Monday, November 30, 2009

Realistic Really

This is a recurring theme of ponderous thought and thoughtful conversation in my world: when does 'realism' cross the line to 'negativity,' 'pessimism' and/or 'control issues'? This is no longer a rhetorical question.

I can be super-crazy analytical. If I wasn't already like this before Grad School the inclination was developed while there. (Realistically, I probably was like that, thanks to my inheritance of a tiny anal-retentive gene honed by the responsibilites of being the first-born and enhanced with a love of jigsaw puzzles and detective stories as a kid). A past employer invested serious amounts of money for me to endure lectures and projects on calculating Best, Moderate, and Worst-Case Scenarios and their potential likelihood and resultant impact on things like staffing (who's gonna do it?); capacity (where we gonna make it/put it?); costs (how expensive are materials this week? and to where is the finished product shipping?); profits (how much mad coin we gonna  make for the shareholders?); etc.

It would seem (in my business school tainted opinion) that this is a good skill to have, as "forewarned is forearmed." Sadly, my abilities in this matter often seem to be unappreciated. Scoffed at. Mocked, even. Am I (and all those Harvard Business School Case Studies I had to read and analyze)  just plain wrong? Is the desire to drill down to the baseline facts really pessimistic?

Sure, it would be great to land the super-mega-giant project, but let's (just for a second) pretend we did ... do we have enough people to work on it? ... can we meet the delivery date without burning out the staff? No, I'm not trying to pee on your parade, I am actually trying to prevent someone (quite possibly you) being nailed to the wall in a month or so when everyone is stressed out and/or other projects are neglected (affecting the entire client base and their future business) due to a lack of foresight on the front end. So, sure, call me negative or pessismistic or controlling for attempting to save your butt. I still prefer to call it realistic.

If asked to change something delivered to the printer a week ago, I will first say "maybe," inform on the front end of any obstacles of which I am aware that could prevent fulfilling the (however unreasonable) request, and check on the answer with the vendor. Because realistically, there are other players involved and I will not make promises upon which they will have to scramble to deliver (I know how much I resent it being done to me). Nor am I authorized to direct activites that are going to cost someone additional money.

When consulted on something, I'll run "what if" scenarios ... What if the first choice guest speaker is unavailable -- what's our Plan B? What if the client hates this artwork -- do we have another option to show? If the proposed course of action is accepted and the schedule changes, what are the options?

Or maybe it's better we just put on the blinders, ignore the potential pitfalls, skip down the path and hold our breath and hope, knowing that hope is about as solid and lasting a plan as cigarette smoke in the wind. Seriously, once the potential for disaster is at least considered, I will pull for the success of the idea with all my strength. I just won't do it in the dark.

There have been enough hijackings into commitments I wouldn't have agreed to with all the info on the front end. A blindly cheerful response of "Yes, of course!" to an innocent sounding "Can you do me a favor?" resulted in weekends disappearing into hellholes of labor beginning at some half-past ridiculous hour of the morning. Consequently, requests for favors are now met with a tentative, "Ummm... Maybe. What is it?" Sorry. Thank a lifetime of predecessors. Know I invite the same responsible consideration should the tables be turned. If it's really job-critical, as boss you have the power to tell me to do it, and if it's truly a 'favor,' there is right of refusal. Unless of course, this is a case of pretending I have a choice in the matter. I'm glad we had this little chat.

Outside work, there have been accusations of my being negative and/or pessismistic when merely trying to gather info and examine possible angles and outcomes before rendering an opinion on a matter. Invite me to do something "right now," I will likely want to know: 1) Are we expected anywhere soon? and/or; 2) What are the plans of other people involved in the day? and/or; 3) Will this derail any hope  of a meal anytime soon? and/or; 4) Is there any chance my response is going to bite me in the butt later? A girl's gotta know, you know? Without info, there's no informed decision. Without considering the potential ways for screwing up someone else's time or effort or sleep or appetite (or my own) with my answer, I will ask until I know what I need. Or it could go the easy way and present all the information upfront. Just an idea. Not looking to control anyone's thoughts or life or anything (except my own).

If that's negative, pessismistic or controlling, then okay. Whatever. I still maintain it's "realistic," because life happens in reality, not Disneyland. (And I'm sure the Disney folks are masters of running all possible scenarios, analyzing all variables and have a standard operating procedure for each and every potential outcome. Controlling bastards.)

The floor is now open.

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