Employment Today – January 2002 issue      back to articles menu

“Taken for Granted

There’s nothing surer than that the Sun will rise, the cycle of life will continue unabated, the lawnmower will need 10 pulls to start it, and the market survey person will ring just as you sit down to dinner. But what if that were suddenly not the case?

 Have you ever tried blowing your nose with one hand? What about opening a can of Spaghetti? As I sit here with my left arm immobilised, notionally on a ‘working holiday’, I’ve been having deep and meaningful thoughts about all the things we take for granted. Like, it really does need both hands to balance a notebook computer on your knee in bed, that is, if you want to type at the same time. While the thumb will actually reach the Shift key while another finger types the letter, it’s a bit of a stretch, and on more than one occasion the left hand has, of its own volition and despite my determination not to do so, darted forward in a misguided attempt to enter the fray, resulting in an expletive to escape the lips and a few moments of contemplation on the unfairness of it all. (I have tonight become aware, that there is a second Shift key on the left-hand side. Never noticed it before.) One thing for instance, that I keep taking as an absolute is that my musculature is as robust now as it was 30 years ago. I appear to be a slow learner, or perhaps more truthfully, I am in denial.

In a brazen show of ‘This is not going to beat me’, after a physiotherapist had spent an hour toying with my pain threshold, I took myself off to the Beach for a solo walk in the fresh air, along with Walkman, good quality headphones, fags (as a counterpoint to the fresh air, you know, it’s a Yin and Yang thing), sunglasses, hat, and yes, the mobile phone - there are some things I will not surrender. This required a short drive in the car, and I encountered the first thing that car-makers take for granted, putting the gear shift in the middle. Thank goodness it’s an auto - I have never understood why people buy manual cars when automatics have been around for 40 years. Is it some kind of background masochistic tendency, or are they simply unaware?

Thinking back now to that scene of my arrival at the beach makes me cringe a bit as to how Mr Bean-ish it must have looked, to an observer with the patience to watch the whole thing. Parking was not the issue – which of course I attribute to my gender – it was what happened after that.

All of the above-mentioned items of equipment are things I always take on a walk. I have a Trouser of Many Pockets (Julian May readers will understand). But I had never tried to do it all one-handed, while at the same time trying not to move the other arm. Picture this if you can. I’m sitting in the drivers seat, and beside me on the passenger seat are all the items required. I loaded them all into the crook of my left arm, and then tried to swivel and get out. Why can’t they make steering wheels that sink into the dashboard? Anyway, here are some things I found out:

Putting items in your left trouser pocket with your right hand is not easy. Getting them out is almost impossible, especially when the pocket has a Velcro flap. Headphones have a spring in the band to keep them on your ears – requiring two hands to separate them. Changing the cassette requires two hands. Putting a ‘club’ on the steering wheel is almost impossible. An observer watching the contortions would have been forgiven for thinking that I suffered from cerebral palsy.

“What’s my point?” I hear you ask.

Well, take a moment to consider all the things to do with your work that you take for granted. List a few of them. Things like ‘I don’t have trouble finding good staff’, or ‘turnover is low among critical staff’ or ‘they’ll always need a Human Resources Department’ or ‘I’ll always be a able to get a job’. Leave some space under each item to write some thoughts.

Now treat each item in turn with the question:

“What if that were suddenly not the case?”

To be brutal, what if you were made redundant tomorrow, only to find that your professional qualifications were so outdated (or even inappropriate) to secure a similar position elsewhere? What would you do?

Strategic Planning has a component part called ‘contingency planning’ which attempts to identify things that today are taken for granted, but which if not true in the future, would negatively impact the organisation – possibly even be fatal to it. All I’m suggesting is that it might be beneficial to apply the same thinking to your own department or position within your Organisation, and then apply it to yourself. And the beginning of a new year is a good time to do it. Good Luck!

Carpe Diem

Steve Punter ANZIM, Dip Bus (PMER), FHRINZ
Staff Training Associates Ltd, Auckland, New Zealand.
© Steve Punter 2002 All rights reserved by the author.

steve@sta.co.nz                                                                                                                       back to articles menu