I've gotten a lot of e-mail through the years. And most of it has been difficult to read -- people who were cruelly fired, who are being hassled by co-workers or who have done something truly stupid (just this morning I got an e-mail from a woman who told me about how she sent her résumé and cover letter to her current boss).
If you have a particularly macabre sense of humor, it is possible to find my mail funny. But it mostly makes me sad.
So given the negative nature of most of my correspondence, the last few weeks have been a revelation to me. I've been working on a new business venture, and I'm part of a team of four people putting together a business plan. One other member of the team is a guy I've worked with on my last two books, so we have a bunch of history together. The other two people were total strangers when we started. I barely knew them either personally or professionally, which made things difficult at first. Another complicating factor is how different our expertise, world views and makeup are from one another's (that's makeup in terms of approach to the world and not our use of rouge).
If this column had a soundtrack, you'd probably be hearing Steven Stills in the background singing "Love the One You're With." (If you don't recognize it, then just ask the nearest boomer who'll hum a few bars for you.)
Please note, I didn't say that we were all singing "Kumbaya." Note, this is a room full of Type A personalities. The key for us is as remarkable as it is simple. We all listen to one another. In fact, I can think of multiple areas where we all had hard and fast rules for what we wanted. But we listened to the other people involved and modified what we previously thought was essential.
I can hear what you're thinking. It's like a committee that produces lowest-common-denominator work. But that's not the case at all. We are actually able to draw the best from each person and then make the best even better through our brainstorming.
In the interest of streamlining our work and getting the best out of our collective contributions, we developed one simple trick that we call placeholder. When we have a name or idea that is good, but it's clear to at least some of us that we could probably do better, we call the existing best effort our placeholder. We use it and move forward, but we're always on the lookout for ways to make the placeholder better. This is just one technique we've developed to make sure we don't settle for average work -- we keep working and push for the team's best effort.
This experience has given me hope. It is possible to work with people whom you like and respect, but who may have different ideas, and still accomplish a lot in the process. You better sit down before you read this next sentence -- not only is it possible to find colleagues that you can work with, I believe there are even a few sane bosses out there. The challenge is to find 'em.
OK, I'm sure that most of my regular readers think that either this blog has been hijacked or that I've lost my mind. It's hard to argue with the latter point, but after year upon year of horror stories from the cubicle world, I want to take a moment to report that work can be uplifting, collaborative and fun -- not just a long process of letting all the air out of your tires.