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Fish On Fridays III

It’s Friday, so it’s time to eat some more fish. Guest blogger “fishmeister” has fried up another tasty treat for you and me to savor.

Firefighter or Fire-proofer: The Tyranny of Today

Software coder.  Designer.  Thinker.

In those jobs, your primary purpose is to take a blank page and fill it with something that solves an identified problem or need. Often, this requires a great deal of cognitive thinking–noodling out an idea ahead of any actual work.  And this takes time.

Unlike a laborer, who’s efforts are immediately apparent as their manual activities produce something tangible, cognitive thinking does not take place on a schedule. You can’t just sit down and say “at 10:30 on Tuesday, I’m going to have a brilliant thought“. It takes time. Sometimes lots of time. And sometimes it happens at odd times when you least expect it.

That ‘eureka moment’ can happen in the car, in the shower, at your desk, in line for coffee–anywhere, anytime. Which brings me to the real reason for this post.

If your work time is spent on putting out fires and solving immediate issues at the expense of thinking strategically about long-term solutions–innovation–you end up getting stuck in the Tyranny of Today–being a fireman instead of a fire-proofer.

Jeffrey Phillips writes a blog that I follow regularly. (BD00’s humble writings and Jeffrey’s are #1 and #2 on my daily morning reading list).  ((I won’t say in which order, though)). 🙂

The other day he wrote about The Tyranny of Today. It resonated with me on so many levels that I had to share it with my boss. He outlines everything that we are currently struggling with in our business every day.

We have a large cadre of Designers in our organization, yet we are always being challenged because we don’t think ‘creatively‘. Our deadlines are short–sometimes less than a day between being given a project and expecting a solution to be generated. This creates a dilemma that up until now, I didn’t quite understand.  Mr. Phillips puts it most succinctly…

…[The tyranny of today is] An “all hands on deck” mentality, which means that all available resources are focused on today’s issues, today’s needs, today’s problems. Ever more efficient operating models have pared organizations to the bone, meaning that anyone not working on today’s issues seem superfluous. Until the new products and services cupboard is bare because no one was working on new products and services.

We’ve created very powerful “business as usual” engines, and increasingly, these engines no longer serve us, we serve them. The BAU models dictate how we think, how we deploy resources and how we reward people. The tyranny of today is based on our business as usual operating models and the perverted ways in which they drive our strategies, our thinking and the way we apply resources.

We live in an immediate-gratification society these days. Technologies surrounding us have been developed to speed up the processes required to get things done. Back when “I was a kid” designer, developing a concept meant several days of pencil sketches, thumbnails, doodling, and eventually working out a refined concept, that required an artistic skill to draw, paint, and color in a visual representation of an idea up to a sufficient level that someone else (with the purse-strings) would be willing to shell out cash for your idea. All this effort meant that you were “off-line” for any other projects that came along, and as a result, the # of Designers and Freelancers in our studio would increase or decrease based on the workload at the time.

These days, I can bang out a 3-dimensional computer model–complete with textures, surfaces, lighting, and visuals–that looks so convincing that you’d think I’d just taken a picture of a real object in the real world. And I can do this in less than an hour. The tech around me has allowed the mechanical process of simulation to occur at the click of a mouse. But my brain still works the same old way.

At the same time, the down economy has meant that we’ve been cutting back on personnel, letting Designers go and not refilling those positions immediately. Those remaining have to just pick up the load. (“Leveraging resources” is the euphemism we hear every day.) Which means that we rely on our tech to an even greater degree just to get today’s workload completed.

As a result, we have bursts where there is more work that is due right now, than we have bodies in place to handle. Which means that in order to get it all done, I have to take off my propeller-equipped beanie hat and put on my fireman’s helmet. And with all the immediate issues of short-term needs–the fires that take place every day-I put out those fires and sacrifice the time needed to think creatively on another project. I become a victim of the Tyranny of Today.

How about you–do you spend your day sitting under an apple tree waiting for the fruit to smack you on your noggin, or do you piss on fires all day? What can you do in your business to escape the pattern and grow?

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