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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Old: "Fear of Failure" ---> New: "Managed Risk"


A friend of mine is completely clueless about my job.

"I'm so stressed out," I told her the other day, just around the time when my stomach starts growling for dinner. "It's unbelievable."

"You work for the government," she said matter-of-factly. "You sit around and shuffle papers all day. What could be so bad?"

Other "govies," of all ages and tenures, understand intuitively what the stress is.

In private industry, generally, you have too much to do. ("Employment at will.")

In government, from what I've seen, you actually want to do MORE.

Unfortunately, too often you can't because there are so many fears about 1) process 2) outcomes 3) blowback if something goes wrong.

So you get excited about an idea or initiative...only to watch it die on the vine. Strangled by task forces, committees, "vetting," "socializing," Powerpoint briefings, routing, and on and on until you wish you'd never suggested the thing in the first place.

Or you forget about it and suggest some other idea. And start the whole process again.

Don't get me wrong: Reasonable process is not a bad thing. Through it, problems are anticipated and ironed out before anything actually goes wrong. Along the way, the diversity and quantity of voices gets people engaged with the concept. 

Although with so much input, the original vision can get muddied or worse.

However, confronted with interminable delays, sometimes there is a decision to "just do it already," without enough forethought about the consequences down the road. Which is expensive to fix later. (Classic examples: Web design. Social media.)

Someone I spoke to expressed this frustration perfectly: "Every day I see opportunities to do so many great things, but the opportunities just seem to slip away."

It seems to me that the government would benefit from moving toward a "managed risk" approach.

Which says openly: "We can't guarantee this will work 100%. But we are REASONABLY sure. And we're going to try."

I only know things for sure from my own experience: 

* I have never done a job that I didn't learn on the job.

* I have rarely seen a teenager get a driving license who would qualify for NASCAR.

* I have never seen a kid start kindergarten without crying their eyes out.

Startups of any kind involve screwups. That's just life.

Let's get over our fear of being wrong and throw out a bit of rope in the knowledge that we will often be pretty close to the mark.

Have a good evening everybody, and good luck!



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Photo source here.