Now it’s important to remember that when it comes to event planning at the very best I am nothing more than a marginally talented amateur. I’m reasonably good at establishing requirements and subcontracting them out to people who can do that actual work. What I lack in any meaningful way is the patience requisite to answering the same five questions 437 times after providing that information in a read ahead packet that clearly no one bothered to read.
The real problem, though, isn’t necessarily who did or didn’t read what… it’s that although I’m tolerable good at identifying requirements, I really have no actual control over them. In the parlance of my employer, I’m not a “decision maker,” and frankly, as I’ve said loudly and often, I don’t want to be one of those. The most significant “wheels coming off” moments I find at an event of any size aren’t actually a result of poor planning or staff work so much as they’re the result of one of the deciders being visited by the Good Idea Fairy twelve hours or so before the damned thing starts.
The result is that plans are made, flyers are printed, and advertising is done… and the new thing that’s being injected starts looking a lot like an after-thought instead of something that was carefully considered and added because it created value in the week’s proceedings.
But since I’m just a guy sitting here, what the hell do I know?
I had three things all laid out for today. But all three of them combined don’t hold a candle to the one big thing that has been absolutely crazymaking this week… and that’s waiting until the last fucking minute to decide to pay attention to the onrushing train bearing down on you.
It’s not that I have a philosophical problem with needing to do things at the last minutes in and of itself. Sometimes a crisis really is a crisis, something that arrived by surprise and was otherwise unavoidable. However, what we here treat as a crisis is almost always something that we’ve seen coming for months, but have elected to ignore until it shows up on the front stoop like a drunk uncle at Thanksgiving. That is to say that nearly all of the chaos brought on by suddenly engaging at the last minute is completely self inflicted.
If there’s nothing else I’ve learned in my 16+ years here in the heart of the Great American Bureaucracy it’s that no amount of planning I can do that will offset late-in-the-cycle visits from the Executive Good Idea Fairy. No amount of anticipating needs, or prep work, or casting entrails will ever get you ready for things that should have been mentioned three months ago but show up with less than three weeks to go.
With seven days to run before I’m expected to have pulled a rabbit out of my 4th point of contact, I really just have one simple request – one thing in all the world that would make my days more manageable. I know that the Gods on Olympus aren’t actually working against me, but what I need more than anything right now is for them to stop being for me. They need to stop trying to “help” me.
I have officially reached my limit with “help” coming in over the top. While I’m sure it’s good intentioned and (probably) not meant to sabotage a precariously balanced cross-organizational effort, every change order at this point makes every single thing left to do miles more difficult than it needs to me. They’re letting their vision of perfect get in the way of actually getting the job done.
At this point I’m ready to declare anyone who is even momentarily visited by the good idea fairy an insider threat and possibly a domestic terrorist. There’s got to be some kind of watch list I can get these people on, right?
As everyone knows by now, I’m a creature who enjoys habit. I may not quite run like clockwork, but some days it’s damned close. Work, mostly is just another routine. Get up, show up, do the time, and get the hell out. There’s a rhythm to it and even when the level of stupid is unmitigated, at least you know there’s (usual) a fixed end time to the suffering. My approach isn’t quite Zen, but at least it helps stave off the madness most of the time.
The problem today is that after ten days off I’d managed to set myself into a different routine. Sure I was still waking up two hours before the crack of dawn, but it was to do actual productive things like reading, cooking, general home repair, or tending the menagerie. What I wasn’t doing is answering emails that would be unnecessary if people read the whole memo, or going to meetings that could have been emails, or trying to look attentive when someone was talking about the most recent time they were visited by the Good Idea Fairy. I liked this new routine. The fact that I’ll invariably find something to tinker with, or read, or be curious about is one of the reasons I know I won’t go stir crazy in retirement. If I’m honest, nearly everything that interests me occurs naturally outside the scope of the office.
Fortunately I have the capacity to put up as good a front as anyone. I can play the game when it suits me. It exacts a terrible cost, though, in that playing my part and adjusting to this new old routine is absolutely exhausting.
Every organization that pretends to focus on customer service has a suggestion box, or comment cards, or some kind of web survey for the good intentioned or flustered to “make their voice heard” by management. That’s all well and good, because usually at the bottom of the suggestion box is a black hole that devours any kudo or complaint before it has a chance to ever again see the light of day. Sadly, sometimes a well intentioned someone will mistakenly take one of these pearls of wisdom to heart and launch an all-out blitz to review an unsolicited recommendation.
Now usually I can avoid these academic exercises, but recently I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and got tagged with giving one the once over. The truth is, what’s being suggested might actually be a good idea, but I’ll never know because the form was written in a language caught somewhere between incomprehensible gibberish and techno-babble. Instead of writing this off as the rambling of a well-intentioned crank, I’ve got to try to track this whackjob down and pick his brain before we send along a formal thanks, but no thanks letter.
Meh, that’s time well spent.
Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of posts previously available on a now defunct website. They are appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date