Sandbagging Your Efforts
Last week, I needed to drop off a manuscript and some pictures with my publisher in Des Moines' East Village. Just one little problem: the building was two blocks from the Des Moines River, which happened to be at capacity and about to spill over its banks. I went to the front door of the building... sandbagged shut. I went to the side door. Same story. Finally, at the back door, I found an entrance that - while sandbagged - was passable.
I've been thinking a lot about systems the past year. Our organizations are systems. Our office politics situations are systems. Our lives are systems. Our projects are systems. Our relationships are systems. Just about everything we do can be broken down into identifiable inputs, transformations, outputs, and feedback loops. So, if everything is a system, what are we doing to protect our systems from unwanted inputs? And in the process, are we preventing desirable inputs from entering?
The Floods of 2008 have prompted my systems thinking even more. When you look at the levees that have broken and the lives that have been devastated, you have to wonder how much was preventable. But then again, it's a "500-year flood" (which in Iowa terms means we'll have another one around 2023). Here's the paradox. Is it worth it to prevent what happened? In our efforts to prevent another flood like this, are we going to spend too much money and create other unforeseeable problems. (Granted, that's an easy question for me to ask given that my basement never even took on a drop of water.)
OK, let's bring it back to our organizations. One employee does something management doesn't like. So management creates a new policy. Everybody else who needs to be productive and get work done finds a way around the policy so they can continue to be productive and get work done. So management creates another policy. And employees create more work-arounds. Vicious circle... right? I just wonder how much our 4-inch binders containing company policies are like river levees. Do they eventually break because what's naturally supposed to happen is going to happen anyway? After all, employees bent on breaking the rules are going to break the rules.
Just some ponderings on a night thinking outweighs sleeping.