The Wisdom Project

Nathan, age undisclosed


What are the top 1-3 things you would like to pass on to others? How did you learn this?

First, don’t remain in a place where you are not happy.  We work such a big part of our life and we should be in a place where we feel appreciated and enjoy rewarding work.  If it doesn’t work; pick up and go! You need to have the courage and you will find something else to do and good things always happen.  I have worked in places where the atmosphere deteriorated.   YOU know – if you are really not happy, you can feel it.  I learned this in a number of cases – I was lucky that all my workplaces were initially rewarding and fulfilling, but after many years some of them stopped being that, usually due to changes in senior management that resulted in a tarnishing of the atmosphere throughout the group. I am glad that I had the courage to get up and leave. Good things always happened after I did. It is a fact of life that one bad manager can screw up a whole workplace…but don’t stay because it’s comfortable.  Stay where you are happy.  It’s surprising how much inertia will keep you where you are.

Second, never be frugal when it comes to buying tools.  Invest in the very best tools you can possibly afford. A good tool lasts longer makes the quality higher and makes the work more enjoyable.  Never buy less than what you can afford.  It’s incredible the extent to which this is true – and it applies to all kinds of tools.  It makes a whole different world of difference when all the little things are better.   In the case of hand tools how a good plane sings as it cuts the wood.  It literally makes a singing sound. It’s just a piece of metal but it is precious when made well. I learned this from many cases when I did it – and from some when I failed to do it. I still use some tools I’ve bought 50 years ago and enjoy their premium quality!

Third, when defining company policy or planning a change, always involve employees from all levels in the planning committee.  All-levels of employees have a lot to contribute from their perspective that an all-managers committee may miss, and by having them in the process you ensure a greater commitment to the outcome across the company.

I’ve done that, a number of times. Works like a charm.

What wisdom can you share from your observations and experiences of the world in your lifetime so far?

People should be talking more across ideological divides. Left to themselves people can easily become hateful and violent. The best way to avoid destructive degradation (between countries or within them) is for people to prize dialog above stomping on whichever “others” ideas they disagree with. The dialog needn’t end in full agreement, but agreeing to disagree with some measure of respect goes a long way. Here in Israel there is every potential for at least 10 civil wars.  But we have some organizations here whose purpose is to facilitate dialogue between different groups and this helps us to stay clear of the brink. For us Civil War is not an option. I learned this by observation, and especially in recent years I am very worried to see how people divide into opposing camps that lock themselves in echo chambers where they only listen to their own side while working themselves into a frenzy of hatred and contempt for the other side. Organizing to facilitate dialog is very necessary. I am not certain what role the Internet is playing in this process because the internet enables kind of an anonymous monologue.  If I invented a cure for cancer and made it available for free to everyone; in about 3 days someone, somewhere would vilify me and say I am the next Hitler.

What obstacles and disappointments have you faced that you were able to put into perspective, turn into a positive, and/or contribute to in a way that made things better? What did you learn from these experiences that you can share with those who did not have those same experiences?

A while back developers planned a building right next to my home. That’s years of noise and dust and discomfort, and the usual response would be for all residents in the area to file opposing appeals to the zoning  authorities and go through 2-3 years of fight, and lose anyway. That doesn’t make for good feelings or good neighbors.

Instead, I pulled the surrounding residents together and we negotiated with the developer a deal: we would not file appeals (which would save him years of delay), and he would sign a legal contract with us that would cause his project to be less harmful to us. For example, he agreed to limit daily work hours, take measures to reduce pollution, install double glazing in our windows to reduce our noise exposure, and even pay for a building inspector that would work for us, and be present on site every day to resolve any complaints. The project was completed speedily and with minimal friction. This took good convincing skills and an ability to pull back and take a broader perspective of the whole situation.

The lesson is probably applicable to any situation where the usual response is to litigate (in court or in life). Make people an offer they don’t need to refuse, because it’s a Win/Win. Meet them half way, which shows good faith on both sides and makes for good relationships.