It’s so simple, any idiot could do it better

Hi, my name is Linda and I’ll be your idiot-tour-guide for this blog post.

Like many idiots out there, I have one of those jobs that 99% of the people in the company (any company) think they could do better.  It’s so simple! (They think.)  Why haven’t you solved those problems yet? (They ask.)

I understand.  I know people who don’t work in my function think it’s so simple, and likely believe people like me just muck it up with manufactured complexity.  The reason I know this is I quite likely do the same about your job.  Are you in Development?  Then I’ve likely uttered something like “Oh, that is easy. Just have them code a new widget that concatenates the necessary information from these twelve data sources, some of them external and outside of our control, and then display it in local language to our users in 60 countries in a color-coded manner. BAM – done!”

In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve had conversations that went kind of like this:

Me:  Yes, that is certainly a challenge.  We should get the dev guys to crank out some code.  I’m sure that just a couple hours of a developer time would be all that is needed – it’s just a simple change.

Dev Guy:  Um… <blink>

Me:  What?

Dev Guy:  It’s a little more complicated than that.  We’d need to have a team of developers assess the change.  On the surface, I can tell you it will require a major architectural change.  I would estimate that it would take 1,098 coding days.

Me:  1098 coding days?  Whoa.  Maybe you could get a woman to do it – I bet it would be done in a few hours then.

Dev Guy:  <blink>

Me:  WHAT???

Dev Guy:  Why don’t you stick to Sourcing stuff and leave the development of our internal systems to us?

Me:  Because you guys over-complicate it and I make it all so easy.  Really, my way is better.

Dev Guy:  Your way is pure fantasy that surpasses anything Tolkien ever conceived.

Me:  Oh, pshaw!  Nothing is impossible.  Even the word impossible contains the words ‘I’M POSSIBLE!’  I’m thinking you’re a glass half-empty kind of group.

Dev Guy:  Hey, I have an idea – why don’t you consolidate our lawn care vendors globally.  Could you have that done by Tuesday?

Me:  No fair!  You’re changing the subject!  That’s hard!  That would take forever.  Plus, they don’t even have lawn care suppliers in our desert locations, probably.

Dev Guy:  No!  It’s easy.  You just need to put all the supplier names up on a big colorful wheel and spin it.  Wherever it lands, voila’ – that’s our new global vendor.

Me:  But it doesn’t work that way.

Dev Guy:  Kind of like the system change you want doesn’t work that way.  Is that what you mean?

Me:  <blink>

What would be really cool is if people from one function would seek to understand first. You know, ask questions. Do some research.  I’m not saying that simplification isn’t possible, nor am I saying that tremendous innovation is unwelcome.  Evaluate these two statements and tell me which one embraces positive-realism and which is cribbed right from a MacGyver episode:

  1. Let’s inventory the elements outside of our control along side our assets and propose what is possible within those constraints.  Why don’t we put an asterisk next to any constraints that are completely outside of our control. Then, let’s consider what is possible if some of those non-asterisk constraints were lifted.  If we had more resources or, say, a budget – what could we do then?
  2. Here is a shoelace, 2 rubber-bands, some airplane glue, and an expired Visa credit card. NOW GO BUILD ME A GLOBAL SOLUTION!

The truth is that so much is possible if constraints are lifted, but we all have to deal with some constraints.  It’s possible we could do amazing things with more resources or budget, but so often it’s not possible to secure those. It’s also possible we can do some kinda-amazing things with the limited budget and resources we already have. Or some pretty cool things with no budget at all.  It’s possible… I’m not looking to throw innovation out the window!  I love innovation!

I even love someone from another department coming to me with a mind-blowing idea!  It would be better if they came informed and perhaps with an open checkbook to fund it, but hey – can’t have everything, right?

What I am opposed to is someone coming to me acting as if the solution is SO simple, right in front of our eyes, and why are we such idiots that it never occurred to us before?  I try not to respond to such arguments defensively. “Yes, yes. That’s a fabulous idea about how to manage all airline and hotel inventory in our own system. Now, where shall we get the money to fund it and the army of people to build and manage it? Would you be interested in selling the concept to our 600 hotel suppliers and 25 airline suppliers? With you by my side, I know we could do this! I realize there are many companies such as Sabre, Galileo, and Amadeus who exist to do this very thing for thousands of companies, but you’re right – we should build our own air and hotel distribution system. LET’S DO THIS!”

Usually they run away crying. It’s not as satisfying as it sounds.

The thing is, if we can’t have some trust in the expertise of others in their functions, then we should fire them and hire people we DO have trust in.  Or, maybe, possibly, we should pause and think maybe they know more than we give them credit for – maybe we should learn a little before we whip around in their China shop.  Maybe….

Nah. That makes too much sense. Requires work and thinking on the part of people.  We shouldn’t expect people to think – how naive! We’re after simplification, after all.

Lucky for you I have innovated a very simple solution that is so crazy it just could work.  Instead of any one functional group making decisions in its own area of expertise, each functional group should make all the decisions for a different functional group.

Like this:

Responsibility Flow Chart

If I could make all the decisions for IT, I promise you the ability to close your eyes and wish hard and have an IT expert at your desk every time you had a problem!  You could charge your devices by blowing on them ever so softly. You would never print an important, confidential document to the printer in the London office. You could log in to any password-protected app just by smiling at it.

Vote for me – Sourcing people have GREAT ideas on how to make IT better!

My name is Linda Doty and I approve this message.

Gone With the Wind

gone with the windIn one of my favorite movies, Gone with the Wind, Melanie Wilkes says “The happiest days are when babies come.”  Few can argue with that. Having welcomed my first grandchild into the world just a few short months ago, I can attest to it personally.  

The inverse would be “The most difficult days are when people go.” I find that to be equally true. In the workplace today, and especially at this time of year, we are facing the difficult days of people going.

I’m not here to question the decisions about reductions. I know our leaders must make difficult decisions – ones they aren’t always happy to have to make. As such, I know these days are difficult for them too. The difficulty is universal – it is difficult being one who learns he or she is going, it’s difficult being the ones who have to make the decision or deliver that news, and it’s difficult for those of us who are on the periphery of it.  We struggle with survivor’s guilt and sometimes even with a sense of indignation over the who or the how or the when.  None of that is easy and I’m not here to minimize it.

Earlier this year, I met someone with whom I have interacted online and she asked me how I stay so positive.  At first, I choked on my own laughter because I so often don’t feel positive, but since then, I have given this a lot of thought. Here is my response:  I have to find the positive or else I will suffocate under the weight of the negative – there simply isn’t a choice.

Back in 2002, I was let go from a company.  The company is no longer around, so the name isn’t important.  What is important is this: that door closing is what ultimately created my pathway to where I am now.  I have had many wonderful experiences where I am now, many opportunities to learn and grow, and without the loss of that other job, I wouldn’t have found  my way here.

I realize I am looking at it with the benefit of hindsight.  In the moment, when I lost my job, I pulled a scene befitting of the dramatic Scarlett O’Hara. “Where shall I go? What shall I do?” I threw myself on my bed and cried a river of tears. But like Scarlett, I pulled myself together, shouted out “Oh fiddle-dee-dee!”, and made an interview suit out of the drapes in my bedroom. A few months after that, I came to work for the company I am still with today.

(That’s all true except for the part about the saying fiddle-dee-dee – I would never say such a dorky thing!)

I have watched quite a few fine people exit the company I’m currently at over the years, and even had to deliver the news in some cases.  I am sure some of them threw themselves on their beds and had Scarlett O’Hara moments.  I keep in touch with many of these former coworkers via social networks such as LinkedIn.  They, too, pulled themselves together and made interview suits out of draperies and forged new paths. In 100% of the most recent cases, those I have spoken with are happy – many of them happier now than they were before they left.

I am not promoting a world where we minimize or dismiss the hardship of these changes – I’m merely trying to add a perspective for those who are cut, for those left behind, even for those wondering if their names are on a list somewhere.  We should not let ourselves get mired in despondence or fall victim to survivor’s guilt. For those of us who remain, we should be empathetic of our colleagues – supportive of them.  If we can help them in their quests for their next challenges, we should do that.

But we should also not minimize the fact that in so many cases, these types of forced-change actions end up, in hindsight, to be positive for the individuals impacted. I bet Melly Wilkes would refer to these situations as “Blessings in disguise”. In fact, I’m sure of it.

Probably most of us have more Miss Scarlett in us than we do Miss Melly.  I know I do. Maybe such self-awareness is enough to get us to pause, take a deep breath, put our Miss Scarlett (scrappy girl that she is – we admire her ferociousness and tenacity) in a time-out and channel our Miss Melly for a spell.  We can be kind and gentle and understanding of the hardship felt by so many in these difficult circumstances.  We can try to find the silver-linings (without being unsympathetic or dismissive of real hardship) and we can help others see it too.  We could all use a little more Miss Melly in us, couldn’t we? The world could use a little more Miss Melly, too, I think.

Our friends and coworkers aren’t gone with the wind. They are set-back temporarily, like Scarlett was so many times in Margaret Mitchell’s book.  And through adversity, they will find their steel cores, find the Scarlett within them, and rise above it in triumph. I know they will.

After all, tomorrow is another day.