By Cindy Campbell
Ah, California. How I love you. The brilliant ocean sunsets, the majestic red­wood forest, the colorful fields filled with poppies swaying in the gentle af­ternoon breeze. I could tell you great things—and there are many—about my lifelong love affair with the Golden State, but if I’m honest, there is one minor thing that I cannot grow to appreciate: freeway traffic (OK, not so minor).
It accounts for much of our daily frustration and is the topic of many casual conver­sations. Even NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” ran a recurring parody titled “The Califor­nians.” One of the common themes portrayed California drivers as obsessed with beat­ing freeway traffic by using side streets as shortcuts. NBC wasn’t entirely wrong with this depic­tion. On many occasions, I have been that Californian in search of the ultimate freeway shortcut.
That’s a long introduction to get to my cautionary advice: Beware of the shortcut.
Led Astray
Heading home from Southern California after a recent work trip, the automated female voice came from the mapping program on my mobile phone (let’s call her “Suri” to protect the inno­cent). Suri’s upbeat voice tells me that I can save 10 minutes by taking an al­ternate route. While I’m unfamiliar with the suggested path, saving a little time sure sounds good. Roughly 10 minutes into the new route, Suri offers me yet another time-saving alternative. Excit­ed about saving even more time, I opt in to the second suggested shortcut. I was feeling a little giddy about all of the “extra time” I was racking up because, after all, shortcuts rock. You know, until they don’t.
Thirty minutes into this awesome time-saving route, I found myself negoti­ating twists and turns, traversing a very steep, narrow, undivided, mountain road. I was too far in to turn back, and even if I could, there wasn’t enough room to pull over, much less turn the car around. For the next hour, only two motorcyclists passed me going the opposite direction. As I reached flatter terrain at the base of the mountain, the back road turned in to a thoroughfare for slow tractors. I made my way through a small farming com­munity and back onto a rural highway. For five glorious minutes, it was smooth sailing, until the loud thump from hitting unavoidable road debris and the result­ing flat tire. I will spare you the addition­al details of my driving adventure that day, but I will say that what was original­ly anticipated to be a dull four-hour drive turned into a very expensive eight-hour ordeal. So much for shortcuts.
Off Road
Have you ever cut corners to save your­self a little time at work? Perhaps you’ve been enticed by the promise of an easier path when faced with a tedious task. Do you take shortcuts as a quick fix to an issue or in the interest of expe­diency? When we take the time to thoughtfully consider how to streamline or improve a process, we increase the likelihood of enhancement without sacrificing quality. While shortcuts frequent­ly save us time, they often cost us more in the long run. It may cost us in extra time spent or addition­al money when we’re forced to backtrack and correct a new set of prob­lems created by the shortcut. Skipping the step of due diligence can be costly. The initial temptation of an easier path may cause us to sacrifice quality. We ultimately give up more than we gain.
As professionals, our reputations are affected, positively or negatively, by the choices we make. When someone consis­tently takes shortcuts in his or her work, chances are good that the quality of the work product suffers and in turn nega­tively affects the person’s reputation.
As I sat that afternoon at the auto repair shop, I had plenty of time to re­flect on the poor choices I’d made about shortcuts that day. (I’m also carrying some deep resentment toward Suri.)
CINDY CAMPBELL is IPMI’s senior training and development specialist. She is available for onsite training and professional development and can be reached at