VISTA Enterprise Network - Successful Implementation, World Class Support

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

VISTA Planning and Management Part 2: The Paradox of Success

The Paradox of Success: Not Every Problem is a Nail

Past success with other projects can lead directly to failure with VISTA projects. The greater the past management success elsewhere, the greater the chance of failing to manage VISTA successfully. It is not an absolute correlation but a strong one and a major risk.

The problem is not unique to managing VISTA. It is an under-recognized problem in life generally, most famously described as Maslow's Hammer:

"I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail." -- Abraham Maslow, The Psychology of Science: A Renaissance, 1966

and earlier described and explained as Kaplan's Law of the Instrument:

"The price of training is always a certain 'trained incapacity': the more we know how to do something, the harder it is to learn to do it differently . . ." -- Abraham Kaplan, The Conduct of Inquiry: Methodology for Behavioral Science, 1964

As with any other faculty, human beings only use part of the possible range of management strategies. The ideal manager would be expert at the complete suite of possible approaches - and no doubt in moments of pride we tell ourselves we have mastered them all, that we fluently use all the tools at our disposal, the right tool for every job - but in our more sober moments we know it is not true.

We are creatures of habit. We tend to lean on our strengths and avoid our weaknesses. Whichever strategies we use on the projects that go well, we tend to use again in future projects, and because we keep using them we tend to get better at them and lean on them further. Conversely, the strategies we did not use in the past tend to atrophy, so we avoid them in the future.

The result is that we try to hammer every problem into submission. We overuse our previously successful strategies even when they do not apply. The more successful we have been, the more likely we are to try to force new problems to fit our past strategies. The most successful managers tend to be the greatest offenders.

Where managing VISTA is concerned, this has been a big problem in the past and can only continue to be so in the future - unless the problem itself can be put on the radar, can be made a part of the strategy of managing VISTA. If VISTA managers can recognize the impact of the problem and force themselves to approach each project with an open mind, and if we can force ourselves to better develop the strategies that have not worked in the past, to create a more well-rounded suite of strategies, then we will be better able to do justice to the problems VISTA presents, better able to plan and manage VISTA projects successfully.

For example, we will be better able to accept VISTA's true complexity and shift strategies to something capable of dealing with something so vast and intricate.