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

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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

 

3613– Monday, June 10, 2019 – Summer, Never Enough Time!

Calvin and Hobbes once described summer as “Never enough time to do all the nothing you want.”  Sometimes life seems the same way.  The older you get the faster time and things flow around, over and under you.  I have been back from Arizona almost six weeks now and after fixing the car, truck, yard, lawn mower and house, we seem to have skipped spring and went right into summer.  It was 85 degrees here yesterday.  I am still waiting to get started on my new business project and trying to motivate myself to be creative, dynamic and inspirational, at least to myself.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to speak to a student club at Metropolitan State University.  A good friend of mine (Israel) is one of the faculty advisers to the club and each month they try to hold some type of event to help the students with both life and school.  Israel noted in his closing comments to the group that he had realized school was more than just teaching subjects but that the students who went on to become successful in life had learned character and coping skills.  Israel asked me to talk to the group.  The subject of my talk was the role that discipline plays in our life.

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Discipline is often associated with punishment.  The discipline that I discussed is self-discipline.  I view self-discipline as the commitment and ability to respond to our goals and desires in a meaningful way.  Some people say that discipline is not needed but that motivation is needed. I see things more the other way around.  It takes discipline to become good at anything in life including music, art, sports, dance, acting and business.  It helps if you are passionate about what you are doing.  Karen enjoys playing her dulcimer and practices about an hour each day.  The amazing child prodigy Anke Chen practices five hours a day to play the piano.  She is now eight years old but started playing at four.  When you watch Anke, you see someone having fun and thoroughly enjoying what they are doing.

The problem I had when I was young was not realizing the discipline and dedication it took to become great at anything.  Regardless of how much of a genius you are, regardless of how smart you are or how beautiful you are, without discipline you will eventually fail.  You can survive on pure talent for only so long.  The same goes for beauty and brains.  They will only take you so far.  Look around and you can see the “A list” people who have had life too easy and the only way they can stay on top is with drugs.  Too many great artists and performers have succumbed to the perils of drugs.  Self-discipline is a drug free remedy for a happy and fruitful life.

Now that summer is here, my writing class will start again, although our grand instructor (Dr. Carolyn Wedin) will not be attending due to illness.  Carolyn will very much be there in memory.  Her spirit will hover over each writer and guide us in the use of language and syntax.  Over the years, I have leaned a great deal from these classes about writing and life.

Writing is an art that requires great self-discipline.  There are many days when I don’t feel like writing.  It is not always easy to come up with ideas, words, adjectives, descriptions, narrative, characters, plots, settings and action that will be interesting and unique.  No one wants to hear a story that is boring or mundane.  We read something because it takes us our of our life and puts us into the life of another person.  (Of course, we may also read to learn something.)  We can live vicariously in the character of whomever we are reading about.  Today, you are living in my character.  For a few moments, you are absorbed in my thoughts and feelings and to some degree you know what it is like to be me living in Frederic, Wisconsin, the summer of 2019.

And once upon a time, in a time long ago, two hearts met, and the meeting changed the whole world.

Every time, a writer and a reader meet, it is like two hearts meeting and the world can never be the same again.

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.”  –Anais Nin

 

 

What is the One Thing that is Hardest to Find in Life? 

What is the one thing that we all want in life but that we can’t buy or pay for?  We can live a life without it but we will end up feeling like we only lived a shell of a life.  We can chase all over the world for it but we will sometimes end up finding it in our back yard.  We can live a life with security and comfort and never find it.  We can settle for the mundane but we will regret that we did not have the courage to grab it when it was in our reach.  Sean John says “Life without passion is unforgiveable.”  You can buy his cologne for fifty dollars an ounce but it will not give you passion.  Most of us will never have passion in our lives.  We might think a one night stand or our favorite team winning the Super Bowl or taking a trip to some exotic land is passion but deep down inside of us we know that these activities are only surrogates for passion.

The saddest people I’ve ever met in life are the ones who don’t care deeply about anything at all. Passion and satisfaction go hand in hand, and without them, any happiness is only temporary, because there’s nothing to make it last. ― Nicholas Sparks

You can climb Mount Everest.  You can dive to the bottom of the Mariana Trench.  You can get a Ph.D. degree but you can never get passion simply by accomplishing things.  Passion is not a fad or a commodity.  You can’t buy it in Walmart or find it on top of the Empire State building.  Most of us do not grow up with a desire for passion.  We do not even know that it is missing in our lives.  Passion gets smothered in us when we are very young.  It is extinguished before it can be ignited.  Passion scares people.  Authorities and parents both fear passion.  The passionate person is a juvenile delinquent.  Early on, parents, teachers and others wage a campaign to destroy the roots of passion in children.

Sex is the consolation you have when you can’t have love ― Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez

Someplace deep inside all of us, the embers of passion still burn.  We go through life thinking that there must be more to it then what we are experiencing.  We look for God.  We look for Ghosts.  We look for love.  We look for things but still they do not bring us the passion that we crave.  Some spark must be ignited in us to rekindle our passion.  When they speak of quality, they say that you will know it when you see it.  However, you can’t see passion.  You have to feel passion.   We know it exists because from time to time, we can get a glimpse of it in others.  The passion that we sometimes see in others thrills us to the bone and leaves a certain degree of incredulity in its wake.  We know we are missing something that seems unfathomable to us.  Greatness and passion seem to comingle.  Does greatness produce passion or does passion produce greatness?

I want to know what passion is. I want to feel something strongly.”  ― Aldous HuxleyBrave New World

Hollywood is perhaps the most frequent purveyor of passion.  We get our impressions of passion from our Hollywood idols and movie stars.  Passion is pervasive in Hollywood.  From superheroes saving the world to unrequited love romances to tales of great daring, we glimpse a world where passion is the norm.  A world where passion is as common as grass.

There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” — Nelson Mandela

Looking at passion from a theoretical perspective, (something rarely done) we can see that there are three areas in which we can inspire passion.   These conform to our three life components.  We can be passionate about ideas or thinking.  We can be passionate about doing or activities and we can be passionate about feelings.  What about things you may be asking?  I will argue that we cannot really be passionate about things.  Hard core motorcycle riders usually care more about riding their bikes than they do looking at them.  Trophies, money and even fame are ephemeral and rarely suffice to infuse passion in anyone’s life.

Maybe the bike is more dangerous, but the passion for the car for me is second to the bike. — Valentino Rossi

People who are passionate about ideas are intriguing.  We find that they have a love for the mind and all things cerebral.  We may not understand their theories and concepts, but we are fascinated by the premises and hypotheses that they can spin out.  History has shown that a key element of progress lies in the intellect that a civilization can bring to its culture.  The Jews, the Greeks and the Chinese each stand out in our minds with their history of great thinkers from Abraham and Maimonides to Socrates and Plato to Confucius and Lao Tzu.  These cultures had a deep respect for the ideas and philosophies of its great thinkers.

Some of us are passionate about books, education, museums, history, biographies, TED talks, documentaries and other intellectual activities.  We would rather read a good book then go to the Eiffel Tower or the beach.  Our ideal life is of the mind and not of the body.  We no sooner finish one book then we are off to another.  Our dream of heaven is one vast library with no late charges.

You have to be burning with an idea, or a problem, or a wrong that you want to right. If you’re not passionate enough from the start, you’ll never stick it out.”  — Steve Jobs

Some people are passionate about their activities.  Great explorers like Marco Polo, James Cook and Zheng He lived for the adventure and excitement of finding new places and new civilizations.  For such adventurers the risk was hardly a consideration given their dreams and desires for discovery.  One cannot imagine anyone undertaking the hazards and deprivations that met these men without a true love for action and doing.  People like this cannot be content in an arm chair reading a good book or sitting in front of a fire place with a family watching TV.

Some of us are passionate about our work or our sports.  We love what we do so much that we would pay our employers to let us do the work that they are paying us to do.  This is what passion means.  To love something so much that you would pay someone to let you do it.  We live for the activity whether work, traveling, sports or a hobby.  Our dream of heaven is an activity that allows us to become intimately involved with the act of creation or the challenge of overcoming some obstacle or the chance to exceed some goal.

If you don’t love what you do, you won’t do it with much conviction or passion.”  — Mia Hamm

Our final passion involves the realm of feelings.  We usually think of passion as connected to sex.  We have watched the all night love affair of two Hollywood stars as they undress and ravage each other in a fit of what one might call sexual frenzy.  We marvel at their physical dexterity.  Two bodies engaged in positions that would challenge the authors of the Kama Sutra or even tax a painters abilities to portray.  And to think, that after they are done, they start over again until the sun begins to dawn on another day.

“When I touched her body,
I believed she was God.
In the curves of her form
I found the birth of Man,
the creation of the world,
and the origin of all life.”
― Roman Payne

But sex is only a small part of what emotional passion can be.  Passion can involve feelings of all sorts.  People who are deeply passionate about their emotions feel things that the rest of us do not.  They feel the joy and pain and sorrows of other human beings.  They experience the highs and lows of existence.  They live a roller coaster of feelings that range from happiness to sadness.  They do not let the pain of empathy discourage them from identifying with the feelings around them.  Perhaps the greatest fear that people of feelings have is the fear of apathy or indifference.  People who are passionate about their feelings live for harmony and rapport with others.

People who live a life of passionate feelings dream of a heaven that will be populated by all the people that they have known in their lives.  They want to see all their old friends, relatives and loved ones.  They dream of making amends for the wrongs that they have done to some and sharing their love and compassionate hearts with all others for infinity.

Time for Questions:

What are you passionate about?  Do you have enough passion in your life?  How could you have more passion? What would happen if you tried to live a more passionate existence?

Life is just beginning.

My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”  — Maya Angelou

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