Are You Encouraging the Right Behaviors?

Jake Wilder
4 min readJan 26, 2022

And Some Useless Harry Potter Trivia

In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, what babysitter broke her leg, causing the Dursley’s to take Harry to the zoo?

That was a question on my son’s reading test.

He got it wrong. He had no idea who broke their leg in the opening chapter. It was a piece of trivia that had no significance to the rest of the book. And yet, he was supposed to know that.

It’s Mrs. Figg by the way. A name that has no real significance until the fifth book.

It’s nice to see that the school’s offering Harry Potter as a reading option. I’d rather have kids read whatever grabs their interest than force everyone into the same standard curriculum. The goal is for kids to enjoy reading and that’s largely predicated on having them read something they’ll enjoy.

But this all falls apart with test questions that focus on trivia.

If the focus is on memorizing irrelevant facts, reading becomes less about experiencing good books and more as a means to an end. Which means that when the tests end, so will the reading.

I could go on for a while about the meaninglessness of reading to pass a test when you’ll never need to do that again in your life. But this isn’t meant to be an indictment of our school system. It’s to emphasize that people — kids and adults — are very good at adapting their behavior to meet expectations. As leaders and teachers, it’s our responsibility to recognize the consequences of what we choose to prioritize.

When I first became a manager, we were under significant schedule pressure to deliver new products. So I focused my attention on improving schedule. I asked questions about manufacturing spans. I prioritized speed-to-market. I rewarded schedule improvements and came down on people for schedule delays.

People recognized the priority and made it their own. They implemented new ways to cut span and came to their one-on-ones with more ideas. Our schedules improved. We were moving products faster than ever before.

Good management, right? Wrong. I stopped asking about quality. I showed people that my only real interest was schedule. It wasn’t long before they started taking…

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Jake Wilder

I don’t know where I’m going. But at least I know how to get there.