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What Without How

In “Hackers And Painters“, the great essayist Paul Graham states: “asking for what without knowing how is asking for trouble“. I’m on board with that because BMs do that all the time and I’ve seen the wreckage of that approach many times over the years. The higher up the BM, the less he/she knows about the “hows” but the more he/she demands the “whats“. The real damage comes from front line BMs who stop learning and let their “know how” skills atrophy because they’ve been promoted up from the cellar. Hell, they’ve “arrived” and there’s no need for keeping the sleeves rolled up and wrestling in the muck of challenging work that requires continuous learning and sustained immersion.

“The world is full of willing people, some willing to work, the rest willing to let them.” – Robert Frost

But what about when a group suddenly discovers that it needs to try something new to survive and thrive? In this case, everyone may know “what‘s” needed but nobody knows “how” to do the “what” – because it’s never been done by them before. Unless the group can hire outside expertise that has done “what” needs to be done before and therefore knows “how” to do it, the “how” must be learned on the fly in a typical high speed sense-act-reflect-correct feedback loop. Sadly, but expectantly, no time is ever “allocated” for training/learning “how” to do something new by institutional BMs; it costs money, consumes time, and it’s unspoken but expected that everybody knows “how” to do “what” at all times.

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