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Rocket Science

Years ago, I wrote the story of an interview with a Chief Financial Officer of a major American corporation. He had underwritten a project that had grown by insignificant increment to threaten his company’s financial standing. He spent most of the session pointing fingers. That damned VP of IT was really to blame. She was an upstart lesbian trying to play with the big boys in the big leagues. That damned Big N consulting firm was to blame. They were booking hundreds of thousands per month and not making any progress. He even blamed his own staff for not performing as he expected.

He finally proclaimed, exasperated, that “this isn’t rocket science!”

I disagreed. It was more like rocket science than not. The larger problem, as I later told him, was that he was not a rocket scientist.

I suggested in my recent post, You Suck@Projects, that the lousy level of understanding in the executive suite about projects contributes a great deal --- quite probably more than any other single factor --- to the continuing poor performance of projects. One common executive-sponsored strategy has been to operationalize projects, enforce method, techinque, standards, and metrics. This can make projects more predictable while transforming adaptable efforts into lethargic bureaucracies. Kinda like making a mustang manageable by turning it into a cow.

Another common executive strategy is to command results. Hardball negotiate outcomes, insisting upon what everyone not hydrocephalic or suffering from altitude sickness can see could never work. Tighten down the screws until no degree of freedom remains, then complain about how unresponsive the effort is.

Ignorance fueled by authority equals true stupidity.

This week, we’ve been watching while a Congress, clearly ignorant about even the first principles of economics, wrestles with a shit-simple decision. Distracting each other with finger pointing from atop lofty principles, insisting upon a label that misrepresents the outcome, insisting infant-like that irrelevant issues also be addressed as a part of the “solution,” then complaining that the resulting response doesn’t actually solve anything.

Where has the metaphor machine gone that managed to label a bill destined to disenfranchise a third of students No Child Left Behind? Wall Street Bail-out? Reframe first! That’s what any responsible rocket scientist would do. No, it’s not just a matter of simply hitting the chosen target, rocket science is all about maintaining scrupulous attention to just how far off course you are at any point in time.

Where did we get these boobs, anyway? We elected them! We, who know little about the responsible operation of government, chose people for their opinion on fleeting issues. Where do they stand on some social issue that government has no business fiddling with? How Christian are they?

The rest of the world stands gape-mouthed as we chop the legs out from under ourselves --- and them, too.

We are no more rocket scientists than we are project managers. We are ignorant executives complaining about our cruel fate, steadfastly refusing the necessary because it conflicts with our notions of how it should be.

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