Wednesday, October 30, 2013

When the Cookies Don’t Fit in the Box

I was flipping through channels one night and landed on MasterChef (a show I rarely indulge in because witnessing people’s spirits wither can be kind of a buzz kill). Nonetheless, I paused on this episode.

Two home cooks were challenged to bake great-tasting dainty little macaroons. True to MasterChef protocol, there was a catch -- 12 of the cookies had to fit, one behind the other, in a container resembling a dominoes box that was maybe an inch high and wide, and about ten inches long. And of course all of the mixing, baking, decorating, and packaging had to be done in like five minutes.

As the final 10 seconds ticked down on the clock, both chefs realized their cookies wouldn’t fit in their respective boxes. One woman placed the two cookies that wouldn’t fit on top of her box. The other woman, in a moment of desperation, jammed the box closed to fit the cookies inside -- crushing all of them.

The three judges lamented; they all agreed the contestant that had smashed the cookies was the all-around better chef and had been consistently awesome through all the challenges. Yet, they begrudgingly had to give the round to the other contestant because her cookies were good -- and intact.

I felt for that cookie-crushing woman. I’ve been that woman. I’ve been on the job, given an assignment with specific instructions, and discovered somewhere along the way that the directions provided would not bode well for the final product. And I stayed the course anyway.

It’s not a decision, per se; it’s more of a progression. You start out, pluggin’ along, and then you start scratching your head. They want DEF by tomorrow, but wouldn’t it make more sense to do ABC first?

Then you think, nah. It’s me. My learning curve. These folks -- my boss, the client -- they’ve been at this longer than me. They’ve got way more experience. Surely, they’ve got this all figured out and I just need to get with the program, stay in my lane, and do what I’m told...and crush the cookies.

"When the map doesn’t agree with the ground, believe the ground." - Anonymous

I started noticing how my senior colleagues and bosses would sometimes go about their projects. When a task didn’t make sense, they’d mull it over, and simply come up with something else. I stood on the sidelines to see how this played out. Every now and then, it crashed and burned. But time and time again, those guideline-bending, rule-breaking projects were met with rave reviews.

Nowadays, I'm confident enough to just ask the "stupid question." But in those fast-paced, deadline-driven situations where that's not an option, sometimes it’s better to take the calculated risk and create a fabulous alternative, than to follow the rules to mediocrity.  In other words, if sticking with the plan means you’ll have to crush the cookies, then change the plan.


Rose Lejiste said...

Girl! You and I could have a nice lil pow wow on this very topic. You'd be surprised (actually maybe not) that this very thing you speak of runs RAMPANT in the government sector. It kills me slowly each and every day. All upper management at my job do this and the underlings unfortunately follow suit. I am forced to do the same. I don't want to operate that way. Either you give me a bigger box that will fit said cookies OR we making a new batch that will fit.

This following is what I have finally figured out is how our customer views our final products:

They dont care HOW you got those cookies into the box. If the final product is presentable and functions the way they want it to....your good. Sometime they are even ok with a few crumbled cookies in the back as long as the front look presentable and function is there.


Me said...

I feel your frustration! I worked with government contracts for a while and I think you're onto something with the cookie crushing. I think it stems from a couple of things. One, there's so much red tape that goes into deciding what's going to be done that no one wants to veer off course once the thing gets going. And no one really seems to be all that concerned because, secondly, it's not "their money," (though it is, because its taxpayer money).

In general, I think the cookie crushing happens the further down the chain you are, which can be a rude awakening. People farther up the chain have already decided how things are going to go, and you are the "do-boy." But I've come to a point where I feel comfortable and confident enough to voice a sound opinion. What I've found is that when you have a well-thought-out, well-vetted point -- no one can deny that. If they are wise, they'll appreciate it and take it into consideration. However, there will be times when management wants to do what they want to do anyway. And that's when you say, okay, and keep it movin'. Don't lose sleep over it (though, admittedly, I have over such things). It's one of the few instances when it's okay to say to yourself, you know what, worrying about this is SO above my pay grade!