The Three Boxes of Life:  What Does the Coronavirus Have to Do with Them?

816Rq-aWJTL

In 1970, Richard Nelson Bolles wrote what was destined to become one of the most famous and useful books of all time.  Richard Nelson Bolles was an Episcopal clergyman and the author of the best-selling job-hunting book, What Color is Your Parachute?  It became an international best seller and was widely adopted for use by job seekers, employment counselors, human resource development people and educators.  It has been in print since 1970 and has been revised annually since 1975, sometimes substantially.

Bolles-AZ QuotesOstensibly, it was just another book to help job seekers find work.  However, Bolles wrote more than just tips on writing resumes and job letters and where to find work, he wrote a bible on how to live a better life and what work could really mean for us.   Bolles gave us a broader vision of work and the role it could play in our lives.  Bolles vision of work was more than just the idea of productivity and pay.  At the core of Richard’s concept of life was his idea that life could be divided into three boxes:  Work, Play and Education.  But there is a novel twist to Bolle’s ideas about work, play and education that no one had ever put forward before.  Before we go into his unique idea, let’s examine each of the three boxes.  After this, I will present the truly revolutionary idea that Bolles had about them.  Finally, I will discuss the implications of Bolles ideas to the present coronavirus crisis that we are facing today throughout the world.

Work:

For most people work involves making a living.  Bringing home a paycheck to pay the bills.  For Bolles, work meant passion and purpose and meaning.  Work could be so much more than just a 9 to 5 grind.  However, before this could happen, the job seeker must fully understand their life, loves, passions and goals.  Bolle’s book was designed to help the job seeker undertake these tasks.  Armed with this information, a job seeker could look for work that provided meaning and purpose to his/her life.  Work would not just be 9 to 5 and go home and relax.  Work could be exciting and challenging.

Education:

We typically go to school from first grade to perhaps college or grad school and then education for the most part ends.  We might join a company that provides some job-related education or tuition reimbursement for work related training.  Typically though, after you are out of school, you are on your own for education and training.   No workplace that I have experienced practices or believes in the need for life-long education and training for their employees.  Dr. W. E. Deming (who was a mentor for the company I joined after finishing my Ph.D. degree in Training and Organization Development) created his famous 14 Points for Management in which two of his 14 points addressed this issue directly:

unnamed

Point 6:  Institute training on the job.  Dr. Deming believed that continuous training was needed by all employees if continuous improvement was to become the norm in a workplace.  Training was job specific and job related although it could also involve things like cross training or training for a new job or new tasks.

“People are part of the system; they need help… Many people think of machinery and data processing when I mention system. Few of them know that recruitment, training, supervision, and aids to production workers are part of the system.” — Dr. W. E. Deming, Out of the Crisis

Point 13:  Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement for everyone.  Dr. Deming was a visionary like Bolles.  He believed that education for all employees was an ongoing part of any job.  Education went beyond job specific tasks to include life skills, human relations skills and skills for happiness and creativity.  Many employers are willing to adopt Dr. Deming’s Point 4 but are much more reluctant to embrace his Point 13.

“What an organization needs is not just good people; it needs people who are improving with education… There is no shortage of good people… Shortage exists at the high levels of knowledge—and this is true in every field… One should not wait for a promise of reimbursement for a course of study… Moreover, study directed toward immediate need may not be the wisest course… Advances in competitive position will have their roots in knowledge.” — Dr. W. E. Deming, Out of the Crisis

I have written quite a few of my blogs on the issue of education.  Simply type “education” in the search box and you can see some of my ideas on what a life-long education system could look like.  Many of my ideas have roots going back to Ivan Ilych, Paulo Freire and John Holt, however Dr. Deming and Richard Bolles also played a significant role in the formation of my ideas.

Play:

Now here is where it gets really interesting.  How many employers do you know that want you to play at work or to have fun while on the job?  Save it for vacation time, right?  Or as one oft heard idiotic comment goes “We work hard and play hard!”  Sorry, but play should not be hard.  Play should be fun.  Play should not encompass meaning or purpose.  Play is about being and not doing.  It is about enjoying the moment and living simply for the present.  We play when we get home from work with our spouses or with our kids, but work is reserved for productivity.  Get the job done and play later say most employers.

Bolles Revolutionary Idea:

What if we combined work, education and play?  One day when I was doing some training in Deming’s 14 points with about 20 hard rock miners down about 2000 feet below ground.  I was in one of the training rooms in INCO’s Thompson Nickel mine in Thompson, Manitoba.  I always liked teaching on site with workers since if they did not understand a concept, we could go right out into the work area and I could show them how the idea applied.  This was not simply theory, but real-world experience coupled with theory.  Dr. Deming always said that “Experience without theory teaches nothing.”  My corollary to Deming’s point was that “Theory without experience teaches nothing.”  Thus, I strove to integrate theory and experience in all my teaching and training.

10327691engGBeducationstrategiesatmrtabentleyparkincludepassiveandactivelearningapproaches-1024x475

On this particular day, we were in a room off one of the mine tunnels (known as drifts to miners) and I was lecturing about education and training.  I was suddenly mindful of Bolles’ ideas that life would be more exciting and productive if we could integrate work, education and play.  In other words, schools would be about more than just learning, organizations would be about more than just productivity and families would be about more than just relaxation and play.

sea-777x437I posed a general question to the miners’ present.  “What if we integrated work, education and play in your jobs.  What would life be like for you,” I asked.  There was silence for a moment.  I did not know if I would get a response.  Suddenly a hand shot up.  I recognized the man and asked him what he thought.  I never would have guessed his reply in a million years.  It was perfect but it still astounded me.  He said very simply “I would not know whether it was Monday or Friday.”  To this very day, I cannot think of a more profound or telling comment than that.

Unfortunately, in classrooms all over the country you see students often engaged in educational activities that have no bearing on purpose or meaning.  Little attention is directed by educators to find ways that student work could actually be made more meaningful by finding ways that students could profit from their activities.  Even worse perhaps are the responses by educators towards children having fun in the classroom.  In the early years of education there is often time for classroom fun but as students progress in schools from kindergarten to college, the fun is systematically wrung out of the curriculum.  Schools are designed to be serious activities and thus have little place for fun and playful work.

In most workplaces, managers are much more concerned about productivity than they are in workers having fun.  Fun times are allocated to off work activities or more likely to activities when the worker goes home.  IF you want to play, you do that with your kids when the job is over.  There is little or no effort in human resources departments to help managers find ways to integrate play in work.  There may be time allocated towards training by some HR departments but again, that is as far as it goes.  If an employee or the organization can benefit from more education, that is the employee’s responsibility and not the companies.

Home life is where we go to relax.  We have enough education at school.  We have enough work at our job.  We go home to watch sports on tv, to play with our kids and to spend time with spouses and friends.  How many people read anything beyond fantasy and romance novels at home?  How many people go home and do an online course for fun in English or history or physics?  We have grown to hate these subjects that were imposed on us by our schools so most of us never want to hear about them again.  Even if we know that education should be for life, it is difficult to find classes that are not geared towards getting a degree or a diploma or a certificate.  Many of us take up hobbies like gardening, wood working or playing an instrument because we see these activities as fun and less purposeful than the stress we associate with learning and education or the work we do to make a living.  I have friends who love woodworking and make some beautiful objects.  They have no thought of selling these and do it for fun and the gratification of creating something.  Most often they give these to friends and relatives without consideration of remuneration.  To put these on a paying basis might take the fun out of the activity for them.

20110907101009home-ecOur work activities at home are generally allocated towards improving our living conditions.  We work on repairing our appliances, roofs, etc. because we either enjoy doing it or because we are trading our time for money.  If we hire someone to do it, it will cost us money that we might not be able to afford.  We may not have the skills to so some work that needs to be done, so we are often forced by necessity to contract out needed repairs.  Some people have never learned how to cook and so either spend extra img_7363money on prepared meals or they often eat out.  I never learned any wood working skills when I was in high school because these classes were deemed “general education” and I was in the “college track.”  The home economics classes mostly dealt with sewing and cooking and were largely populated by girls.  Even today in most high schools, girls dominate the home economics classes and boys dominate the construction related classes.  There is admittedly more cross over then when I was in school in the sixties, but it is by no means 50-50 in gender distribution.

Conclusion:

I would like to conclude with some observations from the present crisis in relation to integrating work, play and education in our lives.  There is no doubt that we are in a crisis of perhaps unprecedented proportions.   As I write this, we have no idea when it will end or how many people will die as a result of this virus.  Thus, it is hard to look down the road and see any possible positive outcomes or merits that could come out of this disaster.  Yet, I do see several trends that have emerged and portend some major changes in the future of work, school and play as we know them traditionally.

Mother and baby girl working on laptop

In terms of work, more employers are allowing their employees to work from home.  This was an idea that had merit many years ago however, most employers were loath to let their employees out of their sight.  I am sure you have heard the comment: “But how will I know they are doing their work and not goofing off?”  Sad, that any employer would have so little faith in their employees that they could offer this lame excuse.  Not only are many employees more productive by working from home, but it allows them to integrate their work lives with their family lives often to very positive advantage for both families and employers.

Another major benefit to the world comes from the decreased air pollution by eliminating a significant proportion of automobile traffic.  In addition, we will be seeing a decline (unfortunately offset by Corvid 19 deaths) in highway fatalities and accidents. More people will be productive by simply eliminating commute times that add nothing to the bottom line in organizations.

Homeschooling-pro-and-conFrom teachers and many educators, we hear the lament that children will miss three or more months of schooling.  Unfortunately for the teachers that feel this way, students may miss out on “schooling”, but I think not on learning.  Many studies have shown that students home taught learn more and score higher on standardized tests than public school students.  I have been working in high schools as a substitute teacher for three years now and much of the work I see being done in classrooms can easily be accomplished from home.  Whether or not students working from home are less bored with the subject matter remains to be seen.  Nevertheless, there are plenty of opportunities for children to learn from home at their own pace and to some extent be more excited by a custom curriculum which suits their needs.  There is obviously a great deal more that can be done in this area to create customized education programs.

Finally, we have a new breed of hero/heroine.  Traditionally, we have viewed soldiers, fire fighters, police officers, nurses and doctors as involved in heroic activities.  This is still true in the current pandemic.  However, now we have added a new dimension to the world of heroism by recognizing service workers, food handlers, truck drivers, delivery people, retail workers and many other groups who are risking their lives to help the rest of us stay home and safe.  Never before did anyone think of a retail store clerk putting toilet paper on a shelf as doing a heroic job.  If you have been to any store lately, you will certainly see the risk these people are taking.

Millions of ordinary people are losing their jobs or out of work and not getting a paycheck because of this pandemic.  Yet, we can clearly see that the ordinary person whether working now or not was responsible for the great economy we had.  The loss of stock value, the decline in GDP and the possible coming depression shows to what extent the “Economy” is a product of ordinary people doing extraordinary work in ordinary times.  The economy never was and never will be a product of politicians, billionaires or the stock market.  Dr. Deming said this about the common worker, and it bears repeating:

deming

These comments from Dr. Deming directly reflect on his Points Number 8-9-10-11-and 12.

“I’ve seen how deeply plant workers appreciate it when somebody recognizes and respects the storehouse of knowledge they accumulate day to day on the job. Giving people the opportunity to participate in improving the product pays off, because workers realize security isn’t worth a hoot if the product is shoddy.” — Dr. Deming

When we finally overcome the monster that is terrorizing our world, we must begin the task of restoring honor to people who work for a living by paying decent wages and not allowing .1% of the population to control 40 percent of the wealth in our country.  We must continue to allow people to have more joy, fun, meaning, passion, education and purpose in their lives by integrating these factors at home, at school and at work.   We must start to do more research and to invest more in long term goals for health care, education, infrastructure and the environment.  Unless we value these goals as much as we value the daily stock quote, we will become as obsolete as the dinosaurs were.  Dr. Deming always said: “Survival is not Compulsory.”

P.S.

I found this “Letter to the Editor” in my local paper the day after I wrote the above blog.  I think it summarizes pretty well how some people feel about our present system of employment and work.  

Casa Grande Dispatch, Thursday April 2, 2020

Editor, Casa Grande Dispatch:

As an American who was born in 1941, I ain’t lookin’ like no “spring chicken.” That should not mean it is OK to wring my neck to save the U.S. economy. I am not quite ready to die for a chronic boom and bust system that excessively enriches a few at the top while marginally supporting ordinary workers. An economic system that also must periodically be bailed out by taxpayers — also to the benefit of those at the top — is not worth dying for.

I might be willing to sacrifice for a stable and sustainable economy that recognizes the primary value workers add to the economy both in the creation of wealth and as consumers. If 70% of GDP is generated by consumer spending, it should make sound economic sense for corporations to pay the worker/consumer a living wage along with regular increases and a strong benefit package. I am old enough to remember a short period of time when that was what corporations did while still remaining profitable. That was also a time when the American middle class grew and prospered.

Try me again when work is valued at least equally with investment and inheritance. Try me again when there is an institutionalized economic system that guarantees economic fairness for all who work and support for all who cannot. That might be something an old person like me would be willing to die for because it would truly help my grandkids and my country. In the meantime, those who are still looking for senior citizens to sacrifice for this yo-yo economy — consider starting with the politician who came up with the idea in the first place.

John T.

Tucson

 

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jane Fritz
    Apr 07, 2020 @ 12:11:18

    Nice post, John. I’d forgotten about that book. I still have the first copy I bought, decades ago.

    Reply

  2. Dr. John Persico Jr.
    Apr 08, 2020 @ 07:29:41

    Old book but great thoughts never die and sometimes even get resurrected. Thanks for your read and thoughts Jane. Hope you are staying safe and sane in these times. Went out to see a pink super moon last night. It was a beautiful night and a beautiful moon but did not see pink or super. John

    Reply

  3. jennygirl1278
    Apr 08, 2020 @ 20:57:47

    Dr.Deming made strong points and I would support his belief. He was a very knowledgeable man when it came to human nature. I have long believed that everyone should work as a team to achieve their goals. I worked at a cash register when I was in high school for spending money. My friend was manning the next register and we would have a contest of who will have taken the most customers at checkout time. The night flew.
    I especially enjoyed hearing about the positives that have stemmed from this virus. I heard someone say that some good came out of this horror. I thought about it and realized that I could think of a few positives, and you presented a few I had not thought of. Enjoyed your blog!

    Reply

    • Dr. John Persico Jr.
      Apr 09, 2020 @ 03:22:47

      Thanks Jeanine, What were your positives that you see. You mentioned that you could think of a few. What are yours?

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: