Business Overwhelms LO12900
Sat, 15 Mar 1997 10:29:59 -0500 (EST)

More and more, I find people in business in a state of overwhelm, feeling
like they are unable to cope with all of the demands on them. From my
brief study of Workflow, one of the reasons is the inability of people to
say "no" to requests of them. Unfortunately, the consequence of saying
"no" sometimes is more than people want to accept, so they promise to do
more and then suffer from the weight of it. And, they don't get it all
done, creating more work for others in the system. Another reason is that
when they accepted the requests, they thought they could get it done, but
as time passes, things change. More demands are placed on them that they
didn't realize were coming, but they don't revoke the earlier promises or
renegotiate. Again, there is a fear of the consequences and prehaps their
own lack of competency to manage their promises. But, this seems like a
reinforcing loop that is getting out of control and is pervasive in
business today.

The cover article of the recent Fortune spoke about this in a way
discussing the conflict of work life and family life these days. I
believe there are some high level balancing loops because at some point,
people are declining to even be in this crazy system. People in the
mid-40s are opting for different life styles. Eventually, there will be
fewer people willing to play this game and the game may have to change.

But in the meanwhile, I am interested in helping my clients today so they
see this dynamic and make some structural changes in the way they work
together to bring back some sanity. I don't think the quality of work is
as high as if there were less demands per person. I believe that much of
the demands on people are not high value added (i.e, ineffective meetings
to discuss all the problems!) and could be eliminated. Reengineering in
its purest sense, seem to be addressing this issue, but we all know where
that has not been the silver bullet to solve all the problems.

I believe that with more order (in an organic way, not imposed order) that
people could actually be more productive and more satisfied. The
difficulty I'm having is trying to create enough of an opening in people's
awareness to generate the space for reflection and redesign. How to get
off of the treadmill long enough to think systemically and come up with a
better solution than working harder. People seemed resigned to this way
as the way it is.

I wondered if others notice this issue and if they have any suggestions.
I know this theme of time moving too fast is one that has been around for
some time and every generation for the last 100 years has been talking
about the rate of change accelerating, but I'd like to explore how to
propser in this environment rather than collapse from the weight of the

I brought this up at a recent conference on Complexity in response to high
tech companies promoting the idea of healthy paranoia that keeps the
pressure on. I took it to the extreme saying that we are our own worst
enemies in driving this reinforcing loop and wondered whether we were
creating so much chaos that we would self-destruct. The answer I got from
one person was that of course we wouldn't put more on ourselves than we
could cope with, but I wonder about the effect of delays. Maybe by the
time we figure this out, we will be overextended so far that the system
can't recover.

What do others think?


Margaret McIntyre
Management Consultant
Atlanta, GA


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