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Any Jackass Can Kick Down a Barn

We’re flush with new college grads this month. This crop has graduated into a rare economy – one in which employers are challenged by the dearth of candidates to fill the jobs they’re offering. Contrast that to ten years ago when even those with advanced degrees from top schools were kicked to the curb.

If faced with a plethora of opportunities, it would pay for grads to check with their friends who majored in physics before making a decision about where to go. Undoubtedly they would know about the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which states that in an isolated system (one that is not taking in energy), entropy never decreases.

Of course, they would be thinking of physical systems from the planets to power plants. But, there is a translation into our everyday lives and the jobs we choose as well. We acknowledge that translation of the Second Law colloquially with sayings like “shit happens,” “rust never sleeps” and “ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

In a more complex way, the law can be applied to social systems and our mental state. We fight to overcome entropy in ourselves. Laziness – or hanging out – may be our natural state. Instead, we cultivate a sense of purpose and put energy into efforts we deem worthy when we endeavor to create families, communities and the wealth to support them.

It’s important for grads to consider these factors when deciding into which company they should put forth their best energies. What should they look for to find a job with a company that refuses to let entropy destroy itself from within?

Writing in, Sally Blount, dean of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, sums it up this way.

Right mission You need to pick an organization with a mission you believe in, or one with a salary or developmental opportunity that’s significant enough to motivate you all by itself.

Right job Even when the mission is right, if you’re in the wrong job, it’s hard to stay focused. So look for roles that match your talents and capabilities—roles where you can thrive and contribute who you really are (not the image you wish others had of you, but your true self).

Right boss Whether produced by the Society of Human Resource Managers, Gallup, or McKinsey, the research consistently finds that if your boss doesn’t trust or respect you, you won’t be satisfied or stay engaged at work. So be sure your immediate supervisor is someone you respect and want to work for—and vice versa.

Right team When you’re working hard, it matters who’s standing beside you. That’s another major determinant of motivation and engagement—how well you synch with your co-workers. So look for strong teammates—people you can learn from and who will challenge you to perform at your best. That doesn’t mean you have to hang out with your teammates on weekends. It’s about working with people whose integrity, work commitment, and performance match yours.

These attributes require that each member of the team – from the CEO to the front lines – invest energy to maintain forward momentum. Remember, the second law only applies to “isolated systems,” those that are not taking in energy.  It’s really easy for successful companies to become complacent and fail to maintain momentum. One should look for those that will use your energy for a productive purpose.

The title of this post comes from Sam Rayburn, the late leader of the U.S. Senate. His expression of how to apply one’s energy is reflected in the whole quote, which goes like this, “Any jackass can kick down a barn; but it takes a carpenter to build one.”

So, don’t be a jackass. Be a carpenter.

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