Fear is expensive. So is distrust. Hatred costs even more. Assuming nothing will ever break or go wrong isn’t cheap either; but at least you can feel better until it does. I produce a blog called Pretending Not To Panic, which is “news for people who are eager and anxious about the future.” As some say, prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Within the last few months though, I’ve heard too much of the fear, distrust, and even some hate. It is sad to witness so many resources being diverted to destruction instead of construction. This blog’s goal is to help people with dreaming, investing, and living. That’s a lot more fun than nightmares, hoarding, and only considering surviving – and can be cheaper, too.
Back in the midst of ancient times, or at least in the 80s and 90s when I worked at Boeing, I had a tendency to tell management what I thought. As one co-worker put it, I “managed upwards.” He walked by one of my annual performance reviews. Rather than hear what I should do differently, he overheard me suggesting things the supervisor could do that would improve our performance, or at least mine.
During one phase of process improvement exercises, we were taught and told to document every office process. The groans were audible. But hey, the sooner we got it done, the quicker we could get back to engineering. As I wrote up outlines and drew up flowcharts, I noticed some trends:
1) The silly exercise taught me why so many tasks take longer and cost more than the original estimates (there are always more steps than you imagine.)
2) The silly exercise was ridiculous and a waste of time, until invariably finding one task that could be dramatically improved that would pay for all of the other wasted efforts (but it required practice and persistence to get that far.)
3) The silliest thing about the exercise was noticing how many of the steps in a task were there because the people ‘above’ didn’t trust the people ‘below’ (or flip the phrasing to the people who weren’t doing the work didn’t trust the people who were doing the work.)
Every level of management was another level of No. Trying to get a new idea approved meant getting a string of Yes without a single No. One No, one person who didn’t trust the people who were trying to improve things, was enough to stop progress. Doing things ‘the way we’ve always done them’ simply meant reusing a process that had managed to slip through years before, possibly only by luck. In the meantime, distrust added levels of approvals, dammed plans, and many missed opportunities.
It is easy to say no, to be against this or that, to keep doing things the same old way and to keep things from changing. If the world didn’t change, that attitude can succeed. The world is changing. Trying to make things the way they were before is futile.
The opposite approach has its issues, too. Assuming everything will always succeed is like driving around without paying attention to the gas gauge, the battery charge, or the energy left in the driver. Grand, passionate initiatives sometimes do succeed; but too many people expect to have their ideas adopted as pervasively as Steve Jobs’, Bill Gates’, and Jeff Bezos’. For every one of those successes, there are too many failed attempts to count.
Of course, part of the inspiration for this post is the political discourse that is impossible to ignore. Politicians employ hyperbole, at least in public. Things are either devastating or marvelous. The threats are going to be catastrophic, but the solutions are going to be infallible. They aim to elevate emotions, even though executing the responsibilities of office are ideally logical, rational, and realistic.
Part of the inspiration for this post is also from people talking about their personal finances. The economy is going to fall apart, and there’s nothing to do about it except hide the cash. The economy is going to reinvent itself, and the thing to do is abandon every connection with convention.
Whatever happens with the election, it is most likely to be a chaotic mix and mess. Americans have a history of accidentally dividing up the power so one party may rule one branch while the other party rules the other branch – and hopefully the Supreme Court doesn’t get too politicized. (Oops. So much for convention and nothing changing.)
Whatever happens to the economy, it is rarely a case that everyone suffers. Sadly, in our economic system suffering is too common. I’ve experienced some of that. At the same time, some people have succeeded spectacularly. (Go check the guest blog from Alan Beckley.)
There are topics that require consideration, reflection, and preparation. Fear, distrust, and hate are signs that emotions have overwhelmed reason. Earthquakes happen, so make an earthquake kit (or a tornado kit, or whatever kit) and then get back to living. Euphoria, elation, and exuberance are fun, but they too can be signs that emotions have overwhelmed reason.
For me, one of the most appealing aspects of our society is a very old convention that I hope doesn’t change: innocent until proven guilty. A more recent one: trust and verify. They share a common concept: assume the positive but be prepared for the negative. The data show that most people are good, and that assuming the best is worth more than the few times when the worst happens. Flipped around and money and time are spent defending against threats that are usually smaller than expected, resources that could be used for construction rather then destruction. It is true for our society, a country, and even for how people manage their time and money.