, we've waged this war in the way of a message, what's really being said?  Your life would be better if you could work a little less, if you didn't have to work so hard, if you could get home a little earlier, if you could retire a little faster, if you could punch out a little sooner.

    So the thing to do is to talk about a PR campaign for work, manual labor, skilled labor.  Somebody needs to be out there talking about the forgotten benefits.  I'm talking about grandfather stuff, the stuff a lot of us probably grew up with but we've kind of lost a little.

    The war on work has casualties like any other war.  The infrastructure's the first one; declining trade-school enrollments are the second one.  Every single year:  fewer electricians, fewer carpenters, fewer plumbers, fewer welders, fewer pipefitters, fewer steamfitters.  The infrastructure jobs that everybody is talking about creating  are those guys  -- the ones that have been in decline, over and over.  Meanwhile, we've got two trillion dollars at a minimum (according to the American Society of Civil Engineers) that we need to expend to even make a dent in the infrastructure need, which is currently rated at a D minus.

    So, if I were running for anything, I would simply say that the jobs we hope to create aren't going to stick unless they're jobs that people want.  And I know the point of this conference is to celebrate things that are near and dear to us like innovation, but I also know that clean and dirty aren't opposites.  They're two sides of the same coin, just like innovation and imitation, like risk and responsibility, like peripeteia and anagnorisis.]

    So often, the guy at the factory floor or the lowest guy on the management totem is filled with information required at the top, but can't push his ideas, complaints, remedies, and solutions through the layers of middle management.  Low and behold, on the rare occasion one might brave the low and middle managers' objections and presents his case to the head of the company, his case is rejected out of hand or worse, the CEO is more worried about offending all the middle managers who had squashed his input in the 'proper channels.'  

    Imitators are those folks who repeat the same motions day after day creating innovators' products and services for customers and keeping the workings of society functioning and yet, find balance and joy more often than the celebrated innovators.  What's more, those are the people who gain familiarity with the product or service and who are the face of the company who regularly touch the market, and sometimes they are those who decide to risk everything they have to take advantage of the corporate ignorance and innovate for themselves.  

    So, here comes a college educated performing arts major who spends years rubbing shoulders with the imitators.  Somewhere in his experiences he realizes there really is a class division and he sees the importance of valuing that dirty jobs class and wants to encourage others to not only honor their contribution to social comforts but also to kill the message to the next generation that they're less than innovators somehow if they opt to spend their lives in service to others as imitators.  And that proposition is so against the grain of 'conventional wisdom' that Mike Rowe can capitalize on the rare information and find himself touted as a work expert for Ted Talks.

No comments: