Judge David Langham wrote an excellent article two weeks ago, entitled “My Workers’ Comp Accident”. It was a description of his one and only personal experience with workers’ comp – at least as an injured worker. He drove a truck through a house (it is a must read). His greater message, however, was that the real-life experience and perspectives of all people can positively contribute to the workers’ compensation industry; we don’t all need to be academics, theoreticians and certified specialists to have a useful voice in our industry. He is spot on with this assessment. There is, in some corners of workers’ comp, a myopic and crippling prejudice that discounts views of those who haven’t had the same experience, education or certifications as the vaunted opinion holder. I touched on this very theme several weeks back, when I wrote about a young lady who challenged me under the guise of this same concept.

Unlike the good judge, I’ve never filed a workers’ compensation claim. I’ve never managed one, either. Nor do I have a rash of initials behind my name, signifying extensive training in some component of comp. Yet here I am, running a company solely focused on workers’ comp, and opining on a regular basis about many elements of the industry. While my earlier life experience was not focused simply on workers’ comp, I crossed paths with the industry many, many times.

In fact, my very first recollection of awareness of this industry goes back to when I was just 11 years old.

When I was 10, my father abandoned a successful career as an electrical engineer in New Jersey. My parents cashed in their retirement, sold the house, and risked everything they owned buying a motel, restaurant and lounge in Durango, Colorado. It was 1971, the Silver Spur Restaurant and Motel awaited us, and we moved west. To say life changed for us that year would be a major understatement. That summer I went to work, earning my first paycheck as a busboy.

There was a man that worked for my parents we will call Johnny. He had been working there when they bought the place. Johnny was a cook, or more accurately, a kitchen assistant. Today we would describe him as developmentally challenged; in the vernacular of the time he was described as mildly retarded. He was a good employee, and very conscientious about his job.

One day Johnny had an accident at work. He dropped a stack of dishes, and in a panic, tried to scoop the broken shards up with his bare hands. He cut both hands badly and severed an artery in his wrist. He had to be rushed to the hospital.

I remember my father telling me that we had something called workman’s compensation, and that it would take care of Johnny and pay the medical bills associated with his injury. That is exactly what they did. Johnny was back at work on limited duty after a short absence, and he continued to work for my parents for several more years.

That was my very first awareness of an industry that would, unbeknownst to me, consume much of my adult life in later years.

Heavily involved in the family business, I would see other work-related injuries over those years. After college, my first professional foray was in restaurant management. I eventually worked as a District Manager for a multi-concept restaurant company, overseeing 38 managers and 350 hourly employees.

If you don’t think that I dealt with workers’ compensation concerns in that capacity, you are severely misinformed.

Eventually I shifted into a technical industry, as a Human Resources rep for a multinational software developer. And almost 18 years ago, fate landed me in my current position, serving a wide arc of individuals and companies in the workers’ compensation sector.

I’ve written ad nauseam regarding my experiences at WorkersCompensation.com. There is no need to recap it here. While I came into workers’ comp with a definitive perspective from the employer’s side, the last couple decades have represented an interesting learning experience for me. Like so many others in the industry, my background and life’s education is unique. We really are a melting pot of experience.

We should take advantage of that.

There are some people in this industry who automatically discount or dismiss any notions that either did not originate with them, or from someone whose experience is not in direct lockstep with their own. They simply are unable, or unwilling, to comprehend the concept that different life experiences can improve the mix of ideas that form the culture of an industry. These people are often long on criticism and short on useful input. It is a huge mistake, and stymies our opportunity to develop a better result for all.

My life experience may not necessarily make me right, but it doesn’t automatically exclude me from the debate. The ignorance of those who robotically reject and belittle others simply because they did not walk in the same shoes is palpable in segments of the industry.

While the seeds of this article were gestating last week, by sheer coincidence Joe Paduda created a post that fit perfectly with this theme. His article, called “The Ignorance of Arrogance”, perfectly encapsulates the message that Judge Langham, I and others are trying to convey.

Paduda recounts three comments he has heard in the past that reflect exactly the sentiment I have been discussing. They are:

“If we didn’t come up with the idea, it isn’t worth considering.”

“That can’t be a good idea, we didn’t think of it.”

“Why would we listen to anyone from outside our company; we’re the biggest/best/most experienced/industry leader.”

He correctly summarizes by saying, “Sitting comfortably in leather chairs behind their nice desks, the men who made these statements were completely secure in their belief that their company, their way of doing things, their mindset and culture were completely infallible. How wrong they were.”

Paduda’s point is a more urgent call to recognize the shifting sands beneath our feet, but it follows the same line of thought we present here. No one individual has all the answers; yet every individual’s experience can lend to improved solutions.

Forty-five years have passed since I first became aware of workers’ compensation, and what its important purpose is. That lesson I learned in Durango all those years ago was but the first of many to come. Johnny was injured, and there was a system in place to take care of him. If we all are willing to listen to one another; if we can leverage the experience and ideas from a broader view, we can make sure the system is relevant for the Johnny’s of the future, in Durango and across the nation.

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