Sunday, October 11, 2020

Be A Problem-Solver, Not A Trouble-Maker

With the sudden surge of COVID-19 cases, universities are rushing back to close their doors.

Fortunately, most of us have been prepared for the worst. We've been bracing ourselves to go full virtual. We've been investing on infrastructure, such as mics and Zoom accounts.

Now, more than ever, we need everyone on the same boat, paddling towards the same horizon. Unfortunately, there are some who still haven't gotten the memo. It's fine if they wish to stay behind and miss the boat. Problem is, they persist on shouting, waving, and basically trying to get everyone else to stop, backtrack and follow their hopeless lead.

Look, if you can't solve our problems, just be quiet and get out of way. Don't be a burden and create more trouble for the rest of us who want to move on with our work.

* * *

Last week, I was elated to know that our university was planning to subscribe some premium Zoom accounts, despite some 'experts' trumpeting the superiority of Microsoft Teams and Google Meet.

Such a move makes sense. There's no one-size-fits-all platform. Different types of learning run better on different types of platforms. It's silly to assume that there's a single killer app that can be fit for all purposes - if that were true, there wouldn't be such a competitive market of 4-5 rival apps. Ultimately, the users know best. The popularity of Zoom is a vote of confidence of its reliability.

So this week, I (user) casually inquired with a technical person (administrator) on the status of the Zoom accounts. Here's how the conversation roughly went:

User: So, how are the Zoom subscription coming along?

Administrator: X is processing the order.

User: Alright, I'll check with X then.

Administrator: By the way, have you tried Teams or Meet?

User: Yes, we have, but they don't really work for us. *turning away*

Administrator: What's missing from Teams and Meet that you need?

User: There's a few things, like the limited number of people appearing on screen.*moving further away*

Administrator: Oh, Meet has this ad-on that allows multiple screens. You should check out...

User: Oh yeah? Cool. Anyway, got to go.

This is not the first time I'm having this conversation. I've already explained about video quality, user experience, and so on. We're already getting Zoom. Why are we even having conversation again? And why should I be 'checking out' alternatives that the consensus have found unfit for our purpose?

Above all, I'm the user. Administrators should be finding out what exactly are our requirements. Ask me how my lessons are done. Better still, offer to sit in through one of my lessons. How can you tell us what tools to use when you don't even know the nature of our work? How can you suggest alternative solutions to a problem that you don't even understand?

* * *

In the end, there was very little 'trouble' caused. But that's only because I didn't bother doing the 'checking out'. I'm busy as hell. I really don't have time fixing something that isn't broken.

This specific incident is but an example of many others, of course (if the example seems rather tame, that's only because the more extreme and dramatic incidents are too controversial to share). I'm not alone in feeling annoyed and let down by these technical 'experts'. When my other colleagues ask them how such alternatives can replicate what the existing platforms are doing, their convenient excuse is: "Oh, I don't have access to your platform, so I don't know how it works". Er... how about you come over to our computer and try out for yourself? Isn't that the entire point of your job - trouble-shooting?

Ultimately, the flaw of these trouble-makers comes down to this: they want us to adopt solutions that don't solve our problem, and worse, create even more new problems. Their refusal to understand our needs is not just a matter of lacking empathy, but avoiding accountability.

Want to add positive value in your organisation? Then solve problems, and not stir troubles. And if you're not doing much to solve a problem, chances are you are part of the problem itself...

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