Something Done Right

Today, a new entry in the series of “Johnny dispels a folksy truism.” Today’s entry: “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.”

Nonsense. In fact, pretty much the opposite is true. The whole foundation of that saying is that you should hoard knowledge, eschew delegation, and never teach others. That’s not only a terrible way to “get things done right,” it would be wildly inefficient in the long run even if it wasn’t.

I have three young kids, and any time they see me doing absolutely anything, they want to help. One of my firm parenting policies is that I say “yes” to requests to help as often as humanly possible. Now, allowing your kids to help you with a routine household task adds, conservatively, 6 hours to that task. And often there isn’t actually something they can do to help, but I always find something anyway. There’s always something you can hold, or stir, or fetch, or something like that. And I want to encourage my kids not only to engage and spend time with me and not be pushed away, but also to feel like “being able to contribute” is their default state in life. So I try to never shoo them away.

But there’s a big, big side benefit to this. What starts out as inventing busywork so you can spend time with your kids rapidly turns into real competence. Yesterday, my eight-year-old daughter chased me out of the kitchen and told me to “mind the kids” (meaning her two younger siblings) so that she could prepare dinner. She whipped up spaghetti and gravy, and I’m not ashamed to say it – it was better than mine.

Look, I’m a New Jersey Italian. I can rock some spaghetti and gravy, but hers was better. She’d seen everything I do when I make it, absorbed it like a sponge while she was “just” mixing or fetching or whatever I’d have her do, and then adapted her own recipe. Because I never chased her away, she wasn’t afraid to experiment. She never thought of herself as too young to do what the grown-ups did.

The best way to get something done better than it ever was before is to give all your knowledge to someone who’s only at the start of their journey. You’re always learning, but the amount you learn between day 16,435 and day 16,436 of practicing a task is minuscule compared to the amount your learn between days 28 and 29. People just beginning to learn something have quite a few advantages over the “old dogs.” Inventiveness is one of them – my daughter added an ingredient to her gravy that I have never, in all my years, even considered. It was unconventional, but fantastic, and it came about because of the new ideas that come from sharing the task. (At her request, I am keeping her secret ingredient a secret – you’re on your own!)

Taking the time to teach, share with, learn from, delegate to, and include others in your work can seem frustrating or time-consuming. But unless you want to be stuck doing all the work forever on every task just to have mediocre results, it’s the best way forward.

Now, if I want spaghetti done right – I have someone else do it. I’ll watch the kids.

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