Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Looking Down versus Looking Up

My wife and I provide “doggie day-care” for our daughter’s dog, Jasmine, an adorable black cocker spaniel. One thing we’ve noticed about Jasmine is that whenever we’re eating, she sits next to the table, looking down. She is looking at the floor, waiting for some food to fall there that she can then quickly scarf down. Since we are not particularly sloppy eaters (usually), little if any food falls off the table, and we prefer not to feed her from the table. We expected that she would look up to see what we’re eating, whether it looks like it could fall from our hands, forks, or mouths, and what it is. But no, she just stares at the floor, looking down.  She also loves it when we blow bubbles, pouncing on them just before they hit the floor. But again, she is always looking down, and so misses most of the bubbles coming down just over her head or around her. So, Tom, while this may be interesting (or not), what can this possibly have to do with workplace insanity or with work in general? It is my proposition that this actually defines the difference between people who simply go through the motions (“looking down”) and people who look beyond what “falls on the floor” to help determine their own future (“looking up”). “Looking down” versus “looking up” can make the difference in your “just getting by” or succeeding greatly in your career.

So what are some examples of people who are always “looking down”? If you always wait for your boss to give you your next assignment and simply take that assignment without question and seldom raise questions about it (see What Horse's Ass Said You Should Do It That Way!), you are simply “looking down”. If you accept an assignment from your boss, but don't really care that much about it or don't really take full ownership of it (see Own Your Job! All of It! and Show True Professionalism!), you are simply "looking down". If you work on your assignment without noticing or caring about what others around you are doing or working on (see Herding Cats 2: Problem Child & Elitist Bastard and Herding Cats 6: Complainer/Whiner, Eternal Optimist, Gossip, Cheshire Cat, Loner, Credit Taker/Thief & A$$hole), you are simply “looking down”. If you prefer to always work alone (and shut others out by words or actions), and ignore how your assignment fits into the overall project or program or product, you are simply “looking down”. If you wait to hear from your boss on whether your work is acceptable or not rather than checking with others whose assignments interact with yours or with others who use or test your work, you are simply “looking down”. If you would prefer to work at home or stay in your own workspace at work having little or nothing to do with other members of your team, and have little or no interest in how your assignment fits into the whole of the project or program or product you’re working on, you are simply “looking down”.

Why is simply “looking down” a bad approach to work? If you work or want to work entirely in isolation with little or no interaction with others, you are cut off from your world at work. You can’t or don’t want to see the big picture. You aren't making any effort to see whether there may be better ways to carry out your assignment than what you are simply told. You can’t or don’t want to make the product or program or project you are working on the best that it can be. You are missing out on the excitement that can come from seeing something greater than the sum of its parts come to life. It’s like constantly speaking in a monotone and having little or no emotion about everything. It may avoid the potential for disappointment, but it eliminates the thrill of success and the ability to excel.

What are some examples of people who are always “looking up”? If, when you are given an assignment, you ask questions about it, and why it is the assignment, and how it fits into the whole, and what is the desired user experience (see Does Everyone Really Understand?The Inmates Are Running The Asylum! and How Do I Get This D@#% Thing To Work!), then you are “looking up”. If you seek to participate in the discussions to flesh out the product or program or project, to help to define the purpose of a new product or program or project, or the concept or underlying architecture of the product or program or project, or its features and functions, or its expected usage by the customer (the user experience) (see Failing to Plan Means You Are Planning to Fail! and Plan Based On What You Do Know, and On What You Don't!), then you are “looking up”. If you seek to be fully involved in whatever is required for the product or program or project to be a success and are willing to do whatever is necessary for it to succeed, then you are “looking up”.

Why is “looking up” a good approach to work? It is always better to be fully involved in your work and your company. Except for very simple products or programs or projects, the efforts of a dedicated team are critical to success (see Is Anybody There? Does Anybody Care?). A team member who is “looking up” is one who wants to be a fully committed and participating member of that team, and who wants to do whatever is needed to succeed (see Herding Cats 5 - Solid Citizen, Valued Expert & Rising Star). When such team members are involved, the effort becomes a true pleasure to be involved with, the synergy that can come from such a team effort can be exhilarating and fun, and the result can be personally, professionally, commercially, and monetarily rewarding (see Pigasus - When Pigs Fly!).

How do you move from “looking down” to “looking up”? It is up to you to get yourself out of the prison of simply “looking down” and gain the freedom and excitement of “looking up”. This is really under your control unless you have a manager who prevents you from this (see Floggings Will Continue Until Morale Improves!). You make the decision of who you want to be. Do you really want to be the loner who shuts everyone out? Do you want to be a part of a successful and enjoyable team? Do you want to grow personally, professionally, and monetarily? If so, then just do it! You control your life, more than anyone else on earth!

Of course, most work involves periods of “looking down” and “looking up”. There are times when we all must put our heads down and do the mundane but essential work to implement what needs to be done. This generally calls for time when you need to avoid distractions and block out what’s going on around you. This is normal and necessary. However, it is also normal and necessary to come up for air and see what is going on around you, to interact with others and see if what you’ve done is the right thing or whether it can be improved, or if the entire approach needs to be reevaluated to find a better way. You control the need for and duration of “looking down” periods, and you need to manage them. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to properly balance “looking down” versus “looking up”, and to concentrate on "looking up"!

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