Another post in which timely decision-making is discussed…

Letting decisions fester until the last possible moment is rarely a recipe for arriving at a well-considered answer. That may seem somewhat counterintuitive, because having more time to decide should allow someone to make the decision based on more perfect information. In my experience, that’s almost never actually the case. What really happens is that the decision is just put off and no actual thought is put into it until it’s the flaming bag of dog shit blistering the paint on your front porch. Put another way, the default setting is procrastination.

The real problem with waiting isn’t just that you leave a bunch of people sitting around with their thumbs up their asses while the pondering drags on for days or weeks. The problem is that in most cases decisions get delayed until it’s too late to apply any academic rigor and you just end up going off half-informed in whatever direction seems best at the time. Shooting from the hip with a scattergun is probably a fine strategy for defending your home from hopped up delinquents, but it rarely passes muster for decisions that require a little more fineness.

It’s not how I’d do things. In fact it’s precisely the opposite of how I run the 128 hours of my week for which I am the designated decision-maker. For the 40-hours a week wherein I have no decision-making authority whatsoever, though, that’s its own can of worms. The very best I can do is appraise those who do decide on the potential bad things that will result from waiting. After that all that’s left is a shrug and a muffled “told you so.”

Ten plus six…

Before writing tonight’s post I went back and read over the the ones I wrote before. Some of them are pretty good. Some of them are angry. Some are sad. Most are a little bit of both. Honestly I always get a little choked up looking at these posts about an all important date that with each turning of the calendar recedes just a little further in our national collective memory. At best, September 11th is always a date I find filled with melancholy.

Ten years ago, I happened to be in DC in a work trip. I was busy and not really paying attention to the calendar when the day started. By the end of it, though, I’d spent the day dwelling on heroes who fought against and subdued the worst impulses of their own generation.

While thinking of Sir Winston, I wrote:

I went to see Lincoln tonight. It just seemed fitting somehow. But the words that stuck in my head weren’t those written to bind up our nation’s wounds. They’re still too fresh for that. All along my long walk tonight, I was recalling Churchill’s words from the frosted depths of the Cold War… “We have surmounted all the perils and endured all the agonies of the past. We shall provide against and thus prevail over the dangers and problems of the future, withhold no sacrifice, grudge no toil, seek no sordid gain, fear no foe. All will be well. We have, I believe, within us the life-strength and guiding light by which the tormented world around us may find the harbour of safety, after a storm-beaten voyage.”

Winston would have understood the 21st Century. Sure, we have different clothes and different music, but it’s the same old world. He’d tell us to never give in and to stay the course. He knew that the only way to defeat evil was to pummel it into unquestioned submission. Winston would have understood.

Churchill, of course, is best known for his leadership during World War II, but the charming thing about him is that he seems to have a quote for all purposes. Some are inspirational. Others are dry with humor. The very best are usually both at the same time. The ones I find myself thinking about most often, though, are the ones that call us to persevere in the face of adversity, against the longest of odds.

It’s September 11th again. So much has changed and so much is still exactly the same. I still think Winston would understand our modern world, perhaps even better than do those of us who are living in it. Sometimes I get the distinct impression that we don’t understand a damned thing.

You can read the full post from September 11, 2007 here: https://jeffreytharp.com/2007/09/11/requiem/

Justified…

You’ve literally had weeks to get your shit in order. There have been countless meetings in which all the materials have been changed, changed back, and then altered a dozen more times. But for some reason here we sit at 4:45PM the day before the goddamned meeting starts waiting on “final final” changes so we can go forth and kill a few dozen trees in this mad quest to build the Briefing that Saved the World.

Here’s the secret I’ve learned after sitting through, easily, hundreds of very similar gatherings of the great and the good: What you have written on the slides generally doesn’t matter all that much. Conveying information isn’t about the damned slides. It’s about what you say, how you say it, your body language, and the connection you can forge with the person you’re trying to communicate with in the few minutes you’re in front of them. By contrast, 75% of the handouts you’ve slaved over are going to end up in the trash can. If your audience is polite they’ll at least wait until they’ve left the room to throw them away.

I’ve often theorized that if people knew how much time (and salary dollars) were wasted in the endless transition of “happy” to “glad” or trying to pick out just the perfect shade of blue, they’d rise up in bloody revolt. They’d be well justified.

Getting blamed, or Email isn’t communication…

If you stick around any place long enough you’ll find that you’re often able to predict trouble spots in most of your standard and repetitive procedures. The place where I didn’t expect it to show up this week was in finding myself personally responsible for one of the 60 people who just didn’t bother to show up as scheduled.

It turns out that even though 59 other people received the voluminous email messages addressed to “Dear Random Major Event Attendees”, and showed up as directed, email is “not a sufficient way to communicate.” The other, simpler, possibility is that someone just didn’t bother to read and follow the directions that got, literally, every other person on the list to the right place at the right time.

Look, I don’t mind taking my lumps when I well and truly fuck something up. By all means, lay it on. However, when the fault lies plainly on the 1 in 60 that failed to comply, well, I don’t know what to tell you… Maybe plus up the budget a bit so we can hire a full time invitation engraver?

The leadership vortex…

I’ve mentioned it before, but there’s a moment in the life of every event when the big day is close enough to finally attract the attention of the greatest of the high and mighty. It’s the moment when your rater, and his rater, and his rater, and his rater, and the big daddy rater of them all finally start paying attention. It’s a little bit like setting your desk up in the center of a hurricane. For lack of a better phrase I like to think of these last few days before an event starts as finding myself at the heart of the Leadership Vortex, where you’ll be assailed on all fronts by people who outrank you who have all, finally, been visited by the Good Idea Fairy. These moments represent a direct opposite condition to business as usual, which I so often charitably describe as finding yourself victim of the Black Hole of Leadership – in which everything you throw towards them for a decision disappears over the event horizon never to be seen again.

Friends, today I can report with equal parts joy and trepidation that we have reached the Leadership Vortex point in the current event’s planning cycle today. I’m joyful because it means the end is in sight while the trepidation stems from a dozen experiences of knowing how truly awful the center of the Vortex can get before you’re pushed clear on the other side. Yeah, currently I’m being provided leadership from every quarter to within an inch of my professional life.

There are a few things you need remember when you find yourself squarely in the middle of the leadership vortex:

1. The guidance you got yesterday or even an hour ago may or may not apply.

2. For the duration of the Vortex, every single person in your rating chain is now your immediate supervisor.

3. When you receive conflicting guidance, always defer to the ranking manager. You can’t shift the blame up, but it’s your best bet to find some modicum of top cover.

4. It can’t be escaped, simply endured.

5. This too will pass. Probably.

Sigh. The things we do for King and Country.

Hypothetical…

Let me ask you a hypothetical question… Let’s assume for a moment that you are hosting an event for somewhere between 50 and 75 of your closest friends. An absolutely unavoidable part of that event is providing those people with between 300-400 pages of information, some of which changes on a daily basis.

Knowing no other information than what was provided, would you rather:

A) Get all 300-400 pages in hard copy, knowing that some of the information contained therein is already two versions out of date.

B) Get 100 pages of hard copy that’s pretty much set in stone and a link to the additional 200-300 pages that is updated daily/weekly.

C) Get a link to all 300-400 pages of information so you can access it electronically, because this is the 21st century and who wants to lug around 400 pages worth of binder all day.

D) Neither. Timely and accurate delivery of information has no place in the contemporary decision-making environment.

Take your time. Your answer won’t be graded, but it’s very possible I’ll judge you based on your answer.

The bureaucratic tendency…

There’s a tendency in the bureaucracy for days to run late into the afternoon and then on into the evening – as if those running the show didn’t have a home to go to and had no interest in being anywhere else. If I’m honest, by the time we’ve rolled past the usual and customary close of business, my loudest voice in my inner dialog is screaming “Why won’t they just shut the fuck up?” loudly enough to drown out most everything else. By that point, how interesting or important a topic might otherwise be is utterly irrelevant to the way my brain processes the information. It’s one of the many reasons I know I should never angle to restart my rise through the ranks. I just don’t have the interest in putting in the hours required and it’s never, ever going to be the place I’d rather be than anywhere else.

A sure and certain end of the work day is the only thing that makes some of them even tolerable. Take that away and, well, you’ve put me to sea without a compass or any way to find my North Star. It’s not lost on me that no one is looking for information or wanting to have meetings at 7am before they drag themselves in. What makes those same people think the rest of us are any more interested in staying on in the other direction is beyond me. Of course rank has it’s inevitable privileges. That truth is as old as our species, I’m sure.

Things would be different, of course, in the World According to Jeff. No meeting would last longer than 30 minutes and none would start after 4PM… because unlike others I have other shit to do and don’t live life searching for the adulation of those who dwell in offices.