Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 12, Issue 23;   June 6, 2012: Wacky Words of Wisdom: II

Wacky Words of Wisdom: II

by

Words of wisdom are so often helpful that many of them have solidified into easily remembered capsules. And that's where the trouble begins. We remember them too easily and we apply them too liberally. Here's Part II of a collection of often-misapplied words of wisdom.
Arrival of Cortés in Vera Cruz

Arrival of Cortés in Vera Cruz. In 1519, Hernán Cortés took command of an expedition from Cuba to explore the mainland and open it for colonization. It was a brash act, because he had been recalled, an order which he chose to ignore. But it was not his last brash act. When he landed in Vera Cruz in mid-year, he scuttled his ships, shown in the painting in the harbor. His purpose was to eliminate all thought of retreat from the minds of his men.

This is one example of the many ways we can "burn bridges." In this case, Cortés' choice to cut off all possibility of retreat was very likely a critical success factor for his mission. The modern advice to "never burn bridges" might usually be good advice, but not always. The image is of a mural-sized painting, oil on canvas, which is part of the Jay I. Kislak Collection at the U.S. Library of Congress. It dates to the second half of the seventeenth century.

Words of wisdom are typically so elegantly stated that we are seduced by their elegance. We accept them unquestioningly, because we think that their truth is obvious. But when we examine them more closely, with our brains fully engaged, we can often see that these beliefs are easily misapplied. Here's Part II of a collection of Wacky Words of Wisdom. See "Wacky Words of Wisdom," Point Lookout for July 14, 2010, and "Wacky Words of Wisdom: III," Point Lookout for July 11, 2012, for more.

Well, if you really think it will take that long, you better get started
This comment is useful for shaming a subordinate into abandoning objections about the scale of an effort, but it also works when coercing peers who are responsible for the task in question. The comment usually halts any further strategic thinking or discussion about the scale of the contemplated commitment.
Rarely is halting thinking or discussion actually helpful to anyone other than the person doing the coercing. The decision about proceeding with any project certainly must take into account how much effort is required. If the effort involved is large enough, it behooves us to consider alternatives that might be less costly or take less time, and we might even decide to abandon the objective altogether. But exploring these alternatives isn't possible when we stop thinking.
Never burn bridges
Really? Really, never? I doubt it. The reference to bridges is metaphorical — the bridges are actually options or relationships. The adage cautions one not to deliberately close out options, or terminate or curtail any relationship.
But obeying such a broad commandment would entail, for example, maintaining relationships even with those whom one regards as inclined toward the unethical or criminal, and those with whom further association is politically dangerous. Much more valuable advice: be selective about burning bridges. Burn only the bridges that ought to be burnt.
In times of rapid change, experience could be your worst enemy
This comment, Be selective about burning bridges.
Burn only the bridges
that ought to be burnt.
attributed to J. Paul Getty, does contain a valuable insight, namely, that our experiences tend to cause us to form attachments to things that might be changing. Those attachments can sometimes limit our ability to change. But the operative phrase is could be, which many interpret as is. We "hear" the comment as if the could be were is, and that's the source of the problem.
Some experiences can create problems; others can be helpful. For instance, experience includes experience with change itself, which might be helpful indeed. Our experience with previous changes can help us adapt more readily when we must adapt. It can also help us recognize changes that won't last, and thereby save us from adapting to something that's only transitory. Experience is the source of good judgment.

We'll continue with this exploration in a few weeks, looking at three more examples of over-generalized beliefs. Meanwhile, can you think of examples from your own experience? First in this series | Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: Meeting Bullies: Advice for Chairs  Next Issue

For more examples, see "Wacky Words of Wisdom," Point Lookout for July 14, 2010, "Wacky Words of Wisdom: III," Point Lookout for July 11, 2012, "Wacky Words of Wisdom: IV," Point Lookout for August 5, 2015, and "Wacky Words of Wisdom: V," Point Lookout for May 25, 2016.

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? rbrenfUPRaxIRYvFbUIwWner@ChacJrwkyjeQFgqyYZkQoCanyon.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 light bulb, the universal symbol of creativityAsking Brilliant Questions
Your team is fortunate if you have even one teammate who regularly asks the questions that immediately halt discussions and save months of wasted effort. But even if you don't have someone like that, everyone can learn how to generate brilliant questions more often. Here's how.
Artist's drawing of a pterosaurLearning
What have you learned today? What has enriched you, changed your understanding of the world, or given you a new view of history or the future? Learning something new every day is a worthy goal.
A man using a chainsawDiscussion Distractions: II
Meetings are less productive than they might be, if we could learn to recognize and prevent the most common distractions. Here is Part II of a small catalog of distractions frequently seen in meetings.
Illustrating the concept of local maximumFalse Summits: II
When climbers encounter "false summits," hope of an early end to the climb comes to an end. The psychological effects can threaten the morale and even the safety of the climbing party. So it is in project work.
A particularly complicated but well-ordered utility poleThe Utility Pole Anti-Pattern: II
Complex organizational processes can delay action. They can set people against one other and prevent organizations from achieving their objectives. In this Part II of our examination of these complexities, we look into what keeps processes complicated, and how to deal with them.

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Critical Thinking at Work for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

C. Northcote Parkinson in 1961Coming September 27: Meeting Troubles: Collaboration
In some meetings, we collaborate not in reaching objectives, but in preventing our doing so. Here are three examples of this pattern. Available here and by RSS on September 27.
A typical standup meetingAnd on October 4: Meeting Troubles: Culture
Sometimes meetings are less effective than they might be because of cultural factors that are outside our awareness. Here are some examples. Available here and by RSS on October 4.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenjYorVDaiYsbRJujsner@ChacCxusCNzOTeQgKObpoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, 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.

The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
On 14The Race to the Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

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.
21st Century Business TravelAre your business trips long chains of stressful misadventures? Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to get from here to there relaxed and refreshed? First class travel is one alternative, but you can do almost as well (without the high costs) if you know the tricks of the masters of 21st-century e-enabled business travel…
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.