“He is a person that is scared of the blank slate and he will do anything to mask that fact by focusing on papers that are no longer white, papers that someone else has already started,” I hear myself explaining.
Operating in corporate environments, I’ve found this profound line in the sand between people.
Imagine putting someone down in front of you and say, “Here is blank slate and your job is to turn this blank slate into something awesome, okay?”
Some people will then ask the only question that you can’t ask, because that question defeats the very purpose of handing someone a metaphorical blank slate. They ask, “How?”
Others will realise that they’re not supposed to ask such questions. They understand that they’re expected to accept that blank slate, be grateful for the opportunity, and then report back with something magnificent. But gratitude is the last thing on their minds; all they want to do is to run and hide.
Some risk-takers will accept that blank slate boldly with great promises of success — only to go and look for an unsuspecting colleague to coax into getting that blank slate started. Others make themselves a career of either learning how to dodge these blank slates or becoming the ones who hands out them out.
Most people in the corporate world fall into one of the above categories. To make the distinction, we can call them Administrative Processors (AP).
From a macro-perspective, we need to understand that this is the workforce we’ve created through years of passive schooling and tayloristic workplace conditioning. They’ve been taught that you get a paycheck every month or two weeks if you show up and do what other people tell you to do.
Few people are conditioned to make things out of thin air. Even fewer people are able to make things out of thin air that’s also useful. And an even thinner slice of that already minuscule group are able to do that again and again while meeting expectations that are typically unrealistic.
If a brand has such a Blank Slate Individual (BSI) on their payroll, they should count their blessings. Given the state of the corporate world, most such people hate their jobs to some degree. Why wouldn’t they?
The corporate process when it comes to blank slates is punishingly ineffective. First, leaders will go on and on about how there’s a blank slate and how awesome and exciting that is. Then, managers will be tasked with handing this blank slate over to someone. Corporate risk-takers looking to climb will fight over the opportunity only to grab it and go look for someone else to get the blank slate started.
After weeks and weeks of talking and talking, the blank slate is handed over to, say, a designer. Or a communicator. Or a coder. Or a salesperson. Basically anyone with the ability to manifest brand new solutions out of thin air.
As soon as there’s something actually created on that blank slate, hordes of AP:s will come charging in with opinions, directives, and expectations.
I’ve been part of corporate cultures where people talk for weeks about a presentation that needs to be created. Until finally, I get around to creating a first draft of that presentation. Once the first draft is created, suddenly ten colleagues appears out of nowhere offering to go through the presentation and put their virtual post-its in the margins. Probably for weeks — just back and forth.
As a big “thank you” to these Blank Slate Individuals, they are often being labeled as “difficult to work with”, “taking their time”, “not understanding directions”, “lacking in detail-orientation” etc.
Don’t get me wrong here: I’m not saying that Blank Slate Individuals are creative geniuses — they’re not. Their only defining characteristic as a group is that they’re bold enough to start tinkering with something without knowing exactly what to do.
And this is the great misconception:
AP:s think that Blank Slate Individuals have a gift of knowing exactly how to create a design, write a text, code an application, or sell something. But they don’t. They tinker around until they find something that could work — and then they build it out to see what it becomes.
A great designer make lots of lousy designs all the time, but that doesn’t make them less of a great designer. They’re just in the process of searching for a previously unknown answer to put on that blank slate. Sometimes bad designs holds the answers to great designs, even.
I appreciate the fact that businesses needs AP:s to facilitate all of the processing that needs to take place in an organisation. Lots of them, even.
But here’s what I don’t understand:
Why haven’t more of these AP:s stepped into a role of fully supporting and safeguarding their BSI:s sanity and workflow? In a perfect corporate world, every BSI should have at least one AP to be their guardian angel. Just imagine how much value for their business they could create.