Anthropology

So you think you work with morons…

Written by Paula Gray

So, you think you work with a team of morons.  You are certain that your life is being hindered by the sheer incompetence of your cross-functional team mates and you have no choice but to grind through the endless days in agony.  I have 5 simple points for you to remember, to bring you back to reality.

1.You are not your job

Though your job is important, very rewarding, and provides your financial support, keep in mind it is not who you are.  You are a complex human being -far more than a job title and paycheck. You are a mix of emotion, intellect, insight, personality “seeing” through a cultural lens.

2.They are not their jobs

You may want to define them simply as “engineer”, “salesperson”, or “marketer” but they too are not their jobs.  They are also complex humans who experience joy, despair, and delight as you do.  They have dreams, and fears that keep them up at night.  Reducing them to a job title prevents you from understanding their complexity and hinders your ability (I know its cliche) to “understand where they are coming from.”

3.The company hired you all

Keep in mind that the team members whom you know with all certainty are the most incompetent morons to walk the face of the earth, were all hired by the same company that hired you.  Read that sentence again.  If you are sitting across the table from, and/or working with this team, you were not deemed so far superior to them. The company sees value in them, just as they see it in you.

4.You cannot do it alone

Unless you have unlimited overtime hours to spend, you need the team.  You alone do not make a team.  You may think you would be able to do their jobs better but unless you are going to quit this one and go do that, let them do it for now.  Take a time-out from armchair quarterbacking their jobs, and put your focus squarely on yours.  Even our non-human primate cousins understand the need for group cooperation.

5.You do not hold the “key”

Yes, you are smart.  Yes, you went to a great university.  However, let go of the false belief that you are the only one who knows “the way”, that you alone hold the “key” to eternal product success.  You are no Yoda, and this isn’t a Star Wars movie.

The company functioned long before you came along, and will (I know it may be hard to believe) go on functioning long after you are gone.  Your task is to ask yourself what you are giving to this organization.  How does the team benefit from your presence? Do you attempt to manipulate or criticize people through passive-aggressive behavior or are you genuine and collaborative?  Do you cloak your venom against your teammates in anonymity, or are you worthy of their respect?  For your own benefit, choose to be genuine and worthy of respect.  Your reputation is part of your professional net worth, and if you “aren’t feelin’ the love” maybe you aren’t giving any.

“The purpose of anthropology is to make the world safe for human differences.”

-Ruth Benedict, Anthropologist

Paula Gray
the anthropologist

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About the author

Paula Gray

Paula Gray is an anthropologist and the Director of Research and Knowledge Development at AIPMM. She has traveled the globe to work with companies throughout the US, Europe, Africa and Asia-Pacific to help them gain a deeper understanding of their customers. She is featured in Linda Gorchels' book The Product Manager's Handbook and has contributed to several books on product management including The Guide to the Product Management and Marketing Body of Knowledge (ProdBOK). She is also the author of numerous blog posts and papers including Business Anthropology and the Culture of Product Managers.

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