Rendered Fat Content


Followers of Hieronymous Bosch: The Vision of Tundale (circa. 1520–30)
"I am eating my own dog food."

Back when I taught my Mastering Projects Workshop, I was taken by how casually project sponsors tossed around their project's "vision." I came to call them All Ya Gotta Do Injunctions because they inevitably misrepresented underlying complexity, as if merely spreading wings enabled flight. I tried to prepare project workers for the types of tangles they'd likely encounter when (never if) they tried to nail down these flippant notions into some achievable form. The Muse called these "visions" dormatives, after Gregory Bateson's word for vacuous terms, those dripping with only apparent meaning but lacking any practical interpretation. One can tie one's self up for ever or longer trying to achieve best or deliver to a dormative request. It always becomes an act equivalent to poking a stick into a hornet's nest when trying to transform any visionary demand into something physically possible to produce and, generally speaking, a fool's mission to intend to satisfy its author with any result. Delivering any vision always turns into somewhat of a nightmare, and one of my intentions when creating Mastering Projects had been to help prepare participants to face this simple fact. Project work ain't no bed of roses.

It's one thing to know for certain what always happens but quite another to experience this predicted effect. In fact, forewarned serves as little protection against effects in execution.
However much one might feel informed about an inevitable, its appearance induces a struggle. (Notice how I'm not mentioning either death or taxes!) There are no casual engagements. That next time a project manager sees that he has to tell the authorities, "NO!", feels no different from the first time. Each instance feels terrifying and audacious, if only because it seems to violate some fundamental tenet of organizational existence, which suggests that one does one's master's bidding, but masters sometimes pass paradoxical directions. If you can't muster a now-and-then No!, your yeses prove meaningless. It's always a tangle which seems beyond the powers of anyone's suddenly short, fat fingers to unsnarl again. That's the profession as I understand it and as I taught it, a disarmingly personal series of engagements invulnerable to theory. Blythe rules of thumb ignore the other fingers and toes, and only rarely help untangle anything that comes up, and a lot comes up that needs untangling. I came to believe that mere human intervention was supposed to seem inadequate but also necessary, anyway, dammit!

Visions tend to be fuzzy, which might be their most positive attribute. Often, through careful misinterpretation, the spirit of a vision can be sold as the actual intention though the implementation appears orthogonal to the originally stated vision. An old New Yorker cartoon showed a steelworker standing high up on the superstructure of a high rise of impossible construction yelling downward, "Escher, get yer ass up here!" All sponsors pass Escher-like instructions never intended to be produced. Chalk this up to innocent oversight if you must. It's another story, or seems to be, when I've produced the vision and I'm also the one charged with making it real. A sequence of actions seems necessary, but to what end and where to begin? The end objective starts out fuzzy and alluring and heads downhill from there. Nothing seems satisfactory, no obvious starting point appears. The contents of my someday workbench remain spread across the basement and garage while I'm in charge of deciding how to approach this task. So far, I've been limping by with searching through boxes, often in vane, and relying upon the few tools we left out for initial reassembly. I long to see my tools dangling from pegboard hooks again but most of the forces I encounter seem dead set against this ever happening. I can't quite get the Sequencing of assembly sorted. Maybe I never will.

I also taught my Mastering Project Workshop participants about The Wall, another inevitable of the project world. The Wall emerges, apparently blocking further progress. Always. The more one works within defined systems, the more one comes to believe in emergence, which works to overcome definitional deficiencies, which turn out to be many. Rome was not built in a day because the master plan turned out to be wrong and needed considerable rework, requiring centuries of emergence to produce an acceptable result. My workbench will not be populated according to any plan and not only due to my obviously deficient planning abilities. No plan could possibly exist that could ever satisfy my fuzzy vision, a condition I'm forced to accept as severely normal, in no way unusual. Emergence is coming to my rescue, just as she always has, but she won't do my bidding. My bidding, my vision, remains too fuzzy for even me to comply with. Time to have that uncomfortable conversation with myself. A little of this and a little more of that and, once I exit the obligatory delusional stage, which still believes in envisioning and master planning, I might actually end up with something. As long as I continue pretending that I might one day know enough to start, I'll remain stalled and sorting through half-opened boxes and ever more proficiently doing without. The Sequencing simply must remain an emergent element, I guess, if only because it always has, even back when building Rome, or attempting to. I am eating my own dog food.

©2021 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

blog comments powered by Disqus

Made in RapidWeaver