Herewith follows a selection of what I consider to be useful words, phrases, thoughts, aphorisms, and principles applicable to things discussed in this blog. Some of them are original with me; others are adapted from elsewhere, with credit given where they are not simply in common use. They will be added to as time passes. I hope that you enjoy them and find them useful. The latest one(s) to be added will be posted first in the list.
When you’re in one, stop digging.
“Any tool is a weapon if you hold it right”
An important socio-technical principle derived from Ani Di Franco’s (1999) song, “My IQ“
“Treat your data as you would wish to be treated, if you were a datum”
“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean that they aren’t out to get you”
A neologism coined by Dr. JD Eveland. By extension of the terms “socio-technical” and “tectonic“, this term describes the earthquake-like stresses that sometimes build up in an organization, without visible effect until at some point they are triggered into erupting in the form of sudden crises serious out of proportion to their nominal cause. In retrospect, it usually becomes perfectly clear how certain socio-technical imbalances have been bottled up and suppressed by the organization for what seemed like good reasons at the time. It is also usually much more difficult to find an acceptable solution or solutions once such a crisis has erupted than it would have been to attend to the building stresses. Managers walk a fine line between “fixing what ain’t broke” and waiting for socio-techtonic Armageddon.
See also internal contradictions, catastrophe theory
The proverbial process of throwing someone or something “under the bus”
A meme of dubious current utility, badly in need of a harmonious euphemism such as this.
The better the hammer you have, the more things tend to look like nails
If you can’t fix it with a hammer, get a bigger hammer
[Snap fingers at #1 Deputy] “Make it so!
A management style increasingly favored by individuals who are addicted to blame.
Chris McDonald’s Addendum to Picard’s Dictum:
If you don’t have the right #1, then it’s all likely to turn to #2
Put the frog in a pot of cool water. Turn up the heat one degree at a time. He’s not likely to notice until he’s thoroughly cooked. Much organizational evil is perpetrated in this manner.
Cassandra was the Trojan princess condemned by Hera always to tell the truth and never to be believed. The organizational Cassandra does the same within the framework of his/her organization. It’s a position of considerable value to an organization, although not always equally comfortable for the individual occupying it; while s/he is seldom thrown from the walls as a result, neither is the role a bed of roses. The hard part is in not making it even more uncomfortable by saying “I told you so” to those who wouldn’t listen originally, were shown up, and remain in a position to inflict varying degrees of discomfort. The extreme version of this role is called a “whistleblower”, which is almost uniformly maximally uncomfortable.
The process of following the instructions given by one’s supervisor to the letter, knowing full well that there is a better way to proceed and that in fact following those instructions may well result in disaster to the organization. Related to the idea of “working to the rule”. Regarding consequences, see schadenfreude.
“The view from underneath the wheels of a juggernaut is seldom improved by knowing that you were right about it up until then.”
“Where you stand depends on where you sit.”
First formulated by Rufus Miles, noted bureaucrat; later commandeered by Nelson Mandela
“When the furniture catalogs come out, you know it’s time to move on.”
In a new venture, when its people have the free time to bring out the catalogs and select comfy office furnishings for their cool workspace, it’s beginning to lose its drive and force and beginning to go stale. You’d better consider finding something more interesting to do, before you get stuck on the floor from which there is no up escalator.
A place in an organization from which people are never selected for upward mobility, either (a) because nothing interesting goes on there that might attract the attention of senior managers, or (b) because its projects are pre-doomed to failure or incompletion due to changing priorities, insufficient resources, or poor leadership. See also death march project.
Any tool, however and whenever invented, will inevitably brought into full use, usually by someone not its inventor and for purposes not foreseen by its inventor.
Adapted from baseball’s famed Mendoza Line, this principle identifies a level in the hierarchy above which you get credit for good decisions made by anyone below you; you avoid blame for bad decisions you make, shunting it to people below you (q.v “Fecal Gravity”). Thus, the relationship between fault and blame is different for workers and senior managers (see image). The effect of the Line is that while workers do get blamed in proportion to their fault, managers are able to shift blame onto their subordinates, so that the worse they screw up, the less they are actually blamed for it!
A condition than affects individuals but is easily spread to entire organizations. Blame is one of the most addictive substances known to the entire management world. Supposedly a remedy for stress, it quickly loses its advantage. Once addicted, an individual’s responses to stress become increasingly erratic. Even small setbacks can induce immediate paroxysms in an addict, during which blame – the causative agent – is frequently transmitted by drops of spittle ejected from the mouth of the addict. A few casual contacts with addicts generally can be surmounted; however, prolonged exposure to the spittle of an addict is likely to induce addiction in the recipient, who then can spread the addiction to his/her subordinates in turn. Temporary treatment can be provided to the individual through pharmacology, but only removal from the infected organization is likely to help in the long run, and even then it’s extremely easy to relapse.
Holly Golightly, in Breakfast at Tiffany’s: “It’s useful being top banana in the shock department!” – another way of phrasing the Law of Requisite Variety, or the principle that whoever in a conflict situation has the most choices or options open is more likely to win out. Random behavior reduces your predictability on the part of others, and keeps them off balance.