Blue Highways Journey – Episode 10 – Attentiveness

Adam Steele was planning his next blue highways journey and decided to take Berl Corker with him this time. Berl was his VP of Operations and an exemplar of what you think of when you hear the words: hands on. Berl was in his element out on the factory floor. Unlike others on the senior leadership team, Berl was very comfortable around blue-collar folks. Adam was looking forward to Berl’s common sense insights from the trip.

This trip was somewhat different from the other trips and that they would be based in one location. The area they would be visiting was so remote that there were no lodging facilities. Adam had arranged for them to stay in a boarding house for the month. Then they would take day trips but return each evening to the boarding house.

When Adam woke up after his first night stay, he was surprised to find Berl already in the kitchen with the owner. She was making the dough for the yeast rolls for dinner that night. Berl was quizzing her about the secrets to making the dough. Claudia, the owner, explained: “I can give you the recipe for the dough but I’m not sure that would help you very much.” 

“Why’s that? Berl asked.

“Each time you make dough, it’s different. The flour may be different. The room temperature can affect the dough. If you don’t get the right water temperature, that will affect the dough.” 

“But how do you ever know when what you are doing is the right thing?” Berl asked.

“First you need to pay attention to what you are doing. Then you must make adjustments as you go along. I guess that comes from experience. You have to have pride in what you’re doing and don’t accept anything that isn’t your best work.”. 

Adam was delighted to see Berl and Claudia having such a great conversation, and he knew that Berl was loving this. Berl had a hands-on curiosity about everything.

The day trips began to take on a routine Berl and Adam as they would venture down a blue highway. When they came upon something of interest they would stop and visit. Often, they found a person who was doing something of interest to Berl’s hands-on curiosity. Adam would continue on as Berl would remain and learn as much as he could about the work being done. During the month, Berl spent a day with a potter, a blacksmith, a Native American jewelry maker, and a breeder of orchids.

By the end of the month, Berl was making dough for Claudia while she was showing him her secrets for other dishes. Adam had grown concerned that Berl was more fascinated by learning how the various jobs were done then what he was learning that could be used in the business.

On the way home, Adam asked: “Well, what did you learn?”

“I learned that pride in your craft skills is critical. We’ve often complained about our employees’ lack of pride.”

“But what do we do to instill pride?”  Adam asked.

“There was one thing that every one of the people I met with said that is essential for pride. And that’s attentiveness. None of them would have developed their skills if they hadn’t been attentive to their work, asking themselves questions, adapting to new situations, and developing a sense of what their best work is.”

“When I was in college, my professor taught me the Ten Square Foot rule. That meant the employee was the expert in the immediate area where the work was being done. We’ve done away with that now. Our work is so scripted that employees no longer take pride in their work. They don’t have to be attentive, and our quality suffers when the script no longer fits the situation.” 

“When we get back, I want to meet with Claire Jennings to see how we can teach attentiveness. I learned a lot about paying attention on this trip.”

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“When you really pay attention, everything is your teacher.” – Unknown

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