Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Head Smack Series

I am an inveterate problem solver. I don't do it on purpose. Things just spring to my attention and, as soon as I notice them, I know a way to do them better. I name this characteristic “not being passive to information.” It may not be a sign of intelligence, but it’s how I am.

My problem with my problem-solving, if I may put it that way, is that my solving skills far exceed my convincing skills. This is frustrating. Cassandra has become my patron saint, when Methusaleh should be (ref: Gigi, “I’m Glad I’m Not Young Anymore,” lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner).

I find my ideas so obvious, so excellent, so simple-quick-inexpensive, that I figure that if I just tell the right person, ne will smack nis head and say, "You're so right. I'll make that happen immediately."

But my experience with Stanford, Google, San Mateo County, and other objects of my mental bounty is that my ideas are rarely implemented. I am tired of writing to folks up and down the org chart and not finding a head-smacker.

I have two theories. Both, I regret to say, are cynical or at least curmudgeonly.
But first I'll acknowledge that these head-smack solutions often solve problems that affect many, many people a little, little bit.  That is, each affected person faces an occasional, temporary irritation, not a life threat. I've thought about how this skews all aspects of the matter: from identifying the problem to solving it to redressing the detriments of not having solved it sooner. Our litigation-centered view of societal problems is part of the story. These ideas may appear in upcoming posts called Cost-Benefit Calculus: The Area under the Curve and Litigation: It's NOT the Tip of the Iceberg. Stay tuned.

The financially cynical theory is that simple-quick-inexpensive solutions to real problems provide no room for corruption: no kickbacks, no bribes, no expensive presents from grateful contractors.

The psychologically cynical theory is that power-loving or ambitious people -- which describes pretty much all the people I write to in the hopes of finding a head-smacker -- view such solutions as ignorable.

You know the cynical old saying "Anything worth doing is worth doing for money”? Well, today’s version, applicable to both profit-making organizations and non-, may be “Anything worth doing is worth holding a power meeting about."

If there is no opportunity for scheduling a meeting with people whose schedules are already very full, and no reason to write a lengthy and serious report, and no possibility of favorable publicity, within the institution or outside it, then why bother? The fact that the solution serves the organization’s goals and will keep it from looking ridiculous to anyone who is affected (albeit temporarily and not severely) is not sufficient incentive to act.

Oh well. I accept defeat -- at least as to the efficacy of writing suggestions to those apparently in charge. Instead, I'll channel my energies into the Head Smack series.

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