Words of wisdom usually are short, pithy sentences so sensible that we accept them unquestioningly. An example from George Santayana: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." But unquestioning acceptance can be a serious mistake. Here are some common ideas worth at least a pause for thought.
- It took a long time for this crisis to develop, and it will take a long time to resolve it.
- This statement's symmetry is appealing, and it's often true, but it lacks logic. The processes that led to crisis often differ from those that resolve it.
- Crisis resolution happens on time scales compatible with the means employed, rather than the time scales of the forces that created the crisis. The two time scales rarely bear any relation to one another.
- Yes, that approach did work on that problem. But this problem is different, so we have to use a different approach.
- There isn't much solid reasoning here. For instance, if we must transport someone to a hospital for treatment following a fall, the means of transportation can be the same for a broken left collarbone as for a broken right collarbone. Two different problems, but one approach works for both.
- Similar solutions can sometimes work on dramatically different problems. It can be foolhardy to discard candidate solutions simply because they worked on problems markedly different from the problem at hand.
- We'll get out of this mess faster if we first understand how we got into it.
- If the effectiveness Unquestioning acceptance
of an elegantly crafted
aphorism can be
a serious mistakeof a candidate solution depends on the genesis of the mess, this idea might help. But in many difficult problems, the forces that created a problem become irrelevant once the problem has taken hold. Those forces can differ from the forces that maintain the problem, and from the forces that propagate it.
- Before investing in costly efforts to determine underlying causes, understand how the information you seek will actually be useful.
- Pick the low-hanging fruit first
- In wide use throughout the English-speaking business community, this metaphorical reference to fruit picking suggests that low-hanging fruit is appealing because it's so easily picked. But this metaphor, like many others, is misleading. Although low-hanging fruit is more easily picked, it's often inferior in quality, because it tends to have been picked over fairly thoroughly by other pickers. It often lacks sugar content and ripens later than "high-hanging" fruit because it receives much less sunlight.
- Fruit that's a little more difficult to pick might actually yield a higher return on effort expended. So it is with real-world problems.
Words of wisdom might well apply to the situations their authors had in mind. Beyond those situations, knowing when to apply another's wisdom — and when not to — requires wisdom of your own. Next in this series Top Next Issue
Are 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!
For more examples, see "Wacky Words of Wisdom: II," Point Lookout for June 6, 2012, "Wacky Words of Wisdom: III," Point Lookout for July 11, 2012, "Wacky Words of Wisdom: IV," Point Lookout for August 5, 2015, "Wacky Words of Wisdom: V," Point Lookout for May 25, 2016, and "Wacky Words of Wisdom: VI," Point Lookout for November 28, 2018.
Your comments are welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenHoWzUJVeioCfozEIner@ChacbnsTPttsdDaRAswloCanyon.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.
More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- Coaching and Haircuts
- Lifelong learners use a variety of approaches, usually relying heavily on reading. Reading works well
for some ideas and techniques, especially for those with limited emotional content. For adding other
skills and perceptions, consider a personal coach.
- Names and Faces
- Most of us feel recognized, respected, and acknowledged when others use our names. And many of us have
difficulty remembering the names of others, especially those we don't know well. How can we get better
at connecting names and faces?
- Working Lunches
- To save time, or to find a time everyone has free, we sometimes meet during lunch. It seems like a good
idea, but there are some hidden costs.
- The Myth of Difficult People
- Many books and Web sites offer advice for dealing with difficult people. There are indeed some difficult
people, but are they as numerous as these books and Web sites would have us believe? I think not.
- Virtual Clutter: II
- Thorough de-cluttering at work involves more than organizing equipment and those piles of documents
that tend to accumulate so mysteriously. We must also address the countless nonphysical entities that
make work life so complicated — the virtual clutter.
See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Critical Thinking at Work for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming June 14: Pseudo-Collaborations
- Most workplace collaborations produce results of value. But some collaborations — pseudo-collaborations — are inherently incapable of producing value, due to performance management systems, or lack of authority, or lack of access to information. Available here and by RSS on June 14.
- And on June 21: Asking Burning Questions
- When we suddenly realize that an important question needs answering, directly asking that question in a meeting might not be an effective way to focus the attention of the group. There are risks. Fortunately, there are also ways to manage those risks. Available here and by RSS on June 21.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenHoWzUJVeioCfozEIner@ChacbnsTPttsdDaRAswloCanyon.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:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, )
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, )
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, )
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, )
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, )
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, )
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 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info