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Fixing Chairs And Fixing Boys

July 8, 2016

Give me a large enough lever and I will move the world.


There are two things that are impossible: dribbling a football and keeping twelve year-old boys from tipping their chairs back. . .and I’m not sure about the football.

So, imagine my surprise when I not only got a group of 14 of them to stop, I got them to encourage and remind each other. 

I love working with interns and new, fresh-out-of-college employees, They bring an enthusiasm that is difficult to describe. They also haven’t formed all their bad habits yet. They are teachable. Too often, what gets taught are the worst habits of the senior programmers. 

When you’re new, you want to fit in. You typically recognize your lack of experience and work hard to STOP being noticed. If your engineering group has well established protocols and follows them, so will new employees. If your existing engineers take shortcuts and follow bad practices, so will the new guys.

It’s easier to set a culture than change one. However, if you do find you need to break some team’s bad habits, a combination of enlisting the team in your cause and peer pressure are a good start.

We had a problem at church with boys leaning backin their chairs. Well, the leaning wasn’t the real problem. This  was.

See those broken pieces on the bottom? That’s what happens when twelve year-old boys lean back in their chairs at church. They look bad, they scratch the wood floors and they have to be replaced. All because people, often twelve year-old boys lean their chairs back.

We had tried getting them to stop in the past. “Four on the floor” was something you might hear a leader say. But the reminders really only changed behavior for a couple of minutes. Then they were right back to  balancing on two legs. One day I took a different approch. I took three of the worst looking ones and set them on a table where the boys could see them when they walked in. I explained how much it cost to repair them and I pointed out that the boys themselves were causing it.

The room got kind of quiet. I asked if they thought we should all agree to not lean back? They agreed that was a good idea. And that was it. No more lecture. Amazingly, it worked. We no longer had a problem with tipping chairs. Even more surprising, was the next week when a boy attended who’d missed our lesson the previous week. No sooner did he sit down, then he started tipping his chair. Before I could say anything, one of the other boys beat me too it.

We don’t tip our chairs in here.

No. No, we dont. Peer pressure: it’s great when it’s on your side.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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(c) 2016 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

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