"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Engagement Is Not About Debate

From this corporate pep talk on the "Killer Slide Decks" site. Perhaps it applies to us even if we certainly aren't a corporate entity and don't exactly have a "brand".

Some related advice from John Mashey, via a mailing list, on whom NOT to engage:

My experience from decision-processes in business and local government says there is a continuum of approaches.

People might try applying this framework to people discussed and see if it’s useful.

1) At one extreme are people who may or may not have strong views on a particular issue, but:

a) Try to help get the various views articulated as clearly as each can be, to help make decisions.

Quite often a good leader will draw out views counter to their own, to clarify as much as possible the real issues.

b) Look for solutions that take into account the various views.

Sometimes that may yield compromise, sometimes it leads to an entirely different solution than those first considered, as it becomes clear that none really work well enough.

c) Make tradeoffs between waiting for more data and making decisions in a timely fashion.

At that edge, it is valuable to have people able to clearly articulate *all* the relevant views, and people used to this are used to have ing fierce arguments, getting decisions made they don’t always agree with, and moving forward.

[Some of this comes from working in very intense product development environments, with strong opinions, with never-perfect data, and with company survival dependent on making good-enough decisions. Some managers are really very good at 1). So are some people in local government. Of course, this shows up especially strongly in military history, in which bad decisions have very quick consequences.]

2) Somewhere in the middle are people who just cannot help being complexifiers, and just cannot help getting diverted into rat-holes, waste a lot of time in meetings saying things that muddy the issues. In Napoleonic terms, this is incompetence, not maliciousness.

3) But finally, there are people who have agendas that purposefully muddy issues, increase confusion, divert conversations into rat-holes, delay making decisions ,etc.

One certainly sees this in public policy arguments, but it comes up in corporate policy as well. [There, it manifests itself as people want to form endless “study groups” because they are happy with some status quo that others find has stopped working.]

One has to assess where somebody fits on this continuum, and it often takes a while.

One can work with those in 1) with whom one disagrees. Someone who disagrees but looks for solutions can be really valuable.

For those in 2), one can first try to help them, but if that doesn’t work, get them out so they don’t waste everybody else’s time.

For those in 3), wasting time on them … is wasting time.

There is an old saw about big organizations being like elephants (or bulls) when you push on them:

First, they show you their tusks. (1) At least one can deal with that.

Then, if you get beyond that, they show you a big soft underbelly, where you can push, the beast is polite, but nothing happens (3).

[Of course, then there is the third part of the saw, but we need not go to the other end… although it certainly exists.]

I would claim that in any of these discussions, one *must* sort out where on the 1)-2)-3) continuum somebody fits, and the most time-wasting thing one can do is treat somebody in 3) like they are someone in 1).


Deech56 said...

But engaging with (challenging?) Type 3's can be useful if one can use them foils to advance arguments for the benefit of the lurkers out there.

Anonymous said...

Chip Knappenberger 1)
JeffID 1)
John Van Vliet 1)
Jonathan Carrick 1)
Roger Pielke Jr. mainly 2) some 3)
Lucia Liljegren similar portions 2) and 3)
Steve McIntyre 3)

Michael Tobis said...

Interesting, but let's not go that way. I disagree with Lazar on some characterizations. The idea is amusing, but not really productive.

Note that there is an important distinction between disengagement and ignoring. There is little point in talking to Morano, e.g., but it's foolish to ignore him.

Marion Delgado said...

For many venues, those apply to "us." However, Juan Cole is exactly right about the way the part of the world I'm in works now:


In a cynical and sociopathic environment where real power is highly concentrated and discussions and negotiations are largely charades and stalling, they don't apply.

People have to be minimally on your side to be worth discussing anything with. Also, I rarely see actual thoughts being expressed, because in general they're hand-me-downs from the era of Bircher pamphleting.

WV: gredi :)