Years ago I had a client in the manufacturing business. They brought in an outside hire who came with stellar corporate credentials, fully versed in all the latest management/operational processes, like Six Sigma.
The first time I met him he certainly seemed knowledgable. During our meeting he brought up a new factory that the company had built. Shaking his head in disbelief, he noted that the plant manager’s office wasn’t equipped with a window to look out on the factory floor.
Fair point, I thought. But I didn’t know anything about designing or running a factory.
A week or two later I was in another meeting with him and he raised this point again. But there were others in the room this time, so maybe they hadn’t heard it before.
Later on it happened again. And again and again. Practically every time I saw him it seemed he brought up the tale of the windowless plant manager’s office. And not as a metaphor for broken processes or anything. He just couldn’t get over what he viewed as a serious design flaw.
Over time it became clear that this executive, who arrived with so much hope and promise, wasn’t quite making it. And this factory window obsession became a sort of symbol for his unrealized potential. It was the one thing he consistently clung to.
I don’t tell this story with relish. I actually had a lot of empathy for him. All of us have had a time in our life where we’ve felt out of place or in over our head. I know I have.
And anyway he eventually went on to success with other companies.
But I think of this cautionary tale often. If you’re new to a job or a situation, offer up a diverse platform of skills or priorities. Don’t be the one-idea guy. The one-trick pony.
Or if you are that one-trick pony, make it a really good trick. One with substance and where you can make a big impact.