…repetition –luxury or necessity?

Somehow, it had become easy for me to look down on repetition. Visiting manufacturing plants or observing jobs that are not so high in the prestige scale made it hard for me to appreciate the importance of repetition in developing expertise. In classrooms, workshops, and offices, work that is complex, wide-ranging and varied tends to be associated with higher levels of cognitive complexity, education, pay, status, and so on. Rarely do we have a chance in organizations to appreciate the importance of repetition. Sometimes, we might even think it is a luxury we cannot afford!

Remember your coursework that included quality management? Or, if you haven’t yet taken Operations Management or a related course, you will soon read that “re-doing things is waste”! Even the dictionary tells us that “repetitive” is a synonym of “boring, dull, monotonous, tedious, tiresome, and uninteresting.” Not exactly what we would consider graduate level work, right? At least not in the School of Business…

But that is perhaps a major difference between a graduate program in Business and another in, say, Fine Arts or Health Sciences, where students have to practice, practice, practice, before they are allowed to pass from the basic to the advanced stages, much less graduate.

A Lesson from my Children

For the past four or so years, I have been taking my children to music classes (not at the graduate, but basic level) and to martial arts classes. I guess I had forgotten how I learned to play the guitar, and all the time I spent in front of the piano...

Well, before my body’s catabolism clearly beats its anabolism (i.e., before I get much older!), I decided it was time to join them at the gym (actually, dojang, is the Korean word for it). After about fifteen weeks of repeating specific sets of movements –or “forms”—I hope to get my first promotion and receive my first colored belt in a week or two.

In addition, I have been realizing how my children’s musical abilities have improved by virtue of reiteration. I do not even want to remember how the violin sounded whey they were starting “twinkle, twinkle, little star…,” but now it is hard to be humble when they play some classical selections, in arrangements suitable for their age! This has made me wonder… When do managers have chances to get better at work, if most managerial work is not repetitive? Moreover, how difficult it is to appreciate the necessity to do many times the same thing before we can truly master it! Is repetition at work truly a luxury, or is it a necessity?

Well, Parts of Managerial Work Are Repetitive...

Before I start receiving a flurry of email or comments on my facebook profile for ignoring how some managerial work actually involves reiteration, I should include an example or two. Some HR managers have to interview dozens –if not hundreds—of candidates before their companies’ line managers interview or consider those applicants in the hiring process. Also, it is true that MBAs with Accounting or Finance specializations include generating relatively similar reports every quarter, end-of-year, or other term. In Marketing, some colleagues go through well-established seasons of heavy advertising, promotions, distribution, etc. every year. Clearly, going over such cycles every so often, gives them an opportunity to learn and execute their jobs in an increasingly effective fashion. Perhaps your work includes some of this?

In Higher Education, we also run through well-defined periods of time (a.k.a. semesters, quarters, terms, etc.) that require repetition and afford learning opportunities, not just for students, but also for instructors, administrators, etc. Of course, there is the need to renew and update courses and procedures every semester, but individuals that do it too often, end up never consolidating their work in a manner that truly benefits their students or other clients.

What do you think? Do you feel that your work gives you enough repetition so that you can get better at it? Perhaps your work is one in which reiteration is actually a luxury that you cannot afford. Would you mind sharing your thoughts on this matter? You can send me your comments or reflections via email to drolivaslujan_at_gmail.com or by posting a comment on my facebook profile (I am also test-driving twitter -@drolivas is my username). I look forward to hearing from you.

¡Hasta la próxima!