People & Teamwork

To tell what to do or tell what we aim for?

Naming is important because it immediately communicates the role of the entity, but it’s only wording after all. In order to propose appropriate naming, we need to understand its function. The matter complicates a little bit when we speak about humans. In heavily repetitive and standardized environments, job titles are often connected with responsibilities. For example, a truck driver is responsible for:

  • loading a freight
  • maneuvering the truck on a factory parking lot
  • driving a truck
  • refueling a truck
  • unloading a freight
  • keeping tachometer
  • occasionally repair something trivial in truck *(NICE TO HAVE)

And stating requirements in such a way is perfectly adequate and sufficient. Moreover, in order to be a truck driver, you need to pass an exam for a driving license in a special category. Such a standard adds additional prefilter to our recruitment funnel. Probably we can say that if someone is capable of fulfilling those responsibilities, we can say with 99% certainty that he is suitable for that job.

So let’s conduct a quick thought experiment. We change the domain a little bit. Now we want to describe the responsibilities of a rally driver. So probably the main activity is the same - driving a car. The difference would be just COSMETIC:

  • it’s a different type of car
  • on a different kind of road
  • with a different speed and acceleration

But after all, you can say it’s just driving, isn’t it? Even the time constraint and purpose are the same, the truck driver needs to deliver freight as soon as possible, and the rally driver needs to deliver his and his pilot in one piece to the finish line - as soon as possible.

So bear with me and that metaphor for while longer. Imagine that the Appunite is the WRC Subaru team. We have 5 great drivers, but we want to scale our operations, and “the management” made a decision - we should hire another 5. People team along with the rally delivery team write down a job offer with requirements and list responsibilities:

  • participate in rally competition
  • driving - including
    • accelerating
    • steering
    • braking
    • controlling understeer and oversteer slides
  • provide engineers feedback about car setup concerning the suspension and steering system

Would that kind of job offer give us the same level of certainty about candidates? Even if we found folks who have a driving license, probably 99,99% percent of them wouldn’t be the next rally champion, 80% of them wouldn’t survive the first rally, and 50% of them wouldn’t survive the first turn.

What can we learn from that? Focusing on specific actions can bring us only THAT far.

List of responsibilities, list of duties is a tool for communicating a purpose. And it works well if we stay in a simple system or complicated system. Because the system itself lacks internal depth, we can prepare a playbook on how to handle it. In truly repetitive domains things are getting even further - nowadays robots are doing our job in car manufacturing, vacuum cleaning, or the grocery store automatic checkout.

Even the job of above mention truck drivers is going to be automated. There is going to be less and less demand for humans doing repeatable and simple work. And that's a sign of civilizational improvement. But like with every substantial change, the feeling of uncertainty may creep in. Eventually introducing the automated elevators caused the profession of an elevator operator wasn't needed anymore.

That's why we should turn our sight higher, on the problems worth solving. Rather than asking just plain "what", following that question with "what for?" and "why". If we do that right, we can be sure that no robot can stand competition with us. Nor any human competition.

The things which we do each day may come from the job requirements. And it’s nothing wrong with being satisfied and happy with that. But if for some reason you are not, ask yourself - do I really know why I do things that I do every day? Of course, it may be “just a job”, but still it consists of a significant part of your life. Being accurate - around 25% of your week. So maybe it’s worth considering making that time, which will pass anyway 100% worth spending? It’s your life after all…