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Saturday, August 23, 2014

Talk is Cheap

"An ounce of action is worth a ton of theory."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

This one isn't strictly zoo-related, but it describes a pet-peeve I've been dealing with a lot at work lately, and one which is seen pretty commonly in every work environment, not to mention personal lives.

Among my many major personality problems, the one that frequently causes me the most trouble is this:

My mouth is three or four times faster than my brain.  And once it gets going, there's no stopping it.

As a result, at the end of every staff meeting at work, I have to sit down in a quiet, isolated place and remind myself: what did I just tell everyone at work that I was going to do?  Usually, the end result is a long list.

There are lots of idea people out there.  People who can go to work and see what needs to be done, or what should be done, or what could be done, to make their facility better.  I generally think of myself as one of these - when I walk around the zoo, I'm forming a constantly-growing project list at the back of my mind.  The problem is it tends to stay there.  Idea people are a dime a dozen.  What really matters is actually doing what you tell yourself needs to get done.

The challenge that I've come up with lately has been making the transition from a thinker to thinker AND doer (there are plenty of "doers" out there in the sense that they come in to work, do what they are supposed to and nothing more, and lack all capacity for creative thought).  Making paper lists helps; it helps me keep track of what I'm promising, and keeps me from adding additional things to the list until I've started knocking some of the older items off the list.

Getting stuff done is good for the animals - everyone knows that training, enrichment, improvements to exhibits, etc, are all important to the well-being of animals.  Knowing that doesn't do any good.  It actually needs to be done for it to make a difference.  It also is good for your career.  It differentiates the people who just talk a good game from the people who will follow through and make good on it.

I recently met a curator from another zoo who told me that whenever one of his keepers came to him wanting something - a new piece of equipment, a fancy enrichment item, permission to engage in a new training program, tuition to a class, whatever - he would always say "yes"... the first time.  If, six months later, that fancy new equipment or enrichment item was still in the box it was shipped in, or the manual from that professional development class is collecting dust on a shelf somewhere, with no new ideas to show for it, that was it.  No new toys for Christmas this year until you showed that you played with the ones from last year.

So far, I'm making some progress on my challenge.  Some projects are getting knocked out.  Some exhibit improvements have been made, some new enrichment items added to the routine.  I've even started another training project.  But it's easy to rest on laurels and slide back into just daydreaming, so the next time I hear myself spout off about the latest new idea, I'm going to have to keep reminding myself...

Talk is cheap... SHOW me something...

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