For the last five years I’ve had the odious distinction of being the lead planner for an event that brings upwards of 1000 people from across the country into buildings, tents, bars, restaurants, and pool halls of our little part of the world. I’ve been fortunate in each of those five years to assemble a team the least of whom could be described as acceptable. Most were easily best in class. We got along with a few nudges from leadership and delivered each year’s product on time, to standard, and on budget.
This year, for reasons surpassing any kind of human logic, “help” as poured in from each and every one of four management layers above me. “Help” poured in from the lawyers. “Help” poured in from the people who manage the contracts. “Help” poured in from quarters that have been otherwise silent for years. Which is nice since we really have no idea what the time, standard, or current budget are supposed to be anyway.
All of this magnanimous help has made properly certain that every god damned thing that gets touched comes flying violently off the rails at every available opportunity… and especially on Friday afternoon. Which is tremendously helpful for both my mood and blood pressure.
What did I learn today? Ha. Well, if there’s any possible way that we can fuck this up, but still blindly stumble on without even considering whether it’s a thing we should do, that’a exactly the direction we’ll follow.
As I was Frankensteining together another PowerPoint slide deck from lightly used and discarded pieces of other briefings, it really started to sink in that I’m working on the 6th yearly iteration of this project. It’s a project that was originally slated to be part of my life for “a year or two max” and then get handed off to the next lucky victim. It’s another in Uncle’s long train of bright, shiny promises that may or may not in any way be reflected in eventual reality. It’s something you get use to after enough years have sheered away.
I’m really only stuck on this topic today because it set me thinking about the various ways that whoever is sitting in the big chair influences all sorts of relatively minor details that can make life an unmitigated shitshow. What I’ll call “leadership personality” appears to be the only driving difference between a small, no frills, meeting the requirement sort of job, and one that has all the stops pulled out and all safeties disarmed.
For a moment there this afternoon, I was stuck with the towering reality of just how little years of collective expertise and experience count against a single moment of “Yeah, but I want to do it this other way.” It’s probably best that I don’t spend too much time dwelling on that. I’m sure I’d be told that’s a feature of the system rather than a bug. It’s a reasonable assessment that some people would even believe that.
The fact is, I’m very nearly agnostic when it comes to what decisions are made – especially if they’re only made just that one time and not jiggered about every six days thereafter until the inevitable heat death of the universe. I’ll provide the best insight and information I have, but once someone points out the approved direction of travel, I’ll head that way and keep moving until apprehended.
We’re maybe, possibly, somewhere in the general vicinity of a decision that may or may not have a large impact on something I’ve spent months out of the last five years tinkering around with. I’m just going to assume that level of interest in anything goin on in my sandbox is what has my nerves set to “on edge.”
I’ve spent more of the last three months engaged in the pursuit of one single line of effort than is strictly healthy for someone. That’s fine. Someone has to be the institutional memory – even if only to remind you of why something sounds good on paper but goes to hell in a handbasket in practice.
The bigger trouble comes when people who haven’t been paying meticulously close attention realize a Big Thing is about to happen. Then they want to get focused on it. They want to deep dive it and know all that there is to know. That, too, is fine… as long as one remembers that the more often you have to tell the backstory and provide months worth of details, the more limited the time remaining to actually do the work becomes. It’s a corollary to Tharp’s Maxim #1 – I can either go to meetings about the work or I can do the work. I cannot, however, do both simultaneously.
In any case, we’re racing from fire to fire, from crisis to crisis, in hopes that somehow we manage to deliver a final product that isn’t ridiculous in the eyes of gods and men. It’s a tall order – especially when we keep inflicting wounds on ourselves.
I console myself with knowing that good, bad, or otherwise, in short order a Big Thing is going to happen no matter how hard we try to fuck it up in the closing hours. One way or another we limp across the finish line a week from tomorrow.