You Say You Want a Revolution

Ketner's Mill in Whitwell, Tennessee. I snapped this photo on my smart phone, a piece of technology I can't seem to live without.

Ketner’s Mill in Whitwell, Tennessee. I snapped this photo on my smart phone, a piece of technology I can’t seem to live without.

Some days, I curse the Industrial Revolution. Without any valid reason, mind you. It’s not as if my great-great-grandparents narrowly escaped an angry mob of Industrial Revolutionists. Truly, I wish I could offer you a heart-wrenching tale of a brave ancestor who defiantly fought against said Revolution, baby in one arm, mallet in the other as she wreaked havoc on a local textile mill in a gallant attempt to preserve her agrarian way of life. But no.

The lame truth is that some days, I don’t want to go to work.

It’s not so much the work to which I have an aversion. It’s more the going to part of it. At this time of year when the leaves are turning such brilliant shades of orange and red, especially, it seems sinful to spend precious daylight hours cooped up in an office, staring at paneled walls all day. I’d much rather work from my back yard, with the sun warming my shoulders.

Call me a Luddite, but I have always had a tendency to romanticize a simpler way of life. While other kids dreamed of running off to join the circus, I fantasized about running off to join the Amish. Wait, did children still dream of joining the circus in the final quarter of the twentieth century?  The very fact that I even consider it a possibility probably speaks volumes about how seriously out of touch I am. Maybe I really do belong in an Amish village. There is one delicate issue, though. I’ve noticed that outhouses tend to stink, and I prefer not to use them if possible.

Still, I can see myself in a world where I don’t have to master the science of using three remote controls to watch television.  I would never have to feel bad about not wearing makeup, because everyone knows only hussies paint their faces. I could rise with the sun and weave baskets or sew petticoats all day, knowing the money they’d fetch would be plenty without those wretched cable, electric or water bills to pay. Well, maybe I’d keep the water bill. The outhouse is swarming with flies.

At noon, I’d bring lunch to my husband in his workshop, where he would be creating the most beautiful furniture in the county. Without plywood fabrications made by cheap overseas labor stealing customers, everyone within horse-and-buggy distance would be placing their orders for his tables and cabinets. Over lunch, we’d decide to put in a couple more hours of cabinet building and basket weaving/petticoat sewing before knocking off early to go hiking. Our time would belong to us.

If it weren’t for those meddling Industrial Revolutionists, we might have gotten away with it. They just had to go and convince us that while working at home is fine, working in a controlled environment is the real way to get ahead in life. Hello, micromanagement.

So here we are, leaving home and punching a time clock. An eight-hour work day turns into 10 or 11 hours away from home, after you factor the commute and mandatory lunch hour. We’ve come to accept that in order to make a living, we must live by the company’s schedule. If you wake up feeling like there’s a nail in your eye socket or a churning sea in your belly, you have some tough decisions to make, because earning a living is about more than quality work. It’s about punctuality. The company is paying you for your time, and you only get so many sick days before management starts to question your dependability.

The good news is that more and more workers are finding opportunities to telecommute or go solo, thanks to the Internet. Perhaps technology is not so bad when we find a way to make it work for us. Maybe we just happened to be born at the tail end of a few centuries’ worth of awkward but necessary growing pains.  Will these past few hundred years be just a phase in our history? When I go to a craft fair and a traditional craftsman hands me his business card, complete with his Web address, I think we are finally seeing the best of both worlds. Thank you, Industrial Revolution.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to Google “How to sew petticoats” while I browse youtube for instructional basket-weaving videos. I think my new career is calling.

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Einstein, the Shaving Cream and the Performance Chain

If you could have dinner with any historical figure, who would it be?  Stop groaning; I’m not about to give you a list of icebreakers to ask your colleagues at the next interdepartmental meeting. But the next time someone does try to spring that question on me, I’ll be ready.

Albert Einstein.

Why? For starters, I once had a college professor who claimed not only that she met the famous physicist, but that his socks didn’t match. I have my doubts. I’m no genius, but I know the solution to that footwear problem is simply to keep a drawer full of identical socks. Naturally, I want to take a peek at Einstein’s feet and share my wisdom with him. He and I also need to have a little chat about time travel. Time permitting, of course. Pun intended.

When it comes to traveling at the speed of light, I believe we need some rules. I’m not talking about laws of physics or relativity or any of that other knowledge he most likely has down pat. What I need to clarify with him are some basic policies to guide society in the use of time travel. All that time he was sticking his tongue out, marrying his cousin and not combing his hair, did he consider the societal implications of time travel and the need for some sort of order?

For example, would I be out of line if I paid a visit in time to the very first woman who thought it might be a good idea to shave the hair off her legs? I just want to make sure she understands the precedent she is about to set. Likely, she has not considered  how many women will be expected to follow in her footsteps.

What does shaving have to do with work performance? A lot, actually.

Once upon a time, there was a successful business woman named Elaine, who stepped into the shower one fateful day and realized she had postponed shaving her legs a few days too many. Afraid of looking like a Sasquatch at her upcoming presentation to important clients, she spent the next ten minutes making her legs silky smooth. After doing so, she left home later than normal and encountered even more traffic than usual. Impatient, she followed the car in front of her too closely until that car’s driver slammed on his brakes and Elaine’s headlight obliterated the poor fellow’s Forever Bluegrass bumper sticker. Suddenly, Elaine found herself exchanging insurance information with a man who claimed whiplash. The police arrived. And an ambulance. By the time Elaine arrived at the office, she had missed the meeting. The clients had left, and the company had lost a big sale. Elaine was fired. She wound up homeless, and the company went bankrupt.

Yes, I invented Elaine and her horrible saga. You got me.

In the study of performance improvement, though, there really is something called the performance chain. In essence, behavior influences lead to behavior, which leads to work outputs, which in turn lead to business results. I may have exaggerated a teensy bit when I said that the first woman who shaved her legs generated a wacky sort of performance chain that lead to the demise of a company and that the only way to remedy the problem would have been for me to travel back in time. After all, Elaine could have just worn pants. And probably even mismatched socks.