We’ve all likely heard that it’s better to be part of the solution than to be part of the problem. Perhaps less often heard is that managers want, and frankly, need us to bring them solutions, not just trouble.
So, why aren’t we doing this 100 percent of the time? Maybe we’re not always aware of our own limitations or how our perceptions can affect our interactions with others. (Perish the thought!)
This problem has been studied in detail by psychologists during the past few decades, and they approach it from the point of view of evolutionary psychology: for natural selection – it’s beneficial for us to picture ourselves as rational and self-aware. In other words, we tell flattering stories about triumphs, and we believe them.
This has been underscored by many carefully controlled experiments since the 1980s. Psychologist Anthony Greenwald coined the term “beneffectance” to describe the way people naturally present themselves to the world – as beneficial and effective.
All of this is just fine until we realize that we can’t all be this effective at producing positive results all the time. A number of studies have shown that the average person believes he or she does more good things and fewer bad things than the average person.
Wait, what? The classic example of it is that most drivers believe that they’re above average. But that’s just not possible, is it? Apparently, we go beyond just considering ourselves above average when compared to a vague group of other humans. When we’re put into small teams, we tend to convince ourselves that we’re more valuable than the average team member.
In one study, each person on a four-person team was asked their percentage of contributions to the team’s efforts, and on average, the sum of the claimed credit from all participants was 140 percent! Needless to say, just a little bit of exaggeration was involved.
Making It Work
In professional audio, we generally work in small teams, don’t we? After all, what we do is quite specialized, and it’s very easy to be convinced that our personal efforts and effectiveness genuinely are more effective than average are the ones that get advancement opportunities, on the whole.
Let’s focus on ways we can increase our effectiveness in the field of live sound. First, and this is really important: we can’t let our egos get in the way. If these studies in psychology tell us anything, it’s that it’s too late – we’ve already let our egos get in the way!
Nevertheless, we’re all in the same boat, and of course, we do need some confidence to do our jobs well. OK, so let’s work on building that confidence based on good, solid fundamentals. And perhaps let’s not confuse arrogance with confidence. More importantly, we can replace some of our insecurities and bad information with good, solid knowledge.
There’s a classic book from the 1970s by Robert Ringer entitled “Winning Through Intimidation.” Despite the overblown title, the book offers some good lessons. It’s written around real estate sales, but in my opinion, the lessons apply in any line of work. Basically, the idea is to come prepared with so much knowledge about the subject – in our case not just audio in general, but information about the venue, the house system, the people working there, the power structure of the team, and so on.
In the military, we were taught to respect the “chain of command” and I still believe it’s important not to go around our superiors when there’s a problem, but rather, to work together with them to find solutions. If that isn’t possible or the person just isn’t helpful, then go up one step in the chain and try to (gently) make sure this next-level person understands what’s happening and why help need is needed. And of course, be ready with reasonable solutions!
Merging Beliefs With Reality
If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the long haul in this business is that we all can stand to learn more about audio fundamentals. My specialty during the past 15 years has been wireless microphone systems, and I certainly see the need there.
Some of my most popular seminars and instructional videos have centered on relatively simple basic concepts that have a major role to play in what happens out there on the stage. To quote Scotty from the original Star Trek (with a heavy Scottish brogue): “Captain, I cannot change the laws of physics!” We’re all in that boat, together, too – meaning that whatever we do, we can’t violate the basic laws and principals of electronics and acoustics. So, some of what we must involves reconciling our own beliefs, on a range of subjects, with reality.
The best way to do that is with constant training. In today’s world, there are nearly unlimited resources for us to gain knowledge on literally any subject. Many top engineers in our field are continually writing articles, providing seminars, and being generally available to answer questions on forums like the Live Audio Board (LAB) at ProSoundWeb. There just isn’t any valid excuse for us not to better understand our work.
The next thing I advise is to hone our analytical thinking skills. Start with the “reasonableness test” and go from there. For instance, if you’ve learned a technique or a bit of information along the way, perhaps from someone you admired or from a superior on a job, ask yourself if it’s actually reasonable in light of your basic knowledge on the subject.
Measure it against the known laws of the universe, for starters. This is basically what science is: having a theory, turning it into a hypothesis, and then testing it either with an experiment or checking it against the laws of physics. In doing this over and over with each long-held belief, we may learn new things, dispel myths, lose a little ego along the way, and gain a greater understanding of how all this stuff fits together.
The goal is not to suddenly become a “know-it-all” because no one wants someone like that around. Instead, the process should help us have appropriate confidence applied to our thoughts, our words, and ultimately our actions. With this, we can certainly contribute more to the team and to the job at hand by solving key problems correctly and without internal interference.
And, just as I noted at the outset this – your superiors want us to bring them solutions, not just problems. So go get ‘em!