Archives for 16 May,2017

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It is Difficult to Scan the Horizon When Examining a Mole’s Rear

When should we have our head in a tiny mammal’s tunnel and when should we float in the clouds in a small basket suspended from a potential fireball?

I’ve noticed this interesting phenomenon. Succeeding generations of leaders, managers, and volunteer boards seem impelled to make a mark by undoing previous work, adding layers of bureaucracy, or drilling down to examine sub-atomic particles. (To understand “making a mark,” see Wikipedia about our now deceased and sorely missed poodler, I mean, poodle, Mr. Bigelsworth.) There might be a time for such (although developing a form that is always approved without thought and fed to the file’s gaping maw is never attractive to my way of thinking.)

The trick, to me, is perspective. It is difficult to get a bird’s eye view of the horizon when examining a mole’s rear. Conversely, one cannot pull dangerous weeds out of the garden from a hot air balloon—even with a Ronco Inspector Gadget arm.

When should we have our head in a tiny mammal’s tunnel and when should we float in the clouds in a small basket suspended from a potential fireball? (It is not on my bucket list to travel with a bag of gas and a lit flame. My compliments to those who do.) Tough question. One thing for sure—we should never get stuck just doing one or the other.

Perhaps we should ask ourselves if our probing or drifting will make a contribution to improving organizational performance or if it is window dressing. The benefits should outweigh the costs. In the accounting world, the concept of materiality takes into account context and flirts with gushy notions like relativity. (Not the Einstein version, the beancounter version.)

This is the struggle of the ages for the finicky “detailist.” It means there is no set rule. It means $1,000 could be material and $1,000,000 could be immaterial – depending on context. (Make no mistake, I love me some good finicky detailists all the livelong day. Please don’t eyeball it on structural engineering or wing it on airplane design – get it? Wing it…)

Anyway, what is wanted is a bit of judgment. An Accounts Payable manager who worked on my team years ago had a small paper taped to her giant, alien-head shaped monitor. It said, “Will it matter in 10,000 years?” If the context is I forgot to pay a bill and got a late charge the answer is always “No!”

For us how about: Will my mark—whatever it is—make a measurable, positive difference to all concerned? Is it material—meaning the benefit is greater than the cost? If yes, proceed. If no, maybe dial it back and rethink.

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