This morning, on the train heading into New York City, I watched a woman put on her makeup.

She had the application down to an art: reaching into the cosmetic bag on her lap to find the next product; holding up her mirror with one hand and her makeup applicator with the other; and occasionally putting down both to sip from the travel mug gripped between her knees, or interrupting her process to text and take calls, always easily returning to “putting on her face.”

It was an amazing demonstration of skills that suited a unique set of conditions and requirements — but it was definitely not for everyone. Certainly not for me. I can read on the train, and write a little, but even if I were willing to bring what I think of as private activities into the public sphere, and to tote the supplies and tools, my attempt at this performance would be a fiasco: I’d probably drip the foundation, make a mess of the shadow, and poke myself in the eye with the mascara wand!

By the time we pulled into Penn Station, though, the woman looked fabulous. Not just done up, but fully ready to take on the day.

One Person’s Skill Is Another’s Disruption

She reminded me that sometimes you have to get out of the way of how people execute their responsibilities. What works or doesn’t work for you may be the complete opposite to someone else, so it’s important to evaluate the results before you decry the procedure.

Assess whether the unusual methodology causes any incremental damage, waste, or disruption of other workers — but do so without focusing too much on whether it’s a methodology you would personally choose, or even feel comfortable about.

Then, even if you’ve seen no inherently negative consequences, you can express your opinion in a non-attacking way:

“I’m concerned that this could be a problem for many people who don’t have your skill or who aren’t careful enough, and it could be unpleasant for the others around them. I know I couldn’t handle it; I’d make a mess all around me and end up looking like a fright — but I can see that it works for you.”

Skill, Set, Match

The standard, “organized” way may not be the only way, or even the best way, to do things. So it makes sense to look for skill wherever you can find it. Have you ever watched the aerobics of a gifted traffic cop? Or the balletics of a talented short-order cook? Or the antics of certain showboating bartenders?

If you consider the entire range of potentially successful performance, you’ll find that it’s the outliers — the rule-benders and risk-takers — who sometimes trigger the most creative, innovative ideas whether the conditions are run-of-the-mill or out-of-the-ordinary.