Archive for April 18, 2012

Of bad ideas and humility

April 18, 2012

Low wattage lightbulb on this occassion

“Don’t interfere with that which you don’t fully understand or manage especially when working in a highly hierarchical organisation such as local government.”

That is the (perhaps wrong) lesson I took as I walked home from work last Tuesday after having what can only be described as not one of my finest hours. I thought it might be instructive, and a little cathartic, to share my experience.

Last week I was sitting with a manager in a team that is not related to my day to day job and discussing some of the problems he has been having. Many of the problems were external to his team and he wasn’t sure what could be done about them organisationally.

At that stage I had an idea.

It wasn’t necessarily a good idea (I thought it was a brilliant idea at the time), and it was on the radical/crazy end of normal working practices but it was an idea nonetheless. I persuaded the manager that he was ok with the idea and that I was the best person to go off and pursue the idea. I then went off in search of someone with some clout who might be willing to a) listen and b) implement what had become in my mind ‘the idea’.

I spoke to a couple of senior-ish managers and although no-one enthusiastically embraced ‘the idea’ they all thought it ‘might’ be worth a try and suggested I go and have a chat with someone from one of the other teams that would be impacted by my idea and see what they thought.

By this stage ‘the idea’ and I were best friends and I was fully signed up to the idea that it would definitely work. My misconception was fully punctured by my next discussion. The member of staff in the other team affected by ‘the idea’ was not happy at all. And by not happy I mean severely peeved, monumentally miffed and fundamentally chagrined. He saw my intervention as having an ulterior motivation and made it very clear that if I suggested it to any other people he would ensure that ‘the idea’ failed and me with it. He was annoyed that I had talked to his managers and generally felt that my advocacy of the idea showed me to be a weak and misguided member of staff.