Re: Intro -- Rol Fessenden LO3810

Rol Fessenden (
22 Nov 95 16:53:28 EST

Replying to LO3788 --

>...on one hand, the organization you're in has a short-term and very
practical perspective, while you correctly see the need to take the long
view. Plus, as you say, we have goals that are at least superficially in
conflict with the goals of some of those departments. My first thought is
that you are swimming in too small a pond.>> As you go on to say, the
solution starts here. I value what someone else has described as personal
responsibility, so I have to do what I have to do. Besides, my goals are
not really any different than anyone else's. I want the company to
succeed in the short term, and I want to build a healthy capacity to
survive in the long term as well. Also, I have lots of personal examples
of individual effort making all the difference. This is where I diverge
from some who may view 'team as god' in terms of accomplishment.
Somewhere in all this there needs to be a healthy blend of team and
individual. We cannot afford to lose the contributions of the passionate
individual contributor in our quest for team coherence.

Let me cite one example. Several years ago I had the extraordinary good
fortune to take a sabbatical from Bean to Work on a project at Maine's
Dept of Education. I am an activist in educational reform, and this was a
great opportunity for me personally.

A small team of people put together a proposal for the National Science
Foundation for Math & Science educational reform, k-16, in Maine. We
applied for their Statewide Systemic Initiative grant, $10 million, and we
were successful. Now -- 3 years later -- NSF would tell you that Maine is
one of 2 or 3 highly successful grants in this program out of a total of
38. Wy is that? Interestingly enough, the original team of people had no
standing within the hierarchy. We just thought we could do it. The
bravado description would be that we were too ignorant to be cowed by the
obstacles. However, the reality is we understood the obstacles very well,
and we had scenarios to overcome them.

The biggest obstacle we faced was the long-standing distrust among the
teaching community, higher ed folks, and Dept of Ed contingent. We
postponed dealing with this until the 11th hour, but we finally pulled the
right people into a room, and forced a dialogue.

Well, some would call it a dialog, some would call it a tearing,
screaming, blood-on-the-floor conflict. Definitely not fun, not
particularly reflective, no systems thinking, no teamness, not total
quality, but ultimately effective. And the proof of the effectiveness is
NSF's opinion of us today. Top of the heap.

>So what about discernment? The crux of my point is that one must see deeply
into an organization to understand what it needs, and the critical question is:
"What does this situation call for?" Our usual tendency is to ask "What do I
want?" and that usually causes trouble. The most important thing is to step
back, away from one's own desires, look at the organization from as many
perspectives as possible, and see through all of its layers into the core.

>This kind of seeing takes you to the land of culture, where often unspoken
values and mostly unquestioned assumptions are the dominant forces.

Right. There is a certain amount of disintersted objectivity that can
make this work. The group that forced the conflict described above no
longer exists as a group. They were so disinterested they could take
themselves out of the process and feel they had done what they set out to
do. Individual satisfaction was their driver. They did it for love.
Personally, I think this is the most important point. People have to act
out of love.

>Now, I'd like to apologize for offering unsolicited advice and being preachy
in the process. I'm speaking here as much to myself as to you.

Not at all necessary. Your point about being a good diagnostician is
excellent. I find that in my world, there is a constant short-term
conflict between allowing and encouraging experimentation and managing the
total risk. There are times when I cannot tolerate a lot of
experimentation because the other risks seem too high. As an avid
mountain climber, I would say the objective risks are too high, and I
cannot allow any leeway for the subjective risks. But I need to keep
challenging myself to make sure that I am making this decision out of love
and not out of self-interest.

 Rol Fessenden