When I was young, my father worked in purchasing for a global manufacturer. Decades later, I still feel the excitement of going to the annual Saturday afternoon family day at the plant. It wasn’t just for the softball and barbecue sandwiches. They’d pull back the curtain on the inner workings of something so huge my ten-year-old brain could barely comprehend it. It was a chance to peer past the color-coded lines on the floor to see raw materials, machinery, products and processes up close. To learn how a pile of very interesting things united and became something altogether different.
Those childhood glimpses of where people worked and what they did were so thrilling to me. They helped me understand not only how my father earned a living, but also how the things of our world come to be. Later, when I had manufacturing clients of my own, I scratched and scribbled throughout the requisite kickoff tour. While others barely mustered interest, my heart raced with the opportunity of being so deep inside an organization. For whatever time I was allotted, I questioned, peered and learned. I wanted to leave with a deep understanding of how every facet of this new place worked and, more important, why it mattered.
Each time I get to know a new client or industry, I feel so lucky. I look with excited, inquisitive eyes no matter what they do. I’m certainly no scientist or engineer. I’ve simply come to realize complexity isn’t scary or boring — it’s a million small opportunities to grow smarter. If I ever find myself feeling a little lost or overwhelmed by pounds of new information to digest, I look down and remember the color-coded lines that zig-zag across a factory floor.
Those lines aren’t just a safety zone; they’re a path. The path can lead you backward to a comfort zone of simple things that are known. Things you can understand by expending little-to-no brainpower. But the path has another other direction. It may feel scary. Unknown. In all that uncomfortable uncertainty lies an expanse of breathtaking possibility.
What’s ahead may seem way-over-your-head complicated. But it really isn’t if you just follow the lines. They will take you to interesting places, if you’re willing to go.