Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Don't Be Afraid to Ask

Nearly every project I have ever been involved with, or even witnessed, in my lifetime, ranging in budget from a few dollars to millions of dollars, was usually dunked in the shit tank at some point because nobody spoke up at the right time to ask what it is/was they are really, ultimately, trying to accomplish and why.


It's as if there was a tribe of people marching along in a single-file line across a vast desert waste land, meandering all over, while following the foot steps of the person in front of them.  After miles of trekking, someone in the back of the line finally asks "where the fuck are we going?  why are we going this way?"  


This is critical.


This is where you see what an organization is really made of.  If the others in line turn and acknowledge that it is a worthy question, and take up the cause, you have a good group of people.  If they tell the guy to be quiet, you have a death march into the vast abyss of failure laying ahead of you.


If you read books by, or about, famously successful business people, visionaries, you will find a common thread is that they not only form a great team around them, but they listen to them.  Whether it's Lee Iacocca, or Steve Jobs, or Randy Pausch, they not only allowed for dissent to be voiced, they encouraged it.  Failure is going to happen.  It's how you recover that matters.  But if you force everyone around you to accept an opaque vision and a unclear direction, they often shy away from speaking up.  This breeds fear of failure, which breeds fear of taking risks.  Without taking risks, you can't make real progress.


If you're not sure what kind of environment you're really working in, just ask the basic questions, and not just once, but often.  Make sure you get a real answer, and not some rhetorical politi-speak.


"What are we ultimately trying to accomplish?"
"Why?"
"For whom?"


Most projects that falter, tend to focus on the "what", "when" and "where" aspects.  But without the "why" and "who", it's like a ship without a rudder.  Money will be spent and time consumed, mini-projects spawn and take on their own lives, people gain new career footholds at the expense of hooking the organization on yet another dependency they can't easily (or cheaply) cut loose.  Rice bowls.  Mini-kingdoms.  Politics.  All the poisons of a solid, progressive, quality-minded team.  Death by a thousand cuts.


Just ask "why?"

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