The Employers' Association

The Employers’ Association (TEA) is a not-for-profit employers’ association, formed in 1939, with offices in Grand Rapids serving the West Michigan employer community. We help more than 600 member companies maximize employee productivity and minimize employer liability through human resources and management advice, training, survey data, and consulting services.

TEA is in the business of helping people. This blog is intended to address human issues, concerns and the things that impact people - be they self-perpetuated or externally imposed. Feel free to respond to the thoughts presented here, for without each other, we are nothing!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

CELEBRATE INDIVIDUALITY

Books often celebrate being “the best” at whatever one does much more adequately than does life itself. Whether exhibited through sports or in celebration of creative expression, unique talents or gifts of individual achievement, people are fulfilled by the recognition they receive from others and (perhaps more importantly) from the satisfaction they derive from their own successes and accomplishments. Great books, however, rarely provide pure entertainment or escapism – they teach lessons through their insights and illustrations by providing examples of successful decisions (and the results of those choices) and the ramifications of poor decisions or inappropriate actions. We should pay attention to the lessons stories teach us as we chart a path – determine the directions we wish to take – as we travel through our everyday lives.

Some people seem able to accomplish any task, anticipate any challenge, and resolve any conflict without much effort. The Natural, a story about a baseball player born with raw talent to be the best before falling victim to his own success, leading to his discovery of truth and meaning in a life far different from that once imagined, epitomizes this type of individual. Very few “naturals” survive well in highly controlled environments, often labeled as “troublemakers” or “disruptive” within a structured workplace. Within relationships, “naturals” must develop opportunities to channel their gifts – be given chances to shine in the darkness – or they will (intentionally or inadvertently) reveal the inadequacies of those around them rather than building upon their intrinsic strengths. People must given the freedom to fail as they seek opportunities to succeed if they are to realize their innate abilities.

Identifying “naturals” can be a difficult task without providing an innovative environment that fosters (and rewards) an individual’s contributions through personalized (and meaningful) rewards. Without the freedom to expand their horizon, “naturals” often become bored (due to their ability to accomplish things easily), leaving them time to disrupt or disturb others. When you find a “natural,” celebrate your discovery by providing new and ongoing challenges that will allow his or her efforts to contribute to accomplishing things that will add to the “greater good.” If you ARE a natural, recognize that others may not think like you, experience life as you do, nor approach issues in the same manner – and that it is OK they are different. Remember that the broad parameters and boundaries you prefer might make tasks that are simple for you seem much more difficult for others who may have to remain focused on the “ends” if they are to establish the “means” to achieve results.

The Fountainhead details the struggles of an innovative young architect named Howard Roark striving for success on his own terms. Howard must leave the architectural program at college when faculty and administration member are unable to “mold” him into a “traditionalist” designing with columns, facades and acceptable concepts. Roark preferred to follow his own dreams – to design what he felt was unique and practical rather than what was seen as being functionally efficient others. Peter Keating, a classmate lacking Roark’s brilliance and love of architecture, gave his professors exactly what they wanted and graduated with high honors. In a masked celebration of creativity and individuality, Howard submits a radical new building design to a developer through the traditional Keating, seeking animosity in exchange for a promise to construct the building as submitted on the prints. During the construction phase, Peter allowed many modifications resulting in a building reflective of the gaudy architectural trends rather than the creative work originally proposed. Howard, in a fit of rage, destroys the project rather than allowing it to stand – refusing to compromise his efforts or to subvert his ideals.

While a “black and white” person like Howard may be difficult to work with at times (because of an unwavering quest to accomplish the goal without compromise or negotiation), one will ALWAYS know where they stand and what they might come to expect from him or her. In dealing with such a personality, be sure to understand the underlying “why” beneath their actions rather than simply taking actions at face value. We often find ourselves accomplishing great things that were not previously been deemed possible when we embrace creativity and exhibit individuality. We must allow the unique – the unproven – to have a place in our lives if we are to achieve greatness.

Another book written by Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged, is one of my favorite books about individual accomplishment prevailing at the expense of societal “good” gone too far. For those unable or unwilling to read a book, pick up the movies (both The Fountainhead and two parts of Atlas Shrugged are available). Either book would make a “great read” as you seek to become all that you can be! Join The Natural as he finds success, share Roark’s quest for perfection or allow John Galt to guide you through Rand’s eerie prognostication of our times. You will be transformed as the words jump from the pages to become indelibly imprinted upon your mind.

There are far too few Naturals or Howard Roarks in today’s world. I often look around to find a world of bottom line thinkers – of endless analysis intended to establish foolproof systems. I see a structured world that rewards accomplishment but penalizes creativity – that encourages “team-think” while negating individuality. In order to maximize potential we should consciously strive to celebrate creativity – to reward those marching to the tune of a different drummer. We should seek to dwell within “the possible” rather than living within “the probable,” constantly embracing innovation rather than accepting the status quo. While structure and systems may be necessary for business to survive, perhaps our economy would have a better chance at thriving if we dared to dream, seizing the opportunity to fail – to grasp success from the jaws of defeat.

Take the time to read a good book about creativity, individuality or accomplishment in the face of great odds or unparalleled objections. Given the choice between breaking a rule and breaking the spirit, I would choose to obliterate the rule rather than (even marginally) inhibit the spirit. What about you?