I was reading an old post on Ask A Manager yesterday. That’s what I do when I’m on the toilet or just chilling, by the way. I call them my stories and am fascinated by the glimpse into humanity. I choose AAM because the commenters tend to be more thoughtful than people in general, which means that the responses are higher quality than society in general. Plus, Alison (the site owner) will delete egregious responses that display any kind of isms or are mean to the original poster (OP) or other commenters.
Today, I was reading a post by a manager who was complaining about their best worker, ‘Norbert’. He was doing twice as much work as his colleagues and then when he pointed it out, the OP asked if he was a jerk for complaining. Also, the OP made Norbert train their colleagues when he complained and explained it to Alison as, “It was my way of saying train your coworkers to be as fast as you, then!”.
Alison had a great response as always, but a lot of the commenters got stuck on how he should be able to give tips and tricks as to how he’s so much better. Not that he should do it for free, but that it would be helpful. Several commenters said that he couldn’t be that much faster (naturally), even though more than one commenter said that some people were just that good.
It got so repetitive that Alison had to chime in. She does that by using a blue box to delineate her answer from the masses. Someone was saying there was no way one person was doing twice as much work as everyone else. That there had to be a reason for it.
Side note: That’s so bizarre to me that someone would think that. I will get to that in a minute.
Alison’s response was this:
It’s possible Norbert is just that much better; a truly high performer can often do 2-3 times the work of an average one. Or it’s possible the others are the wrong hires or need more training; that’s something the OP should investigate too. But it really could just be that Norbert is really good.
I was really glad she had said that because I was thinking it the whole time. Americans like to profess that everyone is equal and no one is better than anyone else*. In terms of worth as a human being, this is correct. No one is worth more or less as a person than someone else.
In terms of abilities? This is not true. It’s when someone says that anyone can be a writer. In fact, my brother and I have had several robust arguments about this. He is a fantastic photographer. He has said in the past that anyone can do what he can with practice and patience. Dunning-Kruger Effect (the second) on display. I vehemently disagree. Yes, you need practice and patience, but you also need talent. I have a terrible eye. Yes, I could learn composition and how to take a good picture (my brother has given me tips). I can become competent and use the best equipment. I would still not be able to take the pictures that he did.
It’s the same with writing, except worse. Because most people can write, they assume that they can write a good novel. That’s not how that works. In fact, I have realized since my medical crisis that I am having a harder time writing fiction. I don’t know if it’s because my brain got jostled from my stroke, but I’m not pleased about it, I’ll tell you that much.
Back to the point. Yes, everyone is a worthy human being. There should not be a ranking of how much a person is worth as a whole. However, when we talk about abilities and skills, that’s very different. We don’t have all the same ability when it comes to anything, and it’s silly to pretend we do. Take Stephen Hawking. It would be beyond silly (and arrogant) for me to say that I understood theoretical physics as well as he did.
I deliberately chose that example because it’s so extreme. It’s really impossible to say that I am his equal when it comes to theoretical physics. If we can accept this is true in that case, then why couldn’t it also be true in less extreme instances? When I worked as an admin assistant for the head of the diversity department at the Department of Community Corrections (Hennepin County), I was only part-time. Iwas supposed to answer the phone, continue the catalogue of classes that the members of the department had to take for their CE credits.
Prior to me being hired, my boss just typed up a page with the classes listed and sent it out. I expanded it to an actual catalogue with descriptions for each class. I did it in Publisher, which I taught myself. It was so good ,the person who served the same purpose for the department in general wanted me to develop a catalogue for her, too. Ha, no.
My boss slowly increased my workload, and I was too young and uncertain to tell her that she was taking advantage of me. In addition, she would dump her relationship woes on me and expect me to listen and comfort her. I do feel bad for her because she was set up to fail. She was a black woman who was hired as the face of diversity, but not given any support. The fact that I was was part-time spoke to that (all the other heads of departments/divisions had fulltime admin assists).
She started asking me to go to the trainings and sign people in. Also not in my job desription. Finally, she did diversity training. She needed to find people to co-train with her. When she ran out of people who would do it, she simply told me I had to do it instead. This was a two-day, eight hours a day training, and I did not get time off in lieu of doing it. I don’t know how she made it work, but I suspect she simply did not mention it when she submitted to payroll.
I was not trained to co-present. She simply handed me the material and told me I had to do it. And yet, with all this, I stil had time during my day-to-day when I surfed the web. I was doing work well above my station, and I was doing it more competently, efficiently, and quickly than other people would have done it.
When I worked as as admin assist (temporary) in the psych department of the county, I was also twice as fast as other admin assists. I typed over a hundred words a minute, was very accurate, and knew more about computers than anyone else. One of the psychiatrists told me that I was by far the best transcriber of the admin assists. I didn’t tell him it was because he was a trash recorder. He rambled and jumped from topic to topic, and he didn’t finish his ideas. I was able to piece them together becaus e I had a psych degree and I’m very good at figuring out what people are trying to say.
That’s not the job of a transcriber, though. The other admin assists probbaly dutifully transcribed his recordings word for word, which is their job. It wasn’t hard fro me to tidy up his ramblings, but it wasn’t my job, either.
I was simply really fucking good at those parts of being an admin assist.** I enjoyed it because I could do it comfortably and without much sweat. At least the basic stuff. I did not appreciate the scope creep of the first job, but that’s something else completely. And I was an excellent admin assist who could get things done twice as fast as other people in the same position.
That’s not bragging. That is just facts. And I don’t think we do anyone any favors by denying that there are people who are just that much better at sometthing than their peers.
*We don’t actually practice that, but we sure like to say it. Ahem.
**I am terrible at details, at getting things done before the backend of the deadline, and I’m an utter slob.