At the age of 33, Maria was dying.
Maria’s mortality stemmed from her job. With each passing day she sat at her cubicle, Maria felt a small piece of herself dying. Maria was a button sewer at a coat factory. She was dying for innovation at the coat factory where she worked.
In a typical day, Maria was responsible for sewing 1,230 buttons on coats. Over the last 6 years, Maria guessed that she stitched on 276,750 buttons. Her job description was to sew buttons. She sat in a row, with dozens of others, working on her specific task.
Maria never thought it’d be like this.
By her mid 20s, Maria graduated from the school of fashion design with passion and fire to create wearable works of art. Just before Maria finished school, a new startup-clothing manufacturer rocketed to fashion fame with their innovative Thnead coats. Excited to make her mark, she took an entry-level job at the factory where she still works today. Maria was thrilled to work on the edge of fashion.
At first, Maria’s work excited her. She found button sewing quite challenging. The company’s hot new product was innovative. The environment at her workplace was electric. The business was growing and Maria knew that being a button sewer was a stepping-stone to something greater.
Over time, Maria grew skilled at sewing buttons on the Tnead coats. She and her colleagues would create competitions with one another to see who could sew the most buttons with their eyes closed. She was becoming an expert. Her colleagues looked up to her and she hoped her high performance would be rewarded with a promotion.
Day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year Maria sat in her cubicle sewing buttons. Unfortunately, Maria’s promotion never materialized. She saw the company growth slow. Retail prices get discounted. Costs get cut. Career openings freeze. The electricity in the building flickered more often than buzzed. Without an opening to move up into there was no where for Maria to grow. She felt more like a cog in a machine than a valuable employee.
With her eyes closed, Maria’s mind would wander. She imagined better ways of stitching buttons. She imagined combining new styles of buttons. Maria thought of new styles of Thnead coats. In the evenings at home, Maria would design new styles and bring them into the office to show her colleagues at breaks. She would research online for hours and had begun to build an audience for her ideas on a couple social networks. She sourced new materials and found creative potential partners. She reported all of it back to her boss. For a time Maria’s passion kept her boss entertained.
Over months and years Maria’s boss found her “big ideas” disruptive. There was simply no room for them in the existing structure. There was no way to manage ideas other than to shut them down. “Don’t worry, new ideas come from the research and development department. Just do your job,” he would say. Design was someone else’s responsibility. Sewing buttons was hers.
Meanwhile, the company’s advertising continued to make public claims about their leading fashion. The Thnead coat had made the company disruptors of their industry. A badge the company proudly wore in public.
Inside the company, those ads became a running joke to employees. It had been years since either front line employees or experts accused the company of being innovative. There were no new Thneads, fabrics, or buttons in the pipeline. Despite promises from management about new expansion, the revenue for products that didn’t exist three years earlier was zero.
Maria didn’t want to leave her company. She enjoyed her colleagues. She believed in the potential for the company to change fashion once again. And in spite of her boss’s advice, Maria and several colleagues met regularly to share ideas about what could be. Unfortunately, there was nowhere for Maria and her colleagues to take their ideas. There was no outlet to test them. There was no room in the corporate structure to grow.
Maria grew more miserable each day. Without new challenges, she grew bored and apathetic. Each day was a struggle to get out of bed. Maria felt like she was dying.
What should Maria do?
If you were a manager, how might you handle this problem?
What do you think about Maria building her own brand on social networks?
I’d love to hear your opinion! Please leave a comment below.