John F Waterman
The works of John F Waterman

Blog 01.20.17 January 20, 2017

Hello again, folks.

I’m going to try to do this more often. I used to write a lot of short, open essays, whether as part of assignments or a journal I used to keep back in the paper-and-pencil days of yore. It’s a writing muscle I haven’t practiced much of late, and it needs exercise just like my narrative-writing and report-writing muscles. They have gotten most of my attention over the years.

I’m a Quality professional at my day job. It came to me slowly over time, moving from position to position in the company that has employed me for the past 23 years. I began there as a ‘temp’, hired to deburr tiny metal screws for just over minimum wage. They hired me full-time for a different job that no one wanted and everyone told me not to take–a metal-finishing operator, essentially working in a barely-ventilated room full of tanks of hot corrosives–but I needed the money and the health benefits. It seemed no more dangerous than being a cannon crewman, my first assignment in the US Army some seven years earlier. If it wasn’t as exciting, it sure proved a lot more lucrative with regular hours. I cross-trained as a machine operator, running 50 year-old machines to make the very screws I had once deburred, and soon did that full-time.

Turns out I’m not God’s gift to machining. These were not the computerized machining centers in use today. They required a lot of fiddly poking about with hammers and wrenches and other things with which I’m not at all handy. I wasn’t a total loss, but my supervisor could tell that I’d never be more than mediocre at it no matter how hard I applied myself. He took me aside one day and mentioned that the Quality department had an opening for an Inspector, and if I applied for it he’d put a good word for me.

A few months later a Lead position came open in Quality, over a newly-forming team. Again everyone told me not to apply for it; it seemed fraught with problems and a lot of political entanglements–what we used to call in the Army ‘set up for failure’. I got the job because I was the only one who had applied for it. It felt like I had fallen into the deep end. I had quotas to meet, back-orders to clear, and brand new recruits to train, some of whom didn’t know the difference between a set of calipers and a micrometer. But like the frog I kept kicking, I trained my folks, and remained open to any suggestions or new ideas that would improve my new little team’s speed, skill, and technique.

I learned a lot. I made some mistakes, too–once I accidentally knocked over a cabinet full of about $20,000 worth of gauging. I made some enemies and a lot more friends, and at some point I realized that I’d become a Quality professional. And I liked it. I won’t say that it was the best job I’d ever had, or that I was a Quality God walking the Earth, but I had joined the ranks of those who try to sort the acceptable from the nonconforming, and find ways of increasing the former while decreasing the latter. It rewards problem-solvers and the curious, and to be good at it one has to be willing to listen and learn and study both processes and the people who run (and invent!) them.

Quality Control, as it was known back then, or Quality Assurance as it is in vogue now, isn’t my dream career. I’d much rather have been an astronomer, or would like to be a published novelist(!). However, it has paid the bills lo these many long years, and I’ve done much worse jobs during my short time on Earth. I have devoted the care and attention to it that it demands and deserves, though I never did go back to college. There was always some other thing that required my attention . . .a thin excuse, I know now, but I try not to whine about my regrets. I am a member of the American Society for Quality, certified by that body as a Quality Technician and a Six-Sigma Green Belt. The examinations required that I know things I would have never learned in college.

The point, if any, is that you don’t have to love something to be good at it. And you don’t have to be the utter best, either; mediocrity is a blind hole, but ‘mere’ competence is nothing to be sneezed at. Anything worth doing is worth doing well, though, and you should always seek to be better at what you do even if you won’t be ‘the best’ at it. The world doesn’t need superstars or divas or geniuses. What it needs are people who do a good job well and are competent enough to perform a task while realizing that they can always learn how to do it better. Good leaders recognize this need, and are defined by their efforts to better those working for them as well as their peers. They know they must reward those who perform but also strive to better those who need help to meet the standards. They seek out talent and people willing to attain competency, and they find other roles for people who will never be good in the role they play now.

Thank you, Mike P! You put me on a path that neither of us regrets.

Good night and keep striving, folks.

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