My friend asked me once:
“A thousand lawyers* chained down on the bottom of a sea — do you know what’s the meaning of such a scene?”
“No,” I replied.
“A good start.”
*) Where I come from, lawyers are the symbol of finding problems to any potential solution. It shouldn’t sound negative — they have an important role to play.
Learned helplessness seems to be a common illness in big organizations. I call it “problem thinking” (I know that — theoretically speaking — the term applies to something different). The “problem” is in the center of the process, as if the goal was to generate as many possible issues & risks related to an idea or initiative. A perpetual “yes, but…” game.
“Yes, but… we haven’t got mandays.”
“Yes, but… there aren’t enough resources.”
“Yes, but… this hasn’t been coded yet.”
“Yes, but… this might be illegal.”
“Yes, but… the procedure says that…”
“Yes, but… we haven’t tried it yet.”
“Yes, but… what if?”
I see daily examples of such behavior. Worse! Occasionally, I catch myself making this mistake — I immediately “rap myself over the knuckles” when I realize it.
We are told that studies should teach us “problem solving.” But then, in order to solve any problem, you have to find one first, right? So… during those long years of lecture halls & cramming we learn to search for problems and then — possibly — we solve them. Not to throw the baby out with the bathwater — I believe teaching such a skill must be justified. But starting off with problems every single time seems to be the best prescription for induced helplessness.
Let’s take our kids for example. We often say children are the best teachers on learning. They are driven by their need to explore, to understand everything that interests them. This is how they play. They have an innate thirst for knowledge. “They” are “we.” Thing is, we lose it on the way, somehow. Perhaps problem-centered thinking makes us focus on loose ends too much, perhaps we need to be perfect (ready) from the start, perhaps fear of failure is more likely to kick in this way (failure shows we weren’t prepared enough).
“The perfect is the enemy of the good” not because we do not want to improve. It’s because we don’t need to be prepared for everything from the start. We shouldn’t be. First — plunge, shoot! Don’t “be prepared” for everything, don’t get ready for too long.
Imperfection is in the nature of things. The whole idea. Things, actions have to be imperfect before they improve. That’s the space for us to grow and develop. That’s the exact reason why we can improve in the first place. This is also where our right to make mistakes lies. That’s were the word “must” becomes replaced by the word “can.”
Bounce, don’t break. And cut them lawyers some slack.