When we could shout across the room

Opposing Views

Image by Jaimito Cartero via Flickr

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately thinking about management.  I take refuge in thinking about it theoretically, as an academic problem to be solved, and wouldn’t it be nice if all the people involved would just behave. I am fully aware that theoretically is not how this works, but I use the word “refuge” in good conscience.  I’m in a position of learning as I go, and trying things out until I find a style that works for both me and the people I manage. Yes, this method does drive everyone a little crazy – I’m not exactly set in my ways, in a practical sense.

Five years ago next week, I started working at my current company.  We all fit into one big room plus three descent offices, with all our inventory and break room amenities, and I’ve been feeling nostalgia for the days when I could hold everything that needed to be done in my realm of influence in my brain.

Today I attended a workshop designed (and designed well) to teach me how to manage people, with all the infrastructure that entails (feedback, planning ahead, clear expectations, consistency), and had an abrupt realization that that infrastructure is necessary because we’re not all living out of each others’ pockets anymore. I’d had the realization before, but something about having to write emails to myself in order to make sure I remembered what I’ve said to whom on a regular basis drove it home.  Because I will have to write those emails, or I’m going to end up pulling the ground out from under someone’s project without meaning to, simply because I don’t remember what priority it had relative to the rest of the department last week before that import issue cropped up – and I hate it when people do that to me.

I miss the small business environment, where I could be elbow deep in everything without pissing anyone off or breaking anything. Now I get to look at all the pretty spinning wheels of commerce, but I’m only allowed to touch and muck with the ones in my assigned section (and you’d better believe I muck with them). And I could do so much more damage by touching the wrong thing at the wrong time than I could before, simply because we move like a Destroyer now, rather than a speedboat.

A lot of this is just me whining.  What I really want is a data port, because if I haven’t figured out how to learn things fast enough to keep up by now, I never will.

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Confronting the Complexity

Hunting trophies in Úsov Château, the Czech Re...

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I am, by nature, given to the melodramatic and portentous proclamations. Not for the sense of importance (though that is a bonus), but for the idea that even the small things, if discussed in epic terms, grow to fit the language.

These days, I’ve found myself describing every project in the words of great diplomatic acts or in the language of warfare. Some of this is for sure influenced by the fact that my current reading is Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World. Jack Weatherford reads as a bit of a fanboy, and I’m currently resisting the urge to go hunting through the bibliography, which would disrupt my actually reading the book. Even so, Weatherford’s book, along with The Checklist Manifesto, have influenced how I’m thinking about logistics vs. communication right now. Logistics is all about communication, which I think I had noticed before, but a targeted sort of communication: the kind that allows the people involved to know each other before they have to entirely depend on each others’ expertise. This is in addition to putting together a team that consists of expertise.

I’ve also been thinking in terms of putting time into my work with AAUW and my work at Work. I get to be creative as well as technical wit the website editor duties for the Branch (you all have gone to see the site right?), while I am getting deeper into analytical work, as I transition from my former position to my new one. The worries are that I am not creative enough to do publicity and a web-presence justice, or that I am not sufficiently laying the foundation for the new job, while shortchanging the transition period for both myself and my successor in the previous one. Between that, and the political calendar (AAUW has a public policy branch, which does a good job of getting the word out) there is no shortage of new things to learn, put together, and connect. I just have to sort signal from noise (a phrase I’ve been using a lot lately, in the context of my job), and to decide where I stand on the various moral continuums. No sweat, right?

Yet, at this time I feel the full weight of a beginning of the story, which is my favorite place to be. As I learned from one of my new team today: you have to earn what you ask for. And currently? I’m asking for a lot.

Facing the Future

It’s not often that I get to see the same argument (against another party’s argument) being made by observers of both the Publishing Industry and the Stock Market (vast oversimplification). And yet, waiting for me to catch up with them in my reading lists were both of these:

Book Square’s Kassia Krozser responds to the backwards business logic of “protecting” the book by restricting formats.
And Infectious Greed’s Paul Kedrosky argues against an argument blaming new technology for the dearth of IPOs. Both address arguments that somehow the decline, stifling, or death of an industry is defined by the emergence of new technology and new ways of doing things – not those industries abilities to define themselves and their functions in terms of the new ways of doing things.

It’s the argument to “protect” that both Krozser and Kedrosky address in their responses. The idea that somehow, the old way of doing things needs to be preserved because it’s the old way of doing things.

For myself, I can’t see how it’s ever a good idea to mistake the form of something for its function. That way lies messiness, madness, and cliffs we should have seen coming.