BlogWhat Can We Learn from Sisyphus and His Task?

What Can We Learn from Sisyphus and His Task?

By Gary Stokes
May 30th, 2022

Greek myth is rich with tales of how things came to be, and out of these tales come myriad lessons for humankind. Lessons usually illustrate consequences of actions taken or not taken. The story of Sisyphus is one of the better-known demonstrations of consequences for actions taken, in his case for cheating death twice and in general for being a crafty trickster. For this crime, Zeus punished Sisyphus by condemning him to roll a giant stone to the top of a steep hill, only to have the stone escape him near the top and roll all the way back down, every time. This is to go on for eternity, meaning that Sisyphus is rolling that stone as we speak.

Many have attempted to interpret the message and describe the lesson to take from this part of Greek myth. We don’t have space here to share much about these interpretations, but some have focused on the task and its lack of meaning as the most frustrating part.

All of us can probably find ways to compare parts of our lives to Sisyphus’ job. This is especially true when it comes to the repetition of the same mistakes over and over again. Like Sisyphus, we take the necessary steps to correct the mistakes, only to repeat them or see them repeated, and back we go to the bottom of the hill. If it happens frequently enough, the mistakes begin to appear inevitable, which in turn robs the work leading to the mistakes of any meaning at all.

Pendant leadership has been working feverishly on standards and processes. We have been investing heavily in creating training videos, documents, and live training sessions describing and instilling the Pendant Way of executing automation projects for our clients. We are inviting participation from our entire team. And although the purpose of this may seem obvious – the prevention of mistakes in execution and ultimately very happy clients – we’ve stumbled a bit in imparting meaning to the task of creating the training. Some interpreted the drive to standardize as an attempt to minimize their creativity, and others as a sign of a lack of faith in their ability to execute properly. Others couldn’t fathom why they should be interested.

In some ways, to avoid Sisyphus’ fate we made the drive to standardize seem positively Sisyphean itself. But we’ve learned some valuable lessons just from pushing that stone up the hill – the importance of describing the “why” of it, the value of getting full participation in the creation of the systems and standards, the urgency of verifying that your  team members are “getting it”.  It all leads to refinements of our training system that  add a lot of meaning to the work and make it more likely that one day that stone is going to stay on top of the hill.

Keep watching. We’ll be the team waving at Sisyphus from the top of the hill.