Are You a Cog?

Are you offended if I call you a cog? We're not discussing cost of goods sold concepts from the financial district here, I mean a cog -- someone who plays a minor role in something, a piece of a larger system like in a mechanical clock. Does being a member of anything that requires more than one person, let's say a team, make you a cog? Can one be a member of a team and yet not be a cog?

Some parents like kids who do what their told immediately without question. American schools like school children who do what they're told and don't make a fuss. The military prefers people who take orders without question. Many corporations prefer proper corporate citizens. Churches seem to like people who unquestioningly follow ceremony. Factories prefer people who know their place and man-up to the line as required. Stand in line, take your turn, don't speak unless spoken to, shut up, sit down, be diplomatic, be courteous, be professional, don't make waves, follow the rules, everyone is special and important, don't move the furniture, be sure not to offend others, playfulness at work causes problems for others, achieve consensus, confrontation is too aggressive, be respectful, know your place.

I recently went to the Department of Transportation to get a copy of my driving record. The sign on the door told me to get in line, wait my turn, turn off my cellphone and go to the information desk first. When it came to be my turn, I was given a two-sheet form, a "your turn next" number (805), a clipboard and pen. I was instructed to fill out pages one and four and then wait for my number. I was then generally told where to sit and where to look for someone to help me or call on me later. I sat down, filled out the form and waited. When my number was called, I approached the desk to find a uniformed officer who asked for my form and id without looking at me. She promptly told me I hadn't followed instructions and that I needed to follow the directions on page two in order to populate page four. I filled out a new page four. Then I was told I signed my name incorrectly, twice. So, I then wrote my name, the one I've had all my life, in the format the form and officer required. I paid $5.50 for the copy and was told "You can go now." As I began to leave, I was called out and told to use a different exit than the one I had naturally turned to use. Thankfully, I still knew how to get into my truck, turn it on and drive away without direction.

If the majority of our environmental contexts teach people to wait for direction, work within parameters provided by someone else and respond or react as stimulated, it shouldn't surprise us that there are people on teams seemingly incapable of generating an original thought or idea. In fact, it shouldn't surprise us that there are leaders seemingly incapable of independent or original thought.

If you give a team the berth necessary to evolve and become autonomous and they don't take it, don't be surprised. If you discover leaders who fail to think without validation from someone else, don't be surprised. Our culture, at least and in particular our American culture, teaches us to consume -- and to consume infers a dependence on someone or something else to fulfill a need.

You are a consumer if you are dependent upon someone else and what they have to meet your needs. As a result, you are expected to do what you are asked in the manner you are asked.

To be a dependent consumer lends you toward the behavior of believing "someone else" always has the answer or solution -- in this case, likely someone else, somewhere else -- hence, the popularity of expensive consultants who come from far away. This brainwashing of teams, leaders and companies to follow the rules and wait for direction is wonderful for consultants for obvious reasons.

The converse of consumer is producer.

You are a producer if you regularly produce ideas, products or services that are quickly consumed by others.

Seems like everyone should then meet this definition, especially cube-farm employees, yes? We all work, yes? Our project plans suggest we all produce output, yes? Hard to tell the difference between the purisitic definitions of 'consumer' and 'producer'?

Examples of a consumer include:

  • When you finish one task, you wait for the next assignment
  • When you don't know how to solve a problem, you look to someone else
  • You don't feel comfortable doing anything you're boss didn't suggest
  • You like everything to be nice, neat and proper
  • You do not produce anything without someone telling you how and when

Examples of a producer include:

  • When you finish a task, you go find another one on your own
  • When you don't know the answer, you look for it until you find it
  • You feel confident in your decisions to act even without validation
  • You like action and results -- dirty, clean, aggressive or otherwise
  • You produce unsolicited things that others consume

Consider this, the United States of America was founded on irreverent behaviors and attitudes. It had to be. It was no accident that this land was settled, argued, defended, evolved, asserted as independent and later internationally recognized for it. New companies that split off to "do it better" are founded on irreverence. Churches that split are founded on irreverence. People groups who publicly oppose an idea that could become legislation or an accepted norm exhibit irreverence. Individuals who do not go with the norm or the club exhibit irreverence.

Countries, governments, corporations, churches, communities and even individuals are often afraid of irreverent behavior because it risks chaos, disorder and a challenge to authority, i.e. control. However, evolution occurs as a direct and traceable result of irreverence. Control is illusory.

My challenge to you is to take a moment to decide whether you are a consumer or a producer. Take some time to understand what characteristics are expected of you and how you fulfill them -- as expected, or perhaps with your own twist on them. Take some time to decide for yourself who you are...someone who waits for direction or someone who defines it. Answer whether you have an identity that was not given to you. Then, look around you and decide who you are to your team, who your team is to you and what you are going to do about it...if anything.

Decide if you want to be something in your life without being a cog. I'd tell you I believe you can, but then I'd be giving you an identity which then makes you a consumer.

1 comment:

  1. I am both.

    The deal seems to me to be finding the balance. You cannot be a producer of everything because there is not enough time in one's life. If you insisted on creating everything because you thought or even knew you could do it better, the focus would be lost. You would have piles of rock all over the place instead of a stone house.

    I do not make my own clothes. If I did, they may fit better (after much trial/error/learning). I could make my own clothes; I am capable. I choose not to because if I did, then I would have less time to be a producer on other things that matter more to me.

    Mostly though I responded to this because I have children. This really is where behavior is taught, while young. Society seems to be pushing families more than families push themselves anymore. Take for example drugs such as Ridlin, and the advent of terms like ADHD. These things did not exist as terms 50 years ago. Did a new medical condition emerge, or did society chose to put a label on a very active mind/body? Did the drug help those children, or did it help those children become cogs?

    Parents want well behaved children. Which would you rather have at your house, a child that sits quietly, asks polite questions, plays only with toys when allowed to, and doesn't throw a fit when it is time to leave? Or the child that is very active, learns very fast by breaking things to see how they work, throws a fit because not everything in the house has been touched before it is time to go?

    Is one learning "society", and the other learning "science"? Perhaps. The first one may be a great diplomat later in life, able to find common ground in stressful situations, and reuse history as a way to solve future problems. The second may realize eventually that everything we were taught about a scientific principle is entirely bunk, and revolutionize some aspect of our lives. She won't be able to though if the diplomat did not succeed.

    Consider this though. The first child is a consumer of information, of history, of behaviour that falls within the social norm. They are a producer of resolution to conflict, based on first being a consumer of what others have done before them. The second is a consumer of what others have done as to create a basis for learning farther, pushing previous envelopes, or finding out they just don't make sense at all. Each is both.

    I am both. I have to be.