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Friday, November 23, 2012

Expert Is as Expert Does

     It's one of those eternal amazements, a question that keeps popping up even as we're neck-deep in the answer. Maybe too deep to see it.
     The question is whether you must have functional competence in a specialty in order to manage projects in that area. This is the well-known "subject-matter expertise," which is possessed by subject-matter experts, or SMEs. Can a non-SME manage a technical project, or a construction project, or a whatever project?
     More over-simply, the choice is seen as between management skill and subject-matter skill. Which is better?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

There Is No Cliff. It's Worse.

          The beauty of the “fiscal cliff” concept is that it is so vivid; it’s evocative and it’s easy to say. We see it and we feel it. The term already has matured to cliché status, but everybody instantly knows what it means. It no longer shocks, but it still works.
          OMG, we’ve got to face this Armageddon. We’ve got to accept unprecedented horror. All of it. Right away.

          Well, almost none of that is so. Undergo a brutal yank of the mind and pause suspended – a la Wile E. Coyote – above the abyss. Then retreat shamefacedly to solid ground.
There is no cliff. Nothing so dramatic. No helpless free-fall to disaster. We’re not going to get out of it that easily. Sorry.
Instead, we’ve all – all of us -- got a painful challenge, personal as well as political. Far from a helpless tumble utterly beyond our power, we face an arduous upslope we must climb. A grinding, demanding effort.  

The party’s over.
Truth is, many of us have been living well beyond our means – as families and as a nation – for years, maybe decades. Cruising effortlessly down the credit-card/easy-mortgage highway, enjoying plentiful incentives to grab and spend. Our governments have been right there in the trough with us. Rosy billows of the good life without end, and few ripples of warning.

It’s gone. Now it’s time to pay for it all. Stripped of the false prosperity we so thoughtlessly slurped for so long, we must grimly soldier through a gritty, humiliating process.
We each have to find a solid place to set our feet as we deal with the debt, reduce the budget and find ways to bring in a few more bucks. You and me and the U.S. of A.

          Disabuse yourself of the luxury of worrying about the “fiscal cliff.” We are not going to be the victims of a national meltdown out of our control. No time to wring our hands about falling or failing. We’re going to lose some goodies we considered necessities, and we’re going to be paying some bills we thought would never come.
Not just as individuals and as members of families. We also are citizens of this country. Welcome to democracy. We’ve all talked a lot about the precious gifts it gives us. Our rights as voters and taxpayers.
Now we’re getting a lesson in the investments -- disciplined, individual, communal, patriotic – investments it demands of us to make all that other stuff possible.

Time's up. Blaming is a wasteful indulgence.  This year, we’ve had a very long and very thorough debate, however rancorous and massively stained with shameless cash and breathtaking untruth. We’ve had an election. We now know the situation, and we can see the bones of the future. 
Congress created the fiscal cliff last year in the fond hope that it could thereby avoid the tough decisions by setting up a surrogate decision-maker and establishing a stern consequence for further cowardice.
The flammable tax & spending spud was handed off to a commission tasked with producing a Solomonic solution. The commission was going to take care of it all. It was evenly populated with people whose attitudes were identical to those of the appointers. Then, incredibly, the commission arrived at an identical paralysis. Aw, jeez. 
So that same Congress now faces that same choice: Fix it, you people elected to not do nothing. 

Or not. The Congress that legislated the tough medicine can modify the doses, or water them down. Or do whatever. No matter to us. We as individual citizens and debtors can't afford any more temporizing and self-delusion. If it doesn't get fixed now, it will get worse . . . and be a nastier fix later.
We down here have run out of time. It's all ours. Buckle down, hitch up our drawers, cut the crap and pay the piper. 
We – you and I – are at a moment of great personal challenge, immense opportunity. It's our future. Let's act as if we're going to live in it. Let’s get at it. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Never Overcompromise

          Treat compromise very carefully. It won’t take you anywhere worth going to.
          We’re hearing the word “compromise” everywhere. It has the glow of a Holy Grail: If only the parties had compromised in Washington, we wouldn't all have gone helplessly off the fiscal cliff (which actually turned out to be more a very costly and uncomfortable downslope).
Discount for the moment the reality that the fiscal cliff is an illusion, an inspired political confection that generates sufficient heat to fuel an urgent . . . ultimately meaningless . . . debate.  It does not connect to reality.
No question there’s a problem in Washington, but no matter what they do or don’t do about it, there will be no precipitous plunge into the national financial ruin implied by the concept. There will be plenty of time to avoid an actual crisis. And plenty of options. Plenty of incentives. For one thing, the increased taxes won't be due until April 1214. For another, the elections blew away some expectations.
This does NOT mean there aren’t important decisions to be made. There are, and they are difficult ones. Check with your local economist or other knowledgeable realist. Or a noninvolved politician.
Suffice it to say that the matter of the fiscal cliff is a fine example of the cloudiness that often obscures our route to common cause amid differing – conflicting – demands.  

Compromise won’t solve that situation. Nor is it of much use in our own daily and periodic situations. This is especially true because the word “compromise” as we hear it around us usually is inaccurate in describing whatever it is the speaker means.
We toss the word around in everyday discussion and express it in considering serious problems. We don’t want disagreement, we say – we want compromise.
We ought to stop using it that way, especially in important matters, personal and political. Compromise doesn't produce solutions. It is a way to ease a confrontation without solving the problem.
You don’t want a compromise. You want a solution. You don’t want to compromise, you want to collaborate. Or, if you don’t want to actually work together, you at least want to get somewhere.
Don’t compromise, then. Half a loaf doesn’t satisfy. You just got some of what you want or need, but the matter remains unresolved. There is more to be done. Progress is not yet possible.

“No compromise!”
That's worse. It means disastrous suicide when it declares rigid adherence to one's starting point, unyielding resistance to any negotiation with those of differing views. That's not what we want, and that is not what is being advocated here.
An uncompromising attitude arises from a narrow definition of one’s constituency as a warring faction whose position cannot sustain the slightest softening. It is blind to the inescapable reality that we’re all in this together. Sooner or later, my brother’s situation merges with mine.
If this strategy prevails, it doesn't mean victory. Even if you win a fight to the finish, it's not a victory with value. You have created a whole class of people who have ample motivation to withhold, subvert and lie in wait for openings to counterattack. Short-term triumph ensures longterm failure.
In fact, in negotiating differences, you should not start with a concrete end point at all. To be successful, you don’t set out to compromise, you set out to accomplish something that has worth. Compromise can't do that.

Compromise is too narrow. As a process, it starts with a belief that your goal is to achieve a specific, predetermined outcome. It’s a zero-sum game in which the other party is a competitor, sometimes an antagonist. The more you get, the less he/she gets. If you can’t get it all, you give up as little as you have to.
This assures a limited outcome, at best, and often results in a souring of relationships that is costly to everybody for a long time. It’s really dumb
The better word is “solution.” It requires an entirely different way of addressing situations. Its process is collaborative, open-ended and creative. It’s what the Harvard Negotiating Program calls “issues bargaining,” as contrasted with the “positional bargaining” of the compromise approach. 
What does everybody want? What does everybody need? 
You don’t define a specific result based on the known available resources. You commit to understanding and achieving what you really want and need. You don’t know exactly how to get there, and you don’t specify in advance what it looks like. You do your homework, but you leave the matter open.
Then you devote yourself to an honest, open and patient effort to gain a similar understanding of what it's all about for the other party or parties. Together with them, you seek out and use whatever is available to work toward a mutually useful result.        
This is respectful, creative collaboration. It takes work, it takes preparation, it takes communication skills of a high order. It takes professionalism. It takes time. Inevitably, it is  successful. 

It is not compromise. Never compromise. Instead, solve.