Looking for the right soldiers


Actual story this past week.

A manager was reviewing some interns’ resumes. One of them caught his eye. The intern had included among his highlights, achievement of commendable operational readiness (2A) in his army battalion’s proficiency test.

As a background, all young men in Singapore are conscripted at 18 years of age. Many are posted to an army battalion where they go through 2 years of training. This includes a proficiency test that the battalion goes through as an evaluation of its operational readiness.

The manager found it funny how the intern thought it was worth including the achievement. It’s not that the score of 2A was a bad one – 2A is a pretty good score. It’s that the intern wasn’t in any senior position like the operations head, or an officer. He was not even a sergeant. He was just a rank-and-file rifleman.

When I first heard the story, something felt odd, although I couldn’t put my finger on it. Was it the way in which the manager had laughed off the intern’s perceived embellishment or doubted the intern’s motives? I couldn’t quite tell. Maybe the manager didn’t even mean it.

And then it struck me: What if this is a ‘bricklayer’ who sees the bigger mission?

For those who are not familiar with the bricklayer story, this is how it goes:

“A man came across four bricklayers busy at work.

He asked the first bricklayer, “What are you doing?”

The bricklayer said, “I am laying bricks.”

The man asked the 2nd bricklayer the same question.

The second bricklayer said, “I am making a wall”.

The man went over to the 3rd bricklayer and asked the same question. 

The third bricklayer said, “I am building a great cathedral.””


The bricklayer story is quite well known. In organizations, we tell it to inspire and challenge people to look beyond their routine or mundane work, to see themselves as part of a larger effort, and the mission.

We believe in it, and we tell the story time and again.

Yet, when such a bricklayer comes along, we fail to spot him!

How often do our mental models about people and the world influence the way we see things? We believe and say one thing, yet subconsciously we may send conflicting messages or signals.

Sometimes, we try so hard looking for something, yet we may not recognize it when it is right in front of us!

Photo Credits:

Andrew Becraft via photopin cc


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