Boise State on Business by Gundars Kaupins: Can-do attitude, endurance help execute troubling tasks

GUNDARS KAUPINS, professor of management, College of Business and Economics at Boise State University.July 9, 2013 

Gundars Kaupins

A while ago, my son got a birthday gift of an airplane simulator. My part involved loading the software and installing the hardware. The software was easy, but the hardware was out of my comfort zone.

Every line of installation instruction was a challenge. I needed to purchase and learn how to use new tools such as the socket wrench. I received advice from hardware store experts to translate the instructions into an English I could understand. Wrestling with screws, bolts, and unidentifiable pieces of metal became a daily chore.

In John Holland's interest inventory, he divides career interest into conventional (organizers), enterprising (persuaders), investigative (thinkers), social (helpers), artistic (creators), and realistic (doers). Realistic activities involve hands-on work that often deals with materials such as wood, tools and machinery. My interest in such hands-on work was near zero, but I kept at it.

As the project was placed on my lap, I had several choices. One was to run. Give up and leave the stuff in the boxes. Unacceptable.

Two was to delegate. Get help from handy friends. Also work with my son to put it together. Yes, delegation is a viable option if you don't have the skills or interest. I did some work with my son on this. However, the thought of purely delegating the project to someone else would lead me to not learn from the experience.

Three, just do it. I learned some new terminology on the way, such as the socket wrench, which could be useful for future projects.

Often in the workplace, the job is not exactly as written in the job description. New things come, such as competition, changes in the strategic plan, new management and emergencies beyond the imagination.

The project provides several business lessons. Sometimes you are given new projects that are out of your comfort zone that you can't delegate. The project you are assigned is difficult, and you have little interest in it.

But there are ways of solving problems, including using information resources such as the Internet, the company Intranet, experts in and outside the company and other resources. It is OK to admit you do not know the answer and you need help. It is OK to want to learn and ask questions. Asking is not a sign of weakness but a strength.

Another way to solve problems is to change attitudes from within. According to researcher Albert Bandura, self-efficacy - the belief in your own capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action - is a major part of the battle. Another major internal attitude that is needed is endurance. This requires the ability to stick it out in spite of all the problems that may come your way in the process of learning the hard task. In the end, the goal is to get the new tasks completed.

The skill to adapt to new tasks may be very valuable in a rapidly changing economy. For example, Micron CEO Mark Durcan said the company is transitioning from being a commodity component manufacturer to becoming a more system-oriented producer for specific customers. This requires new skills and capabilities.

Market change inevitably happens. By the way, my airplane simulator project got completed.


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