Cabin biscuit is a popular biscuit (not cookie and yes there is a difference) found in Nigeria. Truth be told, I don’t know if its anywhere else in West Africa (or the world for that matter) but I’d presume that it is.
As a child, it was the highlight of every birthday party I can remember attending. If cabin biscuit wasn’t offered, well, it wasn’t a birthday party. When I went to visit friends, it was the “kola” along with groundnut (peanuts) and mineral (soda/pop) that was offered. My parents would buy a pack every so often and then put the biscuit in a large empty powdered milk tin. (I don’t believe they were alone in this practice).
I have to confess that occasionally (or quite often as the case would be), I would sneak into their room and take a biscuit or two or three because they tasted so good to me. Somehow, I convinced myself that (a) it wasn’t stealing and (b) they didn’t know. Reflecting on this years later, I was probably wrong on both counts.
Here is the thing though, cabin biscuit taste terrible! It really does. It’s a low cost, dry, cardboard box tasting biscuit. The biscuit that led me to covert raids from parent’s bedroom was actually a bottom-of-the-barrel biscuit. But how could I have known this? It was the only biscuit I knew.
I really don’t remember when my moment of enlightenment came. It was probably some point in secondary school (post elementary) that I realized how terrible cabin biscuit actually was. But I do know that it came after being exposed to better biscuits. Once I discovered that there were much tastier (albeit more expensive) options, I gave up cabin biscuit. It was no longer my biscuit of choice. It was relegated to the bench. In fact, I became insulted whenever it was offered to me. No more raids, no more anticipation, no more anything. I had come to know and desire different.
I’ve seen my professional career traverse a similar arc. For many years, all I cared about was being the best and being in control. I developed in the classic hierarchical organizations where power was associated with your title. Many of the discussions I had with co-workers revolved were centered on how to climb the corporate ladder. The better one performed, the quicker one’s title changed and when one’s title changed, the more muscle one could flex. Generally, the more muscle-flexing capability one had, the more compensation one received. I had figured out corporate America and what my work experience needed to be like. I had discovered the cabin biscuit way – the low quality approach to knowledge work but I didn’t know it. I thought I was indulging in a high quality biscuit.
Three years ago, as a result of a cabin biscuit career change, I found myself in a difficult (severely understated) environment. The entire IT team had turned over and hostility/tension between the Operations and IT department was worse than unhealthy, it was borderline deadly. I thought that acquiring more power would put me in a position to change things. I quickly realized that this wasn’t the case and deep frustration set in. It was at this point, that I stumbled on the work of W Edwards Deming and the System of Profound Knowledge.
This led to discovery and reading the works of others such as Ackoff and Drucker. I suddenly realized that the cabin biscuit way was tasteless, cheap and no longer satisfying. There were actually more rewarding ways of approaching work and society. I discovered alternatives that have led me (in no particular order and not limited) to:
- Desire to experience true fellowship with co-workers.
- Desire to establish meaningful connections
- Focus on trying to understand the needs of others
- Empathize with others as they face challenges on the job
- Choose collaboration over control
- Take a deep interest in psychology
- Place people at the certain of knowledge work
To be fair, I had always experienced the above in bits and pieces throughout my career. The difference now is that my career is all about creating and living these experiences.
We don’t have to settle for the cabin biscuit way of interacting with one another. There are better and more fulfilling ways. Maybe the cabin biscuit way is all you know? I then challenge you to try something else. I have a feeling you’ll be glad you did.