Back in June, we looked at Part II of our collection of over-generalized adages — wacky words of wisdom (see "Wacky Words of Wisdom: II," Point Lookout for June 6, 2012). Here's a third installment.
- Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs
- These words, due to Henry Ford, were probably meant to apply to manufacturing — specifically to assembly line work. They capture a belief widely held, especially in Western societies, that we can accomplish any complex task by decomposing it into smaller, more manageable tasks. But does it apply to tasks of absolutely every kind? Does it apply to medical diagnosis? Designing a flood control system? Formulating economic policy? Writing legislation?
- Division strategies are valid for a class of tasks that we might call divisible. But some tasks might be only partially divisible, or not divisible at all. For example, for some diseases or disease combinations, accurate diagnosis requires a grasp of the totality of a patient's health. When success depends on grasping the whole, or when success depends on grasping portions that seem at first to be unrelated, division doesn't work. What's worse, for indivisible tasks, determining divisibility is often itself an indivisible task. An increasing portion of all modern work just isn't divisible. Dividing indivisible tasks invites disaster.
- If you want something done right, do it yourself
- This adage is often used as a basis for infringing previously delegated responsibility, or for micromanaging, or for obsessive review of delegated work. These behaviors all contribute to nightmarish relationships between supervisors and their subordinates.
- Those who An increasing portion of modern
work just isn't divisible. Dividing
indivisible tasks invites disaster.take this "advice" to heart have most likely misidentified the problem. They believe, incorrectly, that their problem is incompetent or negligent subordinates. More likely, the problem is that their standards are unreasonable; or standards are so fluid that subordinates cannot keep current; or standards have not been effectively communicated; or supervisor/subordinate relations have broken down; or the output quality assessment process is biased, unfair, or inaccurate; or the supervisor is determined to prove that only the supervisor is competent. These are only examples of a host of serious problems. All are extremely difficult to address unassisted.
- If two people can't get along, one or both are to blame
- This widely believed but rarely articulated idea has a partner: "If everyone has difficulty working with X, the problem is in X." Both ideas are sometimes applicable, but only careful investigation can determine applicability. It's safest to keep an open mind about the source of the difficulty, pending investigation.
- Difficulty between any pair of people usually arises from complex interactions involving many others, including the team lead or the supervisor(s). It's rare — though possible — that one person or one pair of individuals is the cause of trouble. More often, everyone plays a part.
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For more examples, see "Wacky Words of Wisdom," Point Lookout for July 14, 2010, "Wacky Words of Wisdom: II," Point Lookout for June 6, 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.
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More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- What Haven't I Told You?
- When a project team hits a speed bump, it often learns that it had all the information it needed to
avoid the problem, sometimes months in advance of uncovering it. Here's a technique for discovering
this kind of knowledge more systematically.
- There Is No Rumor Mill
- Rumors about organizational intentions or expectations can depress productivity. Even when they're factually
false, rumors can be so powerful that they sometimes produce the results they predict. How can we manage
- Completism is the desire to create or acquire a complete set of something. In our personal lives, it
drives collectors to pay high prices for rare items that "complete the set." In business it
drives us to squander our resources in surprising ways.
- 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.
- Accepting Reality
- Those with organizational power can sometimes forget that their power is limited to the organization.
Achieving high levels of organizational and personal performance requires a clear sense of those limits.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming June 26: Appearance Antipatterns: I
- Appearances can be deceiving. Just as we can misinterpret the actions and motivations of others, others can misinterpret our own actions and motivations. But we can take steps to limit these effects. Available here and by RSS on June 26.
- And on July 3: Appearance Antipatterns: II
- When we make decisions based on appearance we risk making errors. We create hostile work environments, disappoint our customers, and create inefficient processes. Maintaining congruence between the appearance and the substance of things can help. Available here and by RSS on July 3.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people 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.