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:
- Discussus Interruptus
- You're chairing a meeting, and to your dismay, things get out of hand. People interrupt each other so
often that nobody can complete a thought, and some people dominate the meeting. What can you do?
- In the Groove
- Under stress, we sometimes make choices that we later regret. And we wonder, "Will I ever learn?"
Fortunately, the problem usually isn't a failure to learn. Changing just takes practice.
- Tactics for Asking for Volunteers: II
- When we seek volunteers for specific, time-limited tasks, a common approach is just to ask the entire
team at a meeting or teleconference. It's simple, but it carries risks. There are alternatives.
- 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.
- Workplace Anti-Patterns
- We find patterns of counter-effective behavior — anti-patterns — in every part of life,
including the workplace. Why? What are their features?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming February 1: The Big Power of Little Words
- Big, fancy words, like commensurate or obfuscation, tend to be more noticed than the little everyday words, like yet or best. That might be why the little words can be so much more powerful, steering conversations where their users want them to go. Available here and by RSS on February 1.
- And on February 8: Kerfuffles That Seem Like Something More
- Much of what we regard as political conflict is a series of squabbles commonly called kerfuffles. They captivate us while they're underway, but after a month or two they're forgotten. Why do they happen? Why do they persist? Available here and by RSS on February 8.
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