I teach a class on Business, specifically an Introduction level class. The material is fairly low-level comprehension of Information Systems, along with a series of treatise on how these systems affect our everyday lives through its application within business infrastructures. Fairly boring and mundane stuff. Except that I am also provided a section of the class where participation and discussion on the topics is to take place. Instead of regurgitating material from the text, I choose real-world examples — sometimes straight out of the news. I get nine of these gems of opportunity to take the musty textual material and apply it directly to material straight from today’s headlines. Or in the case, of the most recent class – headlines from not long ago.
The scenario relates as this: the company is looking to possibly replace human workers with a robotic production line. The task for each group in the class is to write me an Email and tell me why one choice is better than the other — backing up their salient points with some form of logical analysis. A fairly easy assignment – and these students are savvy enough to carve their way through it with little problem. Once my third class completed the assignment, I noticed an odd trend – each group picked robotics. The analysis was simple to go through, robotics provided faster, far more accurate, and higher quality turnout than the human workers would. While the startup cost of replacing human production facilities with robotic ones, the students pointed out that the long-term benefits of robotics provided for lower costs over that term. Once the new production line was installed, the cost-benefit definitely played out to the robotic line – particularly starting in the 4th or 5th year. But not a single group argued to keep the human workers.
At first glance, I thought the students were just completely enamored with the idea of new technologies and had made their choices based solely on this presumption. However, as I read further, I started to see the drive of their statements. Their interpretation of the assignment fell back to a statement I had made on the first day of class, which they carried forward like a torch to illuminate all the darkened corners of the lessons.
The sole purpose of business – private or for-profit – is to generate bottom-line profit.
Their entire premise was based on a statement that I had made as a challenge to them on the first day. In an attempt to generate a position of critical thinking, I had laid this statement down as an unbending, rigid axiom of fact. Instead of picking up the gauntlet and questioning this position, my students had accepted the position as fact, and brought it forward like a holy relic throughout the rest of the lesson plans.
No student challenged the position of robotics, simply because of the increased profit margins. Another position that could have been taken was to keep working at the current setup, with the human workers, and eschew the increased profits. That the fellow co-workers that were in the company were more than their peers – these people were family. Well, of a sort. Though some could potentially be of blood relation, or even extended family. Some could certainly be neighbors. And then it dawned on me. The students made the assumption that the company was losing money and needed to make this change to keep the company going.
Now, I will need to tear this entire lesson apart and find a far more concise way to present what I was attempting to get across – that companies don’t need to be driven by the idea of squeezing every ounce of profit out of the bottom line to be successful. Companies should not be built on that premise. The people who work within a company are certainly there to draw a paycheck that will help them in living within today’s modern society. Simon Sinek points out in his TED Talk “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” – the people that believe in the “why” of a company will give their blood, sweat and tears to insure its success, including heavy personal sacrifice – even when the initial vision was not theirs. As Sinek says several times in the video – “People don’t buy what you do…they buy why you believe it.”. If those people are going to believe in the “why” of the company – should there not be a reciprocal belief from the company to those employees? If they are loyal to the company, and willing to sacrifice for its vision – should the company sacrifice them for greater profits?? In retrospect, in trying to get the students to see this particular point – I left out essential pieces of information. Accidental on my part, but definitely avoidable – had I not rushed my way through the setup in my zeal to approach the message.
Quite a few times, both in the OBOD lesson material, as well as several discussions I have heard from Philip Carr-Gomm, the idea of synchronicity has been mentioned. The idea is simply that something you have an interest in, continues to pop up in other areas of your life. For myself, I see a lot of discussion on the “why I do what I do” or more precisely “why I believe as I do” mentioned in various locations. Recently, I posted a blog about how a particular challenge statement from the website Patheos was a difficult question to answer in a certain amount of verbiage. I still believe that statement – but its not the word count that matters. Much like my statement above, its to insure that everything that needs to be stated is contained within. I tend to write from the hip (so to speak – I don’t keep my pen and paper pad that low). I don’t typically edit what I write – and very rarely re-read prior to posting. However, after the aforementioned issue within my lesson plan – I thought a retake on my part of what I have written should be in order as well. And I have found myself lacking in that area as well. Parts of material where I wanted to make a particular point became muddied when I rushed to type as fast as my brain was bringing the thoughts to me. I now see I have to be far more careful and precise with what I write – in order to make my points more lucid and comprehensible.
For me…this is just a start….