Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Strangest Dream: Back at Cryovac

I rarely blog about my dreams. That sounds self indulgent and boring.

This seems relevant. Last night I dreamt that I was back working at a company called Cryovac, selling hi tech plastic packaging and machines into the food industry, that started about this time of year, in 1993.

Men of action in the fray
It was where I came to learn that doing was more important than anything else. My boss Rod Davis and coworker, Chris Skinner, were men of action. Early in my seven year stint I went - wringing my hands - to Chris. "We told [customer x] that he'd be getting his order today, but production just told me it's two weeks off. X will hit the roof". And Chris gave me the best advice I have ever had in business:

"Standing here talking to me is not gonna help you. Get on the phone and fix it"

And so much of my time there taught me that when there was a problem the best thing to do is to get in and eat some shit sandwiches; establish a course of action with the customer and keep them informed. And the further up the line you work, the more likely you are to make sure that the problem is not a disaster. If I had spoken to my production people a week before then I could've told my customer a week earlier; he could've held off ordering expensive perishable raw materials and the shit sandwich would be smaller.

It sounds so obvious to me now. But last night my subconscious had a message for me.

A paralysed academic
I dreamt I was back there with Chris and Rod. We were all friends, but after a week or so it became apparent that I really wasn't getting much done. I would come in an instead of having spoken to customers and gotten orders, or explored new opportunities I would have a half a page of writing on a piece of paper. My subconscious has shined a spotlight on an inner fear.

My last fifteen years in the University system has given me a huge amount. I quickly fell into a research and customer insights stream, and have learnt some amazing techniques from very clever people. I stand in front of a lecture theatre of 200 with no qualms and provide an online supplement to my teaching that is efficient and second to none. I'm proud to have had an association with about 10,000 students in that time, across Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia and of course, Australia. Three times a year I get to work for 12 weeks with the best middle and senior managers of Adelaide, and we all learn from each other.

A man of action or a fish out of water?
But my "get in and fix the problem" approach has me like a fish out of water. Sure, I am accused of not getting stuff done but that tends to happen when your "to do" list is long. I manage to deliver, and there is clearly no shortage of people who are happy with what I can get done. To me - as a contractor - it's all money. But I'm a fish out of water because the University approach seems to be about thinking or feeling, rather than doing. Everybody wants to be a strategist, nobody an doer. Wringing ones hands or looking for who to blame is the norm. Dozens of times I've been caught out when I've given the heads up to a boss or a coworker, they've ignored it and somehow I've been seen as the problem.

I'm not sure, but I think I hear the call of the non-university sector. We'll see. I might find an enclave where people get stuff done - within the university sector - but I think I'll be more likely to find the right culture outside.

Still, it's not all bad. My current - self employed - situation has it that the money is just rolling in. But it may be time to consider a change. My subconscious was saying "stay there too long and you'll become one of them".

No comments:

Post a Comment