I grew up in a retail environment. One side of the family owned a hardware store/lumber yard/contracting business and for the most part it was family that worked at the business. I started slinging lumber at 14 and then made my way into the office area along my grandparents, dad and later my aunt. It was this environment that piqued my interest in computers because the lack thereof; it was a good opportunity to learn how things work instead of “just making it work” through computer use.
However, even though this retail environment fostered my geekiness, there was actually something much more important that I learned during this time that has stuck with me all these years. It is the concept of “I”.
When a customer entered the store and approached, they were asked a simple question. “What can we do for you today?” The question was asked with enthusiasm and naturally implied that there was a team of folks hidden in the walls of that old mill that were anxious to help the customer. I remember my grandfather sitting me down one time when I asked, “Can I help you?” instead of “What can we do for you today?” It was one of a handful of times that I can remember that he wasn’t yelling or ranting about something to me; instead he calmly explained the difference between “I” and “we”, especially when it came to teamwork in a retail environment. “You don’t own the store. You don’t own the sale. Many people will have contributed to getting the customer what he wants. You don’t help the customer, WE do.”
That’s what has stuck with me ever since.
I bristle when I hear someone run contrary to this concept. It makes me doubt their sincerity. For example, Earl and I recently asked about a dessert menu at a local restaurant. The reply was, “I have coconut cream pie, apple pie, ice cream”, the list went on but I tuned her out a little bit. I wanted to ask if she had baked the pies herself. Had she picked the apples? Did she buy the coconuts?
As part of a growing team at work, I get irked by the same thing. “I told him that I could get that done for him.” I wanted to reply, “if you can get that done, then why are you coming to me to build the database for you?” I might be a little cantankerous but I believe that if you say that _you_ can do it, then go ahead and do it. Plus, as I mentioned before it flakes out my trust in the situation just a little bit. It’s a personal thing, but I think it’s important. That’s why it’s stuck with me all these years.
Once in a while I find myself thinking along the lines of “I” instead of “we” in various team environments at work. I then remember the talk I had with my grandfather about it and try to get back on track before he starts hollering from the other side. After all, I wouldn’t be worth much at work if I wasn’t part of a bigger team and lord knows I don’t want Gramps yelling from the great beyond.
I want him to snicker instead. Snickering was good.
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