Getting beyond a culture of inertia

Column by Michael Alcorn
Posted 9/25/18

I’ve had a word running through my head for the last few days: monosyllabic. Not really. But, if you think about it, isn’t that a strange word? Like, the ultimate linguistic irony. But, …

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Getting beyond a culture of inertia

Posted

I’ve had a word running through my head for the last few days: monosyllabic.

Not really. But, if you think about it, isn’t that a strange word? Like, the ultimate linguistic irony.

But, seriously, there is a word that I can’t escape for the last few weeks. That word is “inertia.” Inertia, according to Mr. Webster, is the tendency of an object to remain in motion with the same velocity and direction until acted upon by an external force. In other words, it is the tendency of all of nature to resist change.

The things we do and accept as “unchangeable” are often the things that define who and what we are. A dog, for instance, barks at the doorbell — it’s just what they do. Unless that dog is trained to react differently; unless it is acted on by an external force.

People have their own sort of inertia, as well. I once had a boss who was a very smart and thoughtful man, who liked to have time to think about things and ponder their ramifications before making decisions. He was a baseball man, so he tended to see things with a long view. And, no matter how much I would try to get him to make snap decisions, he just wouldn’t do it. I learned that that was simply who he was; I learned that, to get him to move, I had to give him a heads up about something before really approaching him. We ended up with a good working relationship (at least I thought so) because he made me be more thoughtful as I worked to earn his trust.

Organizations have a distinct brand of inertia that we usually refer to as “culture.” And sometimes, no matter how absurd some elements of our culture are, organizations resist change.

For instance, I have a friend who started his career in Texas, and, to simplify things, I’m going to translate his real job into “sport,” because it’s a better common language to approach this from. His duties in Texas were to be an assistant coach for the main program, and to have additional responsibilities with a couple of the units, both in terms of teaching them as a group and as individuals. When` he moved back home to work in Jefferson County, he became the Head Coach of the main program; he was also the sponsor of two other intramural sports, the head trainer of the entire athletic department, had responsibilities to individual units within each sport, and was expected to coach other sports in the winter and spring seasons. And, oh yeah, I think he had lunch duty every day, as well. For slightly less money than he was making in Texas.

Needless to say, my friend moved back to Texas after three years.

The thing is, none of the other “Head Coaches” in Jefferson County really realize how ridiculous their job is, because it’s just how we’ve always done things — it’s our inertial default. Never mind that the divorce rate in the coaching field is astronomical, or that many coaches leave the field once they realize that there is a life to be had somewhere else. It’s just so much a part of what we do that nobody considers that it should change.

Most businesses have similar tendencies, which is part of why I am not averse to change or bringing in fresh blood. We all get blinded to parts of our culture once we live in it for a while, and, sometimes it takes an outside perspective to recognize the quirks and foibles therein.

Speaking of which, the new administration at the middle school I wrote about last week with the dangerous traffic issue has proactively dedicated staff to solving somebody else’s infrastructure problem so that their kids remain safe. I’m sure there’s a better use for their time, but kudos to them.

Michael Alcorn is a teacher and writer who lives in Arvada with his wife and three children. His novels are available at MichaelJAlcorn.com. His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media.

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