Tuesday, October 21, 2003

The "Too Difficult" pile 

I've been pondering my lack of anything worthwhile to post on here. Here's the symptoms of the disease from which I seem to be suffering:
- Detached from experience
- Difficulty paying attention
- That "nothing really matters" feeling
Familiar to anyone?

I think its all connected with the fact that I've got too many things sitting on the "too difficult" pile at the moment. They're all issues related to the role in the wider organisation of the department for which I work:

- address the issue that the fundamental raison d'etre of our department is flawed when viewed in the context of the wider organisation. Somehow, our group has remained unchanged through numerous corporate reshuffles - probably we were put on the corporate "too difficult" pile. We're becoming an anachronism that doesn't need to exist any longer as a separate group. The useful elements of our functionality should be incorporated elsewhere.

- address the issue that the processes and accountability structure on which our effectiveness depends have serious failings, being based in mid-20th century management practices - rigid hierarchy, command-and-control, vertical communications, fox-hole management (dig yourself a secure hole, surround yourself with barbed wire, sit behind your machine-gun and shoot anyone who comes too close).

- address the issue that the relationships on which our effectiveness depends are undermined by powerful adversarial undercurrents, fed by mistrust and muddled accountabilities.

- address the root issue that our department's circle of influence is inadequate to address these issues which sit within our circle of concern and which therefore get left on our departmental too difficult pile.

- address the issue that all of these issues that concern me personally are outside my current personal circle of influence, either within or external to our department

The healthy state is supposed to be a circle of concern that's just a bit wider than your circle of influence. That approach keeps you on your toes - it provides a driver for change and improvement; it maintains a challenge so that the circle of influence gradually widens. But too big a gap and it creates an unbridgable chasm - the unfulfillable wishes result in endless crusades that are doomed to failure, sowing the seeds for adversarial relationships and leading to cynicism, embitterment and ultimately withdrawal.

In theory you can deal with this situation in a number of ways:
- widen the circle of influence
- reduce the circle of concern
- migrate the gap onto someone else
- let go of the whole thing; go somewhere else; go find new circles of influence and concern

I tried reducing my circle of concern - it doesn't work. I can't not be concerned about these things. If need be I can live with inefficiency; I can live with muddled accountabilities. There's some hope of being able to improve these. But the inadequacy and poverty of relationships and processes, and more than anything, the deliberate blindness to these issues of those with the power to address them hits me between the eyes every time.

As a group we've tried and failed to find anyone else to take up the issues on our behalf. Maybe the organisation is trying to tell us something…

I make half-hearted attempts to widen my circle of influence, but even half-hearted is too positive a description - really my heart isn't in it at all. I just go through the motions as a humble minion because its what I know I "ought" to be doing. What I'd rather do is go somewhere else altogether, and deal with issues that really matter to me.

So that little lot sits there as a logjam - paralysing, stifling creativity, killing momentum.

The lesson? Keep the gap between your circle of influence and circle of concern down to a manageable level. And don't leave too many things on the too difficult pile.

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