Re-imagining the workplace: The engineer who became a fitter, turner and philosopher

Shirzad Chamine

Shirzad Chamine is the New York Times bestselling author of Positive Intelligence who has been CEO of the largest coach training organisation in the world and has trained faculty at Stanford and Yale business schools.

He lectures on Positive Intelligence at Stanford University. Shirzad says that based on research, every child comes to a point in life when they have to ask themselves the question; ‘What do I need to do to survive?’ Every child in their child consciousness has asked that question when they felt afraid and inhibited. Afraid like Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, because they were naked, and nakedness in that regard representing vulnerability. That sense of fear and the need to be careful, witty and safe enough to survive sets in motion survival tactics that the child adopts in their unconscious consciousness of childhood in order to survive and live.

Picture this metaphor dear reader; A person passing through a vicious dog infested place and being terrified by the possibility of getting bitten by the dogs. That fear is deep enough to make the person think that they are going to die. It is at that point that she picks up anything available to her to protect herself from the dogs.

It is at that point that she asks the question; ‘What do I need to do to survive?’ She picks up survival stones and sticks and even leaves that may not work. That’s an element of clutching at straws because they have to survive. She makes it through the dog infested area but not through the fear of dogs. So, she clings to the stones even when the dogs are no longer there, with her hands clinging to the stones and sticks and her thoughts still fixed on the idea of dogs biting and killing her. She is terribly afraid and moves with that care. Any sound that is close to the barking of dogs makes her start, afraid it might be the dogs.

According to Shirzad, this, metaphorically speaking, happens to all of us regardless of where we are born. We are born with needs and desires that cannot be ignored. Dogs cannot stop us from going to our chosen destinations of need but they make us adopt survival tactics when they threaten to stop us. Like Adam and Eve, we do not stop eating the fruits of desire even if the situation around has warned us and our parents have threatened our access to the ‘forbidden fruits’ we have an insatiable gusto for.

Ideally, we should just swift sail, moving from one tree to the other, devouring what we need to devour with ravenous childhood appetite. Unfortunately, there are instructions in our upbringing. We are punished for being curious kids and even have our hands burnt for stretching them out to reach out for our fruits, the things we NEED. We want to be free to enjoy the love and belonging of our parents and the rest of the family and yet we want to enjoy self-expression and autonomy.

Those present themselves as interesting polar opposites, as if we will be fine to not enjoy one of them. The situation in some instances is that self-expression will be given little of. You do mischief and your mother punishes you thoroughly for it and as a child you interpret it as meaning that you are losing the warm lap of your mother and this is a ‘vicious dog’ threatening to stop you from reaching out to enjoy love and belong.

We then find schemes and survival ways. We feel naked like Adam and Eve and we look for tree leaves to make clothes for ourselves because clothing, just like love and belonging, is not just something we want, but a NEED. Clothes of survival that stop our creative and curious childhood brain. When we enter survival mode, we only wake up from it when we come across real TRANSFORMATION and embrace it, or we live like that, afraid and reacting to things and believing that to be all there is to life. We react to dogs that long left.

This article is inspired by a friend I went to varsity with cow years ago. I am deliberately avoiding donkeys for a change. This is on the lighter note. My friend Jabulani said to me that he went to varsity to do mechanical engineering because he had always dreamt of working in a plant where he would design cars of all sorts.

 To his chagrin, Jabulani found himself working for manufacturing organisations where he was turned into a fitter and turner. He was presented with machines from such countries as Germany to fix when all he had ever wanted was to design machines like cars. We are talking here about a genius whose brain needed something more stimulating than fitting and turning. Jabulani, if you want to read his story through the lens of the dog story, was now facing dogs.

The dogs phenomenon does not only apply to children but to adults who have the ‘wounded child’ in them and stopped being creative when they had to survive. They never threw away the stones and sticks. So, when Jabulani found himself facing these dogs that threatened to bore his genius brain, he tried all sorts of tricks to stay awake and not get bored. He says he looked back and envied the civil engineers who had room to create new drawings and build beautiful structures.  He thought to himself he could have enjoyed even being an academic.

When Jabulani, the engineer found himself fitting and turning, he tried his brain on other things in the workplace but his biggest problem happened when his frustration led him to feel lost and so look for stimulants in things like alcohol, sex and philosophical conversations.

He went deep into those and would not leave the bar because he found his stimulants there. When he stretched out his hand to reach out for what he wanted, the fruit, he was punished with nakedness that led to him looking for tree leaves that were never enough to satiate his thirst for stimulation.

Jabulani is now a pale shadow of himself with some of his high school friends who viewed him as a professor, now wondering what happened to him.

He had a deep desire to be something and tried to cross over to go to the promised land but there were dogs, vicious dogs waiting for him. He still didn’t stop but picked up stones (habits) he has found difficult to get rid of because they now sustain him. His brain is no longer as sharp as it used to be and the ‘professor’ aptitude he enjoyed at high school is now history. He drinks like a fish and that is coupled with an insatiable gusto for sex and deep philosophical conversations.

He has become an alcoholic, yet all he wanted, and maybe needed was to pass his mechanical engineering degree and design cars. When he thought he would meet cars, he got the surprise of his life when he met vicious dogs wanting his engineer blood in exchange for a fitter and turner job.  Could he have done things differently? Is he responsible for his actions? Maybe. Let’s explore this next week.

  • Bhekilizwe Bernard Ndlovu’s training is in human resources training, development and transformation, behavioural change, applied drama, personal mastery and mental fitness. He works for a Zimbabwean company as head of human capital, while also doing a PhD with Wits University where he looks at violent strikes in the South African workplace as a researcher. Ndlovu worked as a human resources manager for several blue-chip companies in Zimbabwe and still takes keen interest in the affairs of people and performance management. He can be contacted on [email protected]

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