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.”
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.
So Wednesday has now come and mostly gone. I could say that something significant happened – that there was some high or low point that distinguished the day. I could say that, but I won’t. That’s mostly because when you stack today up against every other it was probably within spitting distance of perfectly average.
I should probably be celebrating that it wasn’t a crisis every 37 minutes, but the best I can manage is a solid “meh.” Believe me when I tell you that there is no one happier that the wheels didn’t happen to come flying off today than I am. I’m also realist enough to know that just because today was perfectly average and my lunch was not eaten by some unplanned and intensely problematical event, there’s no reason to believe that tomorrow will be more of the same.
Living day to day in a place that manages by whatever happens to be the crisis of the hour, seems to breed a cynicism that’s deep and probably fundamentally unhealthy. It leads the average days to feel like bad ones and the good ones – those days when you walk away feeling like you’ve accomplished something in spite of the system become almost mystically non-existent. They’re spread so far apart that they couldn’t possibly be real, but rather just a figment of our collective imagination.
It was a perfectly average day and should probably be glad of that… but in the back of my mind I’m stuck wondering what fresh hell is gaining strength unseen somewhere in the Land of Tomorrow.
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?
Despite all outward appearances, I’m not a magician. Admittedly, the things I do look easy from the outside, but that’s mostly because a) I try very hard to follow the path of least resistance; b) I’ve done more than a few of these things; and c) Even when things are truly falling apart I refuse to give in to the temptation of running in circles while flailing my arms wildly in the air. There’s also a healthy dose of faking it until you make it at work in most of the things I do.
Frankly I’m often not sure right up until the last minute that things are going to come together like their supposed to. Although experience tells me that they will, you must proceed there with caution because past performance is not a guarantee of future results.
Knowing that and knowing me, when I tell you that something is going to be problematic or that it requires lead time, you should know that I’m not in any way exaggerating. I will not be rending my garments or gnashing my teeth. That may give you a false sense of security. It shouldn’t. It also shouldn’t be a surprise when the thing I’ve been saying for weeks needs the longest lead time and will be the biggest problem if not managed closely is suddenly in danger of not being delivered on time or to standard.
Maybe next time I should just go ahead and flail my arms.
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.
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.