Saturday, November 12, 2011

It's Not That Simple (A Work and Life-Related Post)

A few thoughts have recently stuck with me in a big way.  The first is something Lindsey Talerico picked up at ideation, the weird notion that we've turned poverty into an industry - does my salary depend on someone else's poverty?  The second is just my own desire to simplify, to be more focused, to have less distractions, less clutter in my life.

The first is an interesting bit - in Matthew (26:11) were hear Jesus quoted with the familiar phrase "The poor you will always have with you but you will not always have me."  So, organizations like mine that try to make the world a better place for children will probably always have a reason to exist, I know many of us who work there desire to put ourselves out of a job. But at the same time, I travel each day to an office building, take the stairs to the third floor, go to my desk, drop my laptop in the dock, press power, grab my coffee cup and stroll to the coffee maker.  I'm really far removed from the "real work" - the boots on the ground, those who are working *with* people in communities where there is great need, to help them plan for self-sustainable futures where some of the current problems - water, food security, education, health are enjoyed by the inhabitants when we leave.  The model is a little bit complicated because it's not a hand-out.  We're not in the business of socialism or Robin Hoodism.  We don't ask donors in the United States to give because they're rich so we can skim some off the top before handing money over to poor people somewhere "out there."  We don't build wells and roads and then say "Good luck with that."  We go into a community and ask if we can help.  If the community is willing, we produce a plan together that allows us to leave after a certain period of time and the community is better off and stays better off.   We bring expertise from having done this process many times in the past several decades, but it's not us alone going in and telling people who to do, it's us going in, partnering with people and helping them to improve the quality of their own lives.  Which means programs specific to that community, to address the issues they face.  In simplest terms, we don't drill for water and build a pump.  We help them buy a pump, we make sure they're trained on how to maintain the pump and have a plan to continue to maintain the pump and afford replacement parts after we leave.  *Then* we drill for water.  So, yeah, it is complicated.  

So we look at programs that simply focus on a single aspect, like water, and yearn for the simplicity of their value proposition. 

And then we go "but our process, our methodology is different, more involved, more complicated."

And then we tell our constituents that it's more difficult.  And then we turn around and do complicated stuff in the office.  You might say complexity is the norm.  We say "trust us, we know what we're doing" but then we say "but it's really complicated."   Sometimes we then try to explain the entire process, sometimes we talk about pieces of it.  And it takes a long time before you feel like you have a good understanding of how your piece of the puzzle fits into the grander picture.

I read an article recently about the advice Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook had received from Steve Jobs: "That's focused on building as high quality and good things as you are. How to keep an organization focused, right, when I think the tendency for larger companies is to try to fray and go into all these different areas."

I certainly know in my work and home life that I could stand to be a little more focused.  I'm working on it.  I'm thinking that it might be my "theme" for next year.  I'll certainly work at simplifying before then, but I'm toying around with the idea of how to make that into a mission for my life for next year.

I think if I could have lunch with the boss, I'd suggest we need that approach for work as well - that we all need to look at what we're doing and wonder if we'd made it overly complex.  If we slowed down and really looked carefully at everything we were doing, could we reach the same ends more efficiently?  Is there any areas where we've lost focus?  What if, from the top, we heard the message "Make things simpler."?  

I know this isn't specific to our workplace, I've heard it from others who have come from other places and I've experienced it myself in my past jobs as well.  It often feels like it's the problem that's causing so many problems in government these days as well.  

I recently read a quote -- I'm getting it wrong now (because I'm looking on Google to attribute it and coming up empty) but it was something like "All great civilizations operate on the edge of chaos."  That feels like it sums things up for me in my personal life as well.  At the same time, I'm looking at my daughter and the Amazon wish list she's building, people are starting to ask me for gift ideas for me and I'm looking at all the stuff I'm having trouble maintaining as it is.  

I recently took stock of all the things I was trying to juggle and created a "meta" list to keep track of how on top of them I was.  It's harder than I thought.   So now I'm toying with the idea of creating a theme or mission for myself next year of "Simplicity" and then looking at all the ways that I might make that happen.  

How about you?  How's your focus?  
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