BriefConsulting 2.6: Up To Something

”Nobody’s apathetic, except when pursuing someone else’s goals.”

I look for that look in their eye, that smirky stare that swears it’s not up to anything, ... honest. The poorly-concealed joke. The heart-lightening nod. Their affect emanates quiet authority because these people are up to something.

This matters. More than almost anything. More than higher purpose. More than lofty goals. More than that promotion, paycheck, or bonus. Being up to something salts and spices and sweetens every engagement, while cynicism stalks anyone unfortunate enough to not be up to something.

”Who stole your tricycle?”
”Huh? What do ya mean?”
”I mean you look as if somebody stole your trike.”
”Oh. Dunno. Just distracted, I guess.”

Where there’s spark, there’s soon fire. Where there’s a damp blanket, only smoke. I just have to wonder what’s smothering that fire within?

Work the system so the system can work, not to undermine it. Systems make fine, probably necessary frameworks, but with the possible exception of the IBM Selectric typewriter, nobody’s ever created a system that worked absent some benevolent subversive working along its margins. Benevolent subversives learn that undermining a system usually qualifies as unnecessarily heavy lifting. The purposeful tweak redirects while more forceful assaults rarely result in more than the offending system simply, easily shrugging off the intervention. The tweak might be more powerful than any sword.

I sometimes find a client plotting some grand strategic initiative, as if this one might (finally) reform some offending system that so obviously isn’t working. It might be possible that they are not initiating a land-war-in-Asia-quality catastrophe, but if they’re not, they qualify as one incredibly rare exception to some very strong precedents. The grand strategic initiative’s greatest weakness seems to be the number of faithful followers required to succeed. Depending upon a veritable army of people prone— by the very grand, pursuing-someone-else’s-goal nature of the effort—to apathy, might explain why so few grand strategic initiatives succeed in creating anything but another ‘flawed’ system begging for another even grander strategy insisting upon the conditions nearly guaranteeing even greater apathy.

When my client looks as though somebody stole his trike, I look for the ragged remnants of some once-proud strategic notion, one that subsumed its lofty premise to succeed, like the overwhelming majority of its forebears, by merely recreating what it hoped to reform. Better, perhaps, to ground that lofty aspiration into some smart alec tweak, to be up to something to save your own experience rather than failing to change the world. It might be that the world changes when one finds a tickle point, and tickle points rarely cluster near someone else’s goals.

©2012 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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