Does the trail go this way, or not?
While having a look at a little campsite, I hadn’t noticed that I had strayed from the trail. Then I came to the scene at the right. The area didn’t look too promising to me. Should I keep going, or should I turn back? There were no branches or brush piled in the way to discourage hikers from venturing there. On the other hand, there were no cairns (see pic below) to encourage me. After hesitating a bit, I retraced my steps.
The right way?
What about this one? It led down to the stream bed. In general, I like to keep going up when I am, well, going up. That was my first thought, so I had gone uphill to the dead-end area. I was standing in a little campsite at the time, and I had avoided the route to the stream and headed up. Then I realized that the “stream” here in Pima Canyon, AZ rarely has any water in it, and that it might actually be the right way, and not a side-path to the water source for the campsite. Time for me to risk losing a little altitude.
The right way!
The right way! And a pretty little section of the path to boot.
A Rock Cairn Points the Right Way
On the business side, the problem for me has been that the very drive and enthusiasm that has prompted me to do the nearly impossible has also driven me to attempt the impossible. Knowledge can come from making a lot of mistakes like that and learning from them, but there is a better way: talk to those that have already been over that ground. You don’t have to do exactly what they did; just listen to them, and let their past mistakes inform you. You’ll do better, and you can make some friends along the way. If you can’t talk with them, look for the “piles of brush” that they have set in the way, and look for the “cairns” they have left to show the right way.
Next up: Mentors and mentoring.
Note: If you haven’t read the preceding entry: Rules of the Trail and Learning from Others at Work, you might want to jump back there first.
I couldn’t do much about the hikers coming down when I was coming up, but an opportunity arose when I was coming down. Two young men were coming up the trail at a pace that I envied. I made a little show of stepping aside and saying: “Uphill hikers have the right-of-way!” One said: “Thanks!” and I said: “Yes sir!” Their smiles told me that they enjoyed the courtesy. It got me thinking about how, as managers, we can pass useful messages more effectively by catching people doping things right, rather than wrong.
There is also a “know when to hold and when to let go” piece here. I simply can’t educate every hiker in Tucson to the right-of-way rule. If I am trying, it says more about me and my obsessions than anything else.
Being courteous to those two hikers with a step-aside may have conveyed that I hope they will do the same with other hikers. I do know that it got me out of fantasy power-tripping, and I had fun being a good citizen.
Minutes later, I encountered a second group of uphill hikers. They started to stand aside for me, and I had fun telling them the rule, and standing aside for them. The woman at the front broke out into a big smile and said: “Oh! I didn’t know that!”
Management doesn’t always have to be hard.
Up Next: Lost on Pima Canyon Trail, Found at Work
I had the chance to take a little R&R from my assignment in Tucson, AZ, so I went out on the Pima Canyon Trail. Some things got me musing. Suppose you are climbing a difficult part of the trail, and another hiker appears above you coming down. Probably not what you were hoping for, at that moment. Who has the right-of-way? It might not matter on a broad flat trail, but here, it might matter a lot.
While you think about this, let’s consider such situations in your career. As an example, consider someone moving from NASA to SpaceX (or vice versa.) It might make for a bad launch to your new job to keep hearing: “We don’t do it that way here at SpaceX.”
In other words, it is better to learn the rules before you inadvertently break them. Hopefully, you know the basic rules of the workplace, but if you are new on a job, or perhaps working with a new client, you only get one chance to make a good first impression.
Consider inviting a co-worker (or maybe two) out for a simple lunch. Ask them: “What are some of the customs here? Does the group have any unique ways of doing things that I ought to be aware of?”
You will likely make fewer rookie mistakes, and it will probably earn you the respect of those you meet with. People like to talk about new events. On your first day, that is you. You have just given them something positive to talk about, and the people who went with you might be elevated just a bit.
Back to Pima Canyon. As it happens, I was recording this while hiking up-slope. Two hikers came down and moved briskly by me, causing me to have to step aside. They obviously didn’t know the rule* that the hiker going uphill has the right-of-way.
They may not have cared that I knew immediately that they were not experienced hikers, but would the same be true at work? A small error may seem trivial, but imagine a neighbor dropping in on your Super-bowl party and asking: “What inning is it?” No matter what else they may say or do in the future, it will be hard to take seriously anything they ever say about American Sports. Don’t let your lack of knowledge of a new organization make you look that foolish.
Next Up: Learning Uphill, Teaching Downhill
*The rule comes from the fact that the uphill hiker has a smaller field of vision, filled mostly with the side of the mountain, whereas the downhill hiker sees a larger vista before him/her, enabling them to manage the situation better.