Lesson 9: Headaches make people cry.

Inside the world of ”lesson recording’, there was a little character widely referred to as pure evil.

I will, obviously change the name of this software so I don’t give away the company and people that are involved in this little writing exercise. Let’s name it ‘the grape’, because it kind of sounds like that in my native language.

I am going to get a bit technical to make my point, so bear with me.
All the lessons were designed in one of the most widely used software for presentations. Yes, you got it, that’s the one.  We designed one file with picture slides, information slides, examples and so on. And we would design another slide show where we would write everything we would say while recording. A.k.a. our script. They believed that we should not improvise when recording, because we weren’t actors. And I think they were right. So we simply wrote everything down and we just read in front of the camera. Kind of like a tele-prompter.

So we had two presentations. When we got to the recording set, we had to work with a recording program. And we had another little program called ‘the grape’ to link both presentations and the video recording program. With these four programs, we would use a remote control to tell the computer when we wanted to show ourselves on screen, then switch to the slide, then combine teacher and slide at the same time, then back to the slide, then just the teacher and so on.

With the remote, we wouldn’t need a camera man. Just the teacher, controlling the slide show, camera and everything.
But there was a catch: the grape program was extremely complicated to learn and even more complicated to make changes if you made a mistake while recording. This program was designed and written by the main engineer of this whole operation, the right hand man of Mr.Gestures, Todd, or Mr.T.

This guy was the author of the software that linked everything inside the set and he was quite selfish about it. The only computers that had the software installed were those inside each set.

When we had to record a lesson, what teachers had to do was take all their files to the set. Then, we had to painstakingly build a sequence in which we told the computer which slide would go first, then just show what the camera sees, then show the teacher and the slide at the same time, then go back to just the slide, then advance my script, then advance the slide…you get the idea.

This program simply recorded steps. Each step would tell the computer to switch from program to program. The concept was simple, but the average slideshows had around 80 slides, not counting animation effects. Yes, each clic was considered an additional step.

So we would have to make 150 or 200 steps per sequence, one by one. Maybe even more. And we did this for each lesson.
Not only that, when we were done with the sequence, we used to run it BEFORE recording, to check for mistakes. If a mistake was made or something was not working properly, we had to look for the mistake manually. This meant that we would have to check every single little step of the process, to find out where the mistake was.
When it finally worked, we would record the lesson, save it on the computer and continue with the next one.

When high-school was being recorded, some teachers cried because of the frustration of not being able to make the program do what they needed. Others banged on the walls to show their anger. It was definitely not pretty.

When junior-high was recorded, we didn’t have as much trouble because we had some experience. But the new teachers had to experience the same frustration that we did.

Luckily for them, the five supervisors in charge of each area had already recorded some lessons and were able to give some tips and suggestions for the newcomers. This aliviated the frustration, although not entirely.

Imagine analyzing each clic, step by step, around 12o of them per lesson. And each subject had around 40-something lessons. You do the math, it was very tedious work. Also, we had to do it in a tight schedule because editing was waiting for us and they wanted to send out the product in order to get students enrolled by the government.

Tough_Job
Not exactly, but yes. I guess it kind of felt like this.

The process improved somewhat, but not enough. What could we have done differently?

Well, we could have gotten rid of that damn ‘grape’ program. Nobody actually thought about the efficiency of using it or if there was an easier, quicker way of designing that sequence. It was Todd’s masterpiece so, why would we dare try to change it or use something else to record?
But the point is that if something seems too complicated or it’s taking too much time to do., if you are constantly getting frustrated about how you are doing something, then you are probably not doing it right. Too many frustrated teachers should have been a sign to come up with a better way of recording.
Eventually, some teachers who specialized in computer science and programming came up with an idea to make the program work more efficiently. But they did this in their own time, out of compassion for their fellow co-workers.

So here is the lesson:
If you are the boss at a startup or any work environment, make a habit of talking with your employees. Find out what their needs are, search for ways to make their work more efficient, less tedious, easier and faster. How can you improve something if you don’t even know what you produce or how you go about making it a reality?

The guy that designed this little gem never actually recorded any lessons. So it was doubtful that he could really understand how things developed inside a recording set. The general rule for new teachers was just “you’ll get the hang of it eventually, don’t despair”
The owner, obviously didn’t know that this was happening, either. He rarely stopped by to see what was going on.

And when he did, he just went into Larry’s office and asked him how things were going. And it was kind of interesting to know how the owner, the guy providing the payroll, only bothered to ask Larry. The only guy who didn’t design lessons, didn’t record and didn’t really know how the production process worked.
So, get involved with your company. Get your hands dirty, investigate, ask around, evaluate how work gets done. Then come up with ways to improve that. Your employees will appreciate it quite a lot. And everyone knows that happy employees are employees that work efficiently and tend to stay with the company.

Next: Winner take all

Lesson 7: That’s great! Now make it right!

I think that the title for this one is rather confusing. But I assure you that it will make perfect sense by the time you are finished reading.

I live in a country where the general idea of work is: If you work long hours in the office, it means that you are hard-working. The law allows up to 48 working hours per week. So that’s pretty much the standard in most working environments. Strange is the person who thinks that the law’s limit doesn’t have to be the established working schedule.
To me, personally, working long hours is just a sign of incompetence or disorganization. Companies specifically ask for people who can ‘work under pressure’. And this is a fact. They ask for this. This means ‘we are not into organizing stuff, and we need you to do the same‘. I think that, if you are organized, you will rarely need to rush to meet a deadline.
With this in mind, we had a work-week made up of six days. Monday through Friday was from 8am to 4pm and Saturday they claimed that it was a ‘half day’ of 5 hours, from 9am to 2pm. A regular shift is 8 hours long, so a half-shift should be 4 hours.
To this day I can’t seem to make them understand this: If they plan on keeping it a 5 hour shift, they should stop calling it a ‘half day’. Anyway, I must focus.

They claimed that working on Saturday was necessary to ‘correct mistakes’.
From Monday to Friday, you were supposed to design the lessons to be recorded. And then, on Saturday you would use the day to ‘improve’ or ‘correct’ the mistakes that you had had. I might read a little strange here, but, why would I need time to correct something that I have already finished? I mean, yes, nobody is perfect. Anyone can definitely improve their own work. But the idea was not to improve, it was to fix up stuff.
Larry stated that ‘during the week, you might not get time to do things right, so that is what Saturday is for’.

This never made any sense to me. And, frankly, almost everyone, I mean…well…9 out of 10 people didn’t actually DO any work on Saturday because they were too tired from the week. Or they simply didn’t want to be there. They felt it was a waste of time. They could easily do the work in a 5 day-period, with good quality.
On Saturdays we came in at 9 o’clock. Most people had breakfast delivered and took an hour to eat-including Larry. We could have easily left work at 1 pm if we avoided that eating-period or had breakfast at home. Or, we could have arrived at 8 o´clock and leave at 12 o’clock. THEN it would be a half-day.

But why do I concern myself with this? Because I feel that a company is a living, breathing organism. If people are happy and well rested, they produce more and tend to have a more positive attitude. And this was producing the exact opposite.
On Saturday, people married and with children (about half of the employees at the time) got home at around 3 o’clock, had lunch and it was already dark. The only day that we really had available to rest, do house-work, visit relatives and have some family time, was Sunday.
And by the time you were done with laundry or washing the car or whatever, and wanted a break, it was already Monday again. So a lot of teachers showed up on Monday exhausted. Might I add that some studies show that mental distress consumes your energy much more that physical stress. And it has always been about intelectual work here.

At one time I approached Mr.Gestures and told him flat-out, that Saturdays was a wasted day. Nobody did actual work that day or they simply weren’t fans of using up an extra day that was practically unnecessary. I even told him that he would save the electricity of 3 large offices (6 to 12 people) and their respective air-conditioners. For your information, we worked inside a remodeled large factory building made of block and steel, which got considerably hot during the summer months (40 to 48 degrees Celsius). So the electricity bill during the summer was quite high.
The extra day off would help employees to arrive well-rested on Monday and, in consequence, they would be more productive. Not to mention the reduction of the electricity bill.

He simply said that people were way too lazy and we shouldn’t give them extra time to slack-off. And that the difference in the electricity bill wasn’t something he was worried about. He claimed that he had worked his entire life, from dusk to dawn and it was how we should get used to work, so why should we do it differently?
As a result, Saturdays remained as part of the work schedule.

So, everyone kept taking their breakfast to work and they took their hour eating. Sometimes even more. Most of the time, they barely did any work and all of the employees just sat, surfed the internet and stared at the watch every couple of hours. There wasn’t much to do. Some people used Saturday to recuperate the time they slacked off during the week. It wasn’t indispensable, that was for sure.

evolution-3245
Evolution? Umm…..no, thanks.

In short, here is the lesson:
Put yourself in the shoes of your employees. If you have worked your entire life in a certain way and you enjoy it, don’t think that everyone else thinks the same or is willing to live life just as you have. Just because you like vanilla ice cream, doesn’t mean that everyone is going to like it. And you shouldn’t try to force them to like it either.
Also, change is inevitable. Years ago we had telephones, then pagers, then cell phones, now it’s smart phones and tablets. Every moment that passes by technology is getting closer to those science-fiction realities that we once saw in the movies. And things that took us months or weeks, can now get done in days or hours.
If your employees are well rested, if they have time to spend with their families, if you let them have a personal life or a social life, they will show up on Mondays-and every day-with a better attitude, more tranquil, healthier, happier and more focused on their daily tasks. In return, you will get better production results and a better working environment.

Next:  Smooth flight-organization is key.