It’s All Trial and Error

As I wonder through life it seems as though my journey often ends up in some form of social media as a Facebook post, a tweet or a blog post. Why is this the case? I guess I am always on a quest to learn about people and things, from people or through my life experiences.

Two weekends ago found me on the campus of Missouri Science and Technology in Rolla, MO. My oldest son went to school and graduated from this institution and now sits on an Alumni Board (yes you see the acorn does not fall from the tree). As I waited for one of his meetings to wrap up, I was visiting an open house at the M.S.& T. Design Center, which is now run by my son’s fraternity advisor and all around great guy, Dr. Chris Ramsay.

These design team programs are a great show piece for the university. It has engineering students from all over the county competing against one another to help advance learning and technology. If you are involved in Human Resources, you have had to have seen some of these engineering competitions, with the solar cars, the solar houses or the human powered vehicle.

During my visit the student teams, who are part of each of the programs, were showing off what they do. On Friday night they were talking to the sponsors, you know the Company’s with the checkbooks. But on Saturday they were just kind of chilling’ and talking with people who dropped in, as Saturday was Homecoming. I was one of those people who began chatting with the teams.

One of the MS&T Human Powered Vehicles.
One of the MS&T Human Powered Vehicles.

As I was talking with the Human Powered Vehicle team I was pressing the team leader on some what I thought were pertinent aspects of design. The Human Powered Vehicle is basically a recumbent bike in a carbon fiber shell.   As I studied the vehicle the young man told me that they had the seat at the optimum angle – which I think was 124 degrees. This intrigued me, so I asked him, “How in the world did you calculate that?”

His response was. “Trial and error.” Then the young man continued and said, “After all, almost all learning is trail and error, right?”   I looked at him and said yeah I guess you’re right.

I visited a few more exhibits, asked a few more questions and my son’s meeting ended. Then it was time for some football, some drinks, a campus visit, dinner and yes more drinks, after all it is a college campus.

As my wife I headed home I kept thinking about the young man’s trial and error comment. I couldn’t help but think of myself, I am always looking for that book, that manual or piece of software that is going to fix a bunch of my problems, and do so in one fell swoop. I want a consultant who can come in and make our employees do all the things I can’t get them to do. I want the one size fits all fix on everything –don’t you, but darn it, it just doesn’t work like that.

To get employees to do what I want them to do I have to try different methods on each employee every time we undertake some new initiative. It is nothing more than trial and error. It might be praise, money, offer of promotion, the threat of discipline, or paid time off or simply respect. What works with each employee may be a different thing.

So my take away from the trip was simple but reinforced an important lesson. People – your people, my people, and employees everywhere are individuals and need to be treated as such. So to find out what motivates our employees we need to continue to employ one of the oldest problem solving methodologies, trial and error. Sorry kids…no magic bullets, try and try again.


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