The Best Cog

Marc Friedlander

Dummy Bucket List

 

When I started out as a cog in the machine* I thought that the good cogs were those that simply functioned as designed, the better cogs not only did that but also identified problems in the machine, and the best cogs did all that but also found creative solutions to those problems and brought those solutions to the Master Cogs.  I wanted to be the best cog I could be, so I embarked on a path of problem identification and solution.  I trained myself to sniff upcoming trouble and to develop practical solutions to the trouble before those problems arose.

I was very proud when, after having been a cog only a short time (in a technical capacity), I spotted an error in the design of an important component in the defense system of a submarine!  It took some persuasion to get the seasoned cogs who had designed this component to listen to this young and green cog, and accept that there was an error – and not a minor error but a fatal one – in the design and lay-out of this component.  I persisted and when I finally succeeded in making my case, the error was corrected, the system was installed without incident, and the machine hummed on.

Many, many such potentially devastating problems have been identified and either solved or turned over to others for solution by this cog.  I’ve earned my stripes.  I’ve mastered technical concepts, developed skills, and created complex solutions to daunting problems - solutions that I never dreamed were even possible until I slowly developed them, implemented them, and saw them working.

Now that I’m a much older, well worn cog, I’ve arrived at a realization.  This realization did not occur to me all of a sudden, it grew on me slowly like moss on a wall.  Now the wall is so moss covered that it is hard to read the writing on it – yet that writing on the wall is written so clearly and boldly, it can’t be missed.

The writing says: The VERY BEST cogs are not the cogs that identify and solve problems - they are the ones that keep the Master Cogs from ever knowing that there was a problem to be solved. 

It is true that problems do arise and those problems can be costly or even fatal to an organization.  I’m not advocating silence in the face of an upcoming disaster – just don’t expect to be rewarded for being the one to sound the alarm.

Imagine a little cog, all full of energy, wanting to prove himself and earn his keep, wanting to show what he can do – this cog rushes into the Master Cog’s office, having discovered a major problem none of the other cogs had glimpsed.

Does the Master Cog think, "Oh glory be - we are saved"?

No.

“Oh shit” thinks the Master Cog.  “A moment ago I had no problems – or at least I only had the ones I was grappling with before this little pest decided to run in here like he’s going to save the world.  Now I have this new problem that is going to be a bitch to solve, and I would have been happy to never hear about it at all, much less have this little shit throw it in my face.  Why oh why won’t he just go away and die?”

My advice to the young cogs out there – find a hobby you really enjoy.

 

*For the purposes of this discussion, the “machine” is any organization that is involved in any activity and a “cog” is any person that has any function in the machine.  I am dealing in generalities.   You’ll get the point.