on cogs and levers (strength in diversity)

A dear friend of mine was a linesman with a national telco for 17 years. He drove all around Australia pulling copper. He’s got some great stories, has fond memories of his retirement send-off, and is immensely proud of his tenure and the work he did there.

For me, 17 years of that job would be a fate almost worse than death… But that doesn’t make me better than him.

My first job was a check-out operator at a supermarket. I went back there the other day, and my supervisor from back when I was 15 years old is still there supervising, nearly 20 years on.

The idea of another 20 years in that place makes me feel ill… But that doesn’t make me better than her.

“…according to the proper working of each individual part”

I found myself feeling this weird holier-than-thou pity for my old supermarket supervisor, and a sort of a condescending bemusement for my linesman friend… Until I caught it, and realized it was actually quite ugly.

 There are two types of people: Cogs, and levers. Cogs fit tightly into place and rotate, like linesman and supervisors. Levers change the state of things, like entrepreneurs. 

Is wanting to build a company more ambitious than wanting to be a phenomenal employee that stays loyal to a company? Is one superior to the other? I’d argue no — They are just different forms of ambition coming from people with fundamentally different wiring.

The typical goal for a lever is to increase the scope of the state there are responsible for changing. The typical goal for a cog is to become a bigger cog. Both have well worn paths, so again: Does either have claim the high ground to look down on the other?

Here’s the thing: Without cogs, all a lever achieves is to flap back and forth and make clicking sounds. Without a lever, a cog will always spin in the same direction and one day become irrelevant and replaceable.

Bottom line: Get on with what you’re good at!