One of my earliest jobs was as an accounting clerk with McDonnell Aircraft Company (now part of Boeing). I’ve written about it before (You can’t win. Play anyway). This was the summer after my first year at university. I had elected to major in Statistics.
One morning my supervisor asked me to calculate the mean and standard deviation for a schedule of numbers he dropped on my desk. In 1972, this was a largely manual task that took me a modest chunk of my morning. I turned in the results and asked why he needed them.
His answer was “I didn’t need them but figured you’d like the opportunity to calculate some statistics.” I believe he was being sincere rather than hazing the new kid. I was less than thrilled with how I had spent my morning.
The standard advice in these kinds of situations and settings revolves around “paying your dues” and “fitting into the system.” This advice is based on a hidden assumption; that those paying the dues actually fit into the system. The industrial system was designed around components of fixed intelligence and constrained ambition.
I was not that kind of component.