Why I won’t help Bob

By | March 11, 2015

What trait do you despise the most? A poll on ranker.com puts the worst characteristics as selfishness, arrogance, meanness, self-centredness and dishonesty. My vote goes to laziness (which was 33rd in the ranker list).

Over the last few years I’ve met lots of people who have made an effort to improve themselves: attending workshops at a weekend, contributing to meetups after work, going to pop-up conferences during lunch, joining in with discussions on forums, etc. To all of you, well done and thanks for making our community better through your involvement.

But then there are others who seem to expect greatness to be delivered to them on a plate. They say they want to develop new skills but, in reality, they can’t be bothered to take the journey.

Bob was a pretty good motorbike mechanic. After visiting a car mechanic friend of his, Bob decided that he would extend his business and start to service BMW cars (as he had particularly good knowledge of BMW motorcycles).

When the first car arrived at his garage, it didn’t take long for Bob to realise that he was out of his depth. He called his friend who thankfully agreed to help. As his friend serviced the car, Bob stood back and watched. Once the owner had paid Bob for the service and driven away happy, the friend recommended that Bob read the BMW 5 Series Haynes manual as this would give him most of the information he needed to service all BMWs in the future. “Thanks, but I’m not much of a reader”, responded Bob before adding, “I prefer to take classes and attend practical workshops. I learn better that way”.

The following week another BMW car came in for a service. Bob opened the bonnet, poked about a bit but conceded that he needed help again. His friend agreed to help and ran a full service on the car whilst Bob looked on. Another customer soon drove away happy after paying Bob for the service. Over a cup of tea, the friend asked Bob how his education in car mechanics was going. Bob admitted that he hadn’t had a chance to book any classes yet, but he assured his friend that he would soon.

Another car arrived the following week. Again Bob opened the bonnet and started to make adjustments to the engine. However, again, he soon ran into problems and called his friend over to run the service – which took a bit longer this time as he had to undo the damage Bob had done before he arrived. The client paid and drove away happy.

Bob smiled. He liked having happy customers. He liked being a car mechanic.

Haynes-BMW5

The above story is obviously untrue* but I’ve met a few people like Bob: if you replace BMW cars with Kanban and the Haynes manual with David J. Anderson’s Blue Book (and changed Bob’s name), then the story is pretty close to what happened to me a few years back. Unlike Bob’s friend, it didn’t take me long to realise that I was effectively doing someone else’s job because they didn’t have the knowledge, but also that they couldn’t even be bothered to learn the basics by reading a 280-page book that I’d recommended or get involved in the community. I withdrew my assistance explaining that I was only prepared to help someone who was willing to put in some effort into their own evolution. Since then I’ve heard a variety of excuses as to why people can’t be pro-active in their improvement.

We all know that sitting on the sofa watching the TV is easier than reading a book, attending a group, or participating in an online discussion, but nobody said that learning new skills would be easy. If you are asking your team to inspect and adapt, isn’t it hypocritical to not strive for your own improvement? And do you really expect anyone to help you if you can’t be bothered to help yourself?

* The author would like to highlight that he is not a mechanic and that nothing within the story should be taken as advice. Please seek a reputable mechanic for all your automobile needs.

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