Is “can’t do” BAD? Is “can do” GOOD?

Thoughts on an upside-down world . . . . . . . . .

Are you, and others, seeing the ‘real you’, or just a mere reflection?

Surely it’s obvious that being bad at something will hold us back?

Yes, well – walking past a building whose roof was being repaired, a colleague turned to me to complain about the behaviour of the scaffold workers. “It’s obvious that if they do that it will be dangerous. Can’t they just see that . . . . . . . ?”

“But” I replied, “you’re assuming that they are endowed with sufficient imagination to predict what might happen in the future. Do you think that anyone with that amount of imagination, would want to work at that sort of height?”

My colleague had to admit that having a well developed imagination could be a problem for some jobs – in other words, being bad at something could be a benefit!

In the world of business management, some people lack either the analytical skills or the temperament to manage quantities of detail. This trait can result in them concentrating on the over-view, and then being seen to be ‘strategic’. And senior managers need to be strategic. Another example of when being bad at something could be a benefit!

And surely it’s obvious that being good at something will help our careers to advance?

Yes well – in years past, many people who were really good at their jobs were rarely given the chance to advance: they were called ‘secretaries’. They were so good at doing their job, (including ‘propping up’ their bosses), that they were rarely encouraged to break free and progress.

In the world of business management, those people who are skilled at handling detail can be similarly disadvantaged. Their skills can be seen as so valuable that they are not encouraged to develop. And because they are good at detail, it may also be assumed that they are incapable of strategic thinking – without ever being given the chance to prove otherwise.

If you want to break out of this, it’s worth working hard on the fact that ‘what got you to where you are now, might not be enough to get you to where you want to be’.

It can be important to think these things through – make sure that you, and others, can see the ‘real you’, rather than a mere reflection!

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4 Responses to “Is “can’t do” BAD? Is “can do” GOOD?”

  1. jdecaire Says:

    An interesting idea. However, I do sense that that there are problems with this argument.

    For example, the case study that is used on is one where a person who does dangerous work on a scaffold as a roofer would be less capable as a roofer if he had a developed imagination with which he could predict a possibly lethal outcome as a result of his actions. I think this is an oversimplification, though. It is part and parcel of the human condition to overcome such fears created by imagination or intellect.

    Some of the most brilliant men of the age partook in combat during the first and second world wars. John McCrae, great Canadian poet, served in Flanders and France during WWI as a battlefield surgeon. He was often at personal risk, yet was able to carry out his job despite his brilliant disposition and imaginative character. He was well aware of the danger inherent in his job, but was still quite good at it. Dennis Whitaker a WWII Canadian war hero, became a historian, author, and successful Brewery CEO after the war; all jobs requiring intellect and imagination. His sense of imagination didn’t seem to prevent him from performing his war time job to the extent that he received two Distinguished Service Orders. In these cases being good at imaginative work something does not necessarily hold you back from doing their dangerous jobs well.

    In the teaching realm, one might say that having an over developed sense of social justice or a critical nature would in fact encourage your students to be too anti-authoritarian and so critical of the school system as to negate the positive effects such an institution has on education. If you teach your students to be critical of authority would they respect you and the administration? Would you then be able to teach them the school curriculum if they questioned your every word? Yet even the most brilliantly critical teachers, who are advocates for social change, are able to negotiate accommodations in any system. They emphasize concepts of “respect” to support the institutional and authority elements of a school system and are able to create critical thinkers who are also well socialized. Activist teachers have existed for decades, they are both memorable instructors and create well adjusted, educated students. In this case being good at something that seemingly would be counterproductive to teaching does not hinder one’s career.

  2. catchthevision Says:

    This is a comment received from Mike Edwards, which I’ve copied to here as it was posted in ‘Beyond price . . . . ‘ I assume in error:

    I agree with your point very much. I have seen and heard of people who have had bad things happen to them, forcing them to make a decision that
    then actually improves their career. For example, if one were to lose a
    job and then choose to start a business in a field that they love, then
    that would be a very good outcome from a somewhat bad catalyst.

    On the other hand, someone can also get a promotion, receive more money, and then become somewhat enslaved to that position for God knows how long.
    They hate it, but can’t break free because of family and financial

    Excellent point on your part.

    Take care,

    Mike Edwards

  3. catchthevision Says:

    Thanks for your thoughts jdecaire.

    In response I would say:
    1) I’m not suggesting that being bad at something is ALWAYS good, or that being good at something will ALWAYS hold you back. Rather the intention is to give some examples of how things aren’t always as we might expect.
    2) Mark Twain said “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.” Your wonderful examples of courage are those of outstanding people who have learnt to master fear. In some cases, scaffolders and roofers have never known it. I have worked with people who have worked on roofs, fallen off, lived to tell the tale, and go back up with no more safety equipment than they used the previous accident ridden time.
    3) I really enjoyed the dilemma that it can take an institution to teach intellectual freedom. And that activists can make great teachers.

    Part of being creative seems to be the ability to hold two seemingly contradictory ideas in ones head at the same time. I therefore wish you every success with your venture.

  4. brainteaser Says:

    Nice points, Graham. Thank you for giving us points to ponder.

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