Monday, September 19, 2011

The 80/20 Principle and Pride

Early morning, April 4
Shot rings out in the Memphis sky
Free at last, they took your life
They could not take your pride

- U2


A couple weeks ago, my executive addressed our department with the message “Be Proud”.  I found the title of the speech to be interesting as like him, I was raised that pride was one of the deadly sins talked about in the bible.  Yet his delivery was anything but boastful, full of emotion and humility he showed pictures of people in our department and stated that it was the people he worked with that he was most proud of that day.  He listed our accomplishments, illustrated how over worked we were, and told a funny story about how people who are treated at our agency say it stands for “Not In a Hurray”.  You could tell he was down from the two weeks of outages that plagued our department, but he still had his pride.  Unfortunately for me, while I enjoyed the speech, I could not shake the feeling that this might be his last one to us.  Fear was starting to take hold, and when I get afraid my survival instincts kick in.  Fight or flight are the options, and when it comes to technology conflicts, I am a warrior ready to stand and fight.

For many of us, fear haunts us everyday. This is because our minds are like lawyers, constantly rationalizing and interpreting the events that transpire around us to offer plausible explanations. Sometimes our rationalizations make sense and our intuition is good enough to explain a phenomenon, other times our ego and super ego is in control and we need something more then just intuition for an explanation, we need proof. That is where science and technology, when properly managed, assist us at making better conclusions. Darwin’s simple theory that only the strong survive, suggest brawn, not brains is what dictates extinction. I would put forth that what allows the strong to survive is conquering fear and managing an equitable amount of pride to attract others to assist us to face problems and mysteries that intuition alone can’t address.

It is funny, many times when I am dealing with doctors and nurses in my organization, I get this sense some of them are afraid of me because of my alignment with technology and not directly with healthcare. It is like they see me as this invulnerable superman and they resent being vulnerable and dependent to the devices, programs, and network services we give them, so they act in self-deprecating ways in front of me. Yet, I am the one who is in awe of their ability to heal and to their dedication to doing no harm. I am the one who should be afraid, but I’m not as long as I feel I can be honest and not political. It is the ones that are political I tend to be on guard with.

Many of us work in organizations that are controlled by a minority of deities, who’s god complex and belief in exercising their theory of the “Control Principle” has very little room for “Trial and Error”.  Mistakes that cause outages are usually assigned to someone to be held accountable, even if they didn’t directly cause the outage. Ego and super ego theories are thrown around, and actions are taken to demonstrate their ideas are more sound at the cost of stability of the system they abuse. Basically it is the politics that the deities focus on.

I am not bitter though, I mean this situation isn’t unique or unprecedented.  I just feel like we aren’t being honest across the board and it is leading to dysfunction.  There is a lack of trust that needs to be addressed.  I see it as a golden opportunity to demonstrate a perverse sense of pride by admitting we are vulnerable and that we make mistakes and then correct them with humility.  I think by being honest, developing protocols and a disciplined approach to trial and error, is what allows one to take on a leadership role to change the collective attitude of narcissism that plagues politically lead organizations and change it into one driven by a passion for excellence.              

To challenge politically motivated narcissistic attitudes and change them to an attitude that embraces passion, requires finding individuals that demonstrate an equitable balance between two extremes, with pride acting as the fulcrum. 


On one end is rage or outrage that sometimes fuels one to act aggressive and confident, on the other end is serenity that allows one to remain calm with control over impulse and intonations.  One one extreme a Roman or Spartan warrior, on the other extreme a Buddhist monk.  I feel a fulcrum of pride is needed to provide rhythm and to switch between the two extremes.  A single person with this capability is like a drummer who handles his sticks at a ratio of about 80/20 percent, but a team of people focused is like a drum core.  It is probably no secret that in colonial times drummers were deployed to help control troop movements, and why the percussion section is one of the largest in great marching bands. 

What builds ones pride is competence and eventually mastery of a certain discipline.  This can be achieved in a number of ways. For an individual, it might come after ten thousand hours of study that results in developing a personal style that transcends into art.  For a group, transition the four phases of forming, storming, norming, and performing where disciplined people, thought, action, and monitoring are adopted though protocols and methods to form a system.  In both cases trial and error is needed to determine what is equitable and what isn’t when aligning the individual or team to the enterprise’s vision and mission. 

In many cases, it is a crisis that will test the individual and teams development.  It is crisis that determines if the individual or team will act appropriately with the right attitude and work towards a passion for excellence.  The people that survive and grow from a crisis are ones that reflect on the events that transpire and are honest with determining not only the caused, but are committed to holding everyone involved accountable to resolve the issue.  It is important at this junction to value humility, and celebrate each victory, no matter how small.  In many cases though ego and status are at risk.  Blame is usually the result once the root cause of the problem is determined.  It is important to determine what is accidental and what is just plain incompetence caused by an inattention to results.  Accidents are forgivable, incompetence requires an actionable plan that needs to be measured for maturity, otherwise instead of trial and error, you just get “Error, Error, and more Error”.    

I put fourth an additional definition to the 80/20 principle that it is the ratio of 80/20 percent of pride between the extremes of rage and serenity that can motivate individuals and teams to face the fear of failure, and make changes in environments that otherwise seem paralyzed.  Adopting Aristotle's definition of pride allows us to realize we are worthy of great things as long as we temper our entitlement by avoiding hubris. 

If ever you find yourself not being proud, just do this little exercise I learned in band camp ten times a day, and your pride will return.

Feet – Together
Knees – Locked
Chest – In
Shoulders – Back
Chin - Out
Head – Up
EYES! – Shout “With PRIDE"
EYES! – Shout “With PRIDE”

I said EYES! – Shout “WITH PRIDE!!!!!!”

Go Gators!


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