I love the scene in the movie, A Beautiful Mind, where it portrays John Nash finding his truly original idea. He isn’t in a library, classroom or lab. No, he is out with his friends in a bar, trying to figure out how to get a group of women to pay attention to him and his buddies. Out of that problem, he discovered a principle that could be applied to situations of much more significance and went on to continue thinking and contributing to mathematics and economics. To him, it probably felt like a normal day, but then the idea came.
It’s a little like that with us. We dream big. We want to be world-class engineers, artists, or professors who transform our fields in some way. But most days are filled with routine activities and interactions. We don’t feel like we’re doing anything overly important. But you never know when you’ll make progress on something you’re working on, and what you do in the meantime is important too.
It’s always good to be working toward our goals. There are those few days in our lives where we get the big payoff—when we accomplish something we see as valuable. But between those days are hundreds of regular days in which we contribute to culture in smaller ways. Part of being On Call in Culture is recognizing and valuing the normal days.
For instance, on a normal day you may get up, get dressed, talk to your kids, pick up coffee, go to work, send emails, attend meetings, go to lunch, work on a huge to-do list and come home again to spend an evening with your family. Sound like someone who is On Call in Culture? No? But wait. What if I describe it this way?
You wake up to the radio telling you that a terrible tragedy happened in another country. You discuss with your kids what you could do as a family about this problem. You make eye contact with the cashier of the convenient store and ask them how they are doing. You write an important email giving advice to the young person you mentor, encourage a timid co-worker to speak up and share their ideas at the meeting, eat lunch with a new friend, make progress on a large project you’re working on, and come home to debrief your family on their day.
That’s being On Call in Culture. Think of all the things you really did:
- Influenced children’s thinking
- Made the culture in your town a little more friendly
- Passed on valuable lessons from experience to the next generation of worker so they can build upon your foundation
- Pulled priceless ideas from someone who may not have spoken up otherwise
- Started a new connection/relationship that could provide unknown synergies
- Moved closer to that “big payoff” someday
Now think about your day. What opportunities are in front of you? How can you be On Call in Culture on this regular day? We would love to hear from you.