Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 10, Issue 27;   July 7, 2010: Seven Ways to Get Nowhere

Seven Ways to Get Nowhere

by

Ever have the feeling that you're getting nowhere? You have the sense of movement, but you're making no real progress towards the goal. How does this happen? What can you do about it?
A Kemp's Ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys kempi), ashore, probably to lay eggs

A Kemp's Ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys kempi), ashore, probably to lay eggs. Kemp's Ridley sea turtles nest only in two areas of the shores of the Gulf of Mexico: at Padre Island National Seashore in Texas (a human engineered re-colonization), and in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas. As late as the 1940s these turtles were abundant, but hunting, habitat destruction and pollution reduced their numbers to about 1,000 by 1970. After listing as being critically endangered, they have begun to recover, and before the BP Oil Disaster, 8,000 adults were believed to be alive.

What happens now is difficult to predict, but it is clear that the BP blowout will kill many Kemp's Ridleys. A return to the population levels of the 1970s is possible, as is total extinction. That human intervention has had both positive and negative effects on the prospects for the species illustrates the dynamics of self-canceling effort and disunity of purpose.

For more on the Kemp's Ridley, see the Google video, "Saving the Kemp's Ridley," or read Leslie Kaufman's May 18, 2010, article in the New York Times, "Gulf Oil Again Imperils Sea Turtle." Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Sometimes we work hard to achieve a goal, but measurable progress remains elusive. We sense movement, but we aren't making progress. It can happen in any organizational effort — projects, new product development, research, process improvement, organizational change — anything. And it can happen in Life — career advancement, weight loss, pursuing a dream.

When this happens, what can we do? Here are seven popular ways to get nowhere and what can be done about them.

Irrelevant effort
The work itself isn't relevant to progress. Perhaps it's progress-neutral, or it might be progress in a direction unimportant right now (or ever).
Review what you're doing. Exactly how does it move you towards the goal?
Self-canceling effort
The work underway might have both positive and negative effects that cancel each other out. An example: digging a hole but failing to throw the extracted dirt out of the hole.
Are you doing anything that erodes the value of the overall effort?
Misleading measurement
The method of measuring progress might be faulty. It registers no progress, but progress is actually real.
How do you measure progress? Why do you believe that there's a connection between progress and whatever you measure?
Running in circles
Even though each bit of effort moves you forward, you eventually revisit wherever you are. A form even more difficult to detect is like Brownian motion — you rarely (or never) revisit any one spot but the average position doesn't change.
What's the evidence that the work underway actually produces steady advancement?
Missing pieces
The work requires Unity of purpose requires
investment. Announcements,
memos and orations alone
cannot achieve it.
infrastructure that you don't yet have in place. Consequently, the progress you do make is periodically erased. Bailing out a leaky rowboat without first addressing the leaks is a good example.
Is there anything you could have done earlier that would have made what you're doing now any easier? Is it too late to go back and do it?
Saboteurs
Someone or some people are actively working against progress — political foes, disgruntled team members, or even yourself. Maybe you're aware of this, or perhaps some of it is outside your awareness, becoming visible only episodically.
Have you talked with those involved in this conflict? If not, what would happen if you brought the issue into the open? Could it possibly be worse than what's happening now?
Disunity of purpose
Here the different elements of the group (or the different parts of your Self) are all working steadily and making good progress, but they do so in different directions with different goals in mind. In some situations, this disunity becomes clear only after a revealing incident.
Unity of purpose requires investment. Announcements, memos, and orations alone cannot achieve it. Unity of purpose follows only from extensive mutual communication.

I'm certain there are many more ways to get nowhere. I'm equally certain that mastering just this much would be progress. Go to top Top  Next issue: Wacky Words of Wisdom  Next Issue

52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenypwXmIdtQbhtKcTNner@ChacKmyachCGzDIGMuQUoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

A bear trapThe Mind Reading Trap
When we think, "Paul doesn't trust me," we could be fooling ourselves into believing that we can read his mind. Unless he has directly expressed his distrust, we're just guessing, and we can reach whatever conclusion we wish, unconstrained by reality. In project management, as anywhere else, that's a recipe for trouble.
A doorknobDoorknob Disclosures and Bye-Bye Bombshells
A doorknob disclosure is an uncomfortable, painful, or embarrassing revelation offered at the end of a meeting or conversation, usually by someone who's about to exit. When we learn about bad news in this way, we can feel frustrated and trapped. How can we respond effectively?
PencilsVirtual Communications: I
Participating in or managing a virtual team presents special communications challenges. Here are some guidelines for communicating with members of virtual teams.
The Messerschmitt Me 262, which was the first jet fighter to fly in combatHow to Foresee the Foreseeable: Preferences
When people collaborate on complex projects, the most desirable work tends to go to those with highest status. When people work alone, they tend to spend more time on the parts of the effort they enjoy. In both cases, preferences rule. Preferences can lead us astray.
An outstanding example of the Utility Pole anti-patternThe Utility Pole Anti-Pattern: I
Organizational processes can get so complicated that nobody actually knows how they work. If getting something done takes too long, the organization can't lead its markets, or even catch up to the leaders. Why does this happen?

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Project Management for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Mistletoe growing in abundance in the Wye Valley, WalesComing April 25: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: VI
Narcissistic behavior at work distorts decisions, disrupts relationships, and generates toxic conflict. These consequences limit the ability of the organization to achieve its goals. In this part of our series we examine the effects of exploiting others for personal ends. Available here and by RSS on April 25.
A shark of unspecified speciesAnd on May 2: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: VII
Narcissistic behavior at work prevents trusting relationships from developing. It also disrupts existing relationships, and generates toxic conflict. One class of behaviors that's especially threatening to relationships is disregard for the feelings of others. In this part of our series we examine the effects of that disregard. Available here and by RSS on May 2.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenMtmhZOLSYDjWlRbYner@ChacwmSLgAJsCfPfhStnoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.